Devant writes to Integrity Commission …”PROBE MAXIE’S MEDICAL FUNDING”

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Former PP Government Minister, Devant Maharaj, is calling on the Integrity Commission to investigate the Cabinet over its funding of the medical expenses for Government Minister, Maxie Cuffie.

In a letter sent to Commission chairman, Justice Melville Baird, on Friday, Maharaj said the decision of Cabinet to fund the medical expenses, was in violation of the Salaries Review Commission’s report.

The following is the letter:

4th May 2018

Justice Melville Baird

Chairman, Integrity Commission

Level 14, Tower D International Waterfront Center

1A, Wrightson Road

Port of Spain

RE: COMPLAINT AGAINST THE CABINET OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO Dear Sir:

1. I wish to request an urgent and immediate investigation into the Cabinet of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago with specific reference to the award millions of dollars in domestic and foreign medical expenses for Member of Parliament for the Constituency of La Horquetta Talparo and Minister of Communications Mr. Maxie Cuffie and in doing so consciously violated the Salaries Review Commission a creature of the Republican Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago.

2. Minister Cuffie fell ill on September 7, 2017 and was taken to the St Clair Medical Centre in Port-of-Spain following what was described as a “medical episode”. The nature and extent of the Minister’s illness were never disclosed, however, there has been widespread speculation that he may have suffered a stroke.

3. On Friday 17th February 2018 responding to a question from Member of Parliament for Caroni East Dr. Tim Gopeesingh, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley The Government has spent close to $2.5 million TT dollars already on the medical bills for Minister of Public Administration and Communications, Maxie Cuffie. Dr Rowley said Cuffie was first admitted to the St Clair Medical Centre where his medical expenses amounted to TT$980,263. He said the doctors at St Clair advised that he would recover much faster if he was treated abroad. The Prime Minister said the air ambulance incurred a fee of US$46,000 (approx TT$312,800) and a stroke recovery programme cost the state US$171,000 (approx TT$1,162,800).

4. That makes for a total of around TT$2,455,000. Since that information was given Minister Cuffie continues to incur daily medical expenditure at the expense of the taxpayers of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

5. Prime Minister Rowley in answering also indicated that “the government intervened to assist Minister Cuffie at a time when his life was threatened. The government through normal procedures available to cabinet ministers paid the bill at St Clair Medical Centre in the sum of $$980,263.39,”.

6. At a political rally on 22nd February in the constituency of La Horquetta/Talparo, the Prime Minister, defending the massive medical expenditure, asserted “I took a decision that I will always do what I believe is right and I don’t care who says it is wrong,”

7. It is noteworthy that while millions have been spent to ensure the comfort and medical attention of Minister Maxie Cuffie, the State has refused to award medical assistance to deserving children of Trinidad and Tobago.

8. For example on 9th April 2017, three-year-old Shannen Luke will not receive any assistance from the State for her medical treatment. The Children’s Life Fund has rejected the application made by the child’s parents for financial assistance for her to have a bone marrow transplant abroad. Shannen needed $2 million. The transplant costs $1.25 million which is to be done at the Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital in Rome. The balance would have covered her family’s travel and living expenses while in Rome.

9. Five year old Haleema Mohammed’s plight shot into the headlines after the Children’s Life Fund turned down an application for assistance on the grounds that Haleema’s condition is not life threatening. Haleema’s parents embarked on a fund-raising venture and with the help of sponsor.

10. On the advice of the Prime Minister, a Minister of Government, selected from Members of the House of Representatives or the Senate, is appointed by the President. The function of Ministers is essentially two-fold – political and administrative.Ministers is essentially two-fold – political and administrative. The scope of their political function involves formulation of national policy at Cabinet level, while the administrative aspects encompass the overall management of the Ministry to which they are assigned and accountability to Parliament with respect to activities arising out of their portfolios.

11. The Salaries Review Commission is established in accordance with Section 140 of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. The Commission consists of a Chairman and four members, who are appointed by the President after consultation with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

12. Section 141(1) of the Constitution provides for the Commission to review from time to time, with the approval of the President, the salaries and other terms and conditions of service of the offices falling within its purview.

13. The size of the remit group which ranges from the President of the Republic to State Counsel I in the Judicial and Legal Service has continued to increase and some 217 categories of offices, representing an establishment of 811 persons.

14. The 98th Report of the Salaries Review Commission of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, General Review of Salaries and Other Terms and Conditions of Service of Service of Offices within the purview of the Salaries Review Commission, November 2013 is the last report tabled in the Parliament of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

15. With specific regards to medical benefits to Members of Parliament the Report states: Medical Benefits Entitlement to medical attention/treatment and prescribed drugs for self, spouse and children who are unmarried and under the age of eighteen, at any health care facility under the Regional Health Authorities, including the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex. Where such medical attention/treatment is not available at such health care facility, the costs at any other hospital, institution or nursing home in Trinidad and Tobago to be met by the State. (‘Medical attention/treatment’ excludes optical and dental treatment/services. ‘Prescribed drugs’ exclude drugs which are obtainable without a prescription.

16. The Commission stated regarding the issue of MEDICAL BENEFITS 41: We do not recommend any change in the existing medical benefits for any of the offices within our purview. With respect to part-time office holders who sought to be provided with medical benefits, we maintain that such benefits are not normally extended to persons who serve on a part-time basis. 48: We are advised that Cabinet has agreed that a Health Insurance Plan be introduced for full-time office holders. This initiative accords with the view which we expressed in our Fifty-second Report that the introduction of a Group Health Plan for office holders within our purview would be ideal for meeting a number of concerns raised over the years by office holders.

17. The Constitution does not contemplate that the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago set terms and conditions for Members of Parliament or any other Officer of State. If the Cabinet is allowed to alter the terms and conditions of Members of Parliament then of what use is the Salaries Review Commission and its Constitutional mandate?

18. The Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago abrogated unto itself powers which it did not have when it approved medical expenditure for Minister Maxi Cuffie outside of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

These powers were the singular remit of the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) and there is no Constitutional provision to allow the SRC to delegate these powers to the Cabinet. The Constitution also does not provide any provision to the Cabinet to determine its own or for any members of Parliament their respective remuneration.

19. The actions of the Cabinet in approving medical expenditure for Minister Cuffie therefore may be constituted a material breach of Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago and the Code of Conduct of the Integrity in Public Life Act Sections 23, 24 or 27respectively. 23. This Part applies to a person in public life and to all persons exercising public functions. 24. (1) A person to whom this Part applies shall ensure that he performs his functions and administers the public resources for which he is responsible in an effective and efficient manner and shall— I. be fair and impartial in exercising his public duty; II. afford no undue preferential treatment to any group or individual;

20. I wish to note that that the action of the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago in disregarding the terms and conditions for Members of Parliament as outlined by the Salaries Review Commission is not new.

21. The Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago similarly disregarded the SRC when it awarded a housing allowance to the Vice President of the Senate. This matter is the subject of a previous complaint to your Commission.

22. What is being established is a pattern of conduct by the Cabinet of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago that is deeply worrisome and can serve to undermine institutions of the Constitution. 23. Given the factual matrix outlined above I urge the Integrity Commission conduct an immediate investigation into the actions of the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago with regards to this matter.

Regards,

Devant Maharaj

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DEVANT MAHARAJ
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MAXIE CUFFIE

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