Stealing from the Public Purse

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 02, 2012

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeThe news flooded the airways and inundated the newspapers: “Vidwatie Newton, the sister of Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar, traveled first class when she accompanied the PM on her recent trip to India…The total cost of Newton’s travel to India was $233,600” (Express, April 27).

“The Office of the Prime Minister spent $338,329.19 for Newton to accompany Persad-Bissessar to Australia from October 19 to November 6, 2011.”

“In London, from the period October 19 to 21 and again on November 3-5, she was allowed accommodation of £350 a day. Her per diem was £145 a day totaling $9,422.00.”

“In Dubai from October 21-23 she was given accommodation valued at US $278 a day, which totaled US 834 (TT$5,362.62) her per diem was US $155 a day which totaled $1,993.30” (Express, March 10, 2012).

And so the sordid story goes. What hurts most is that this behavior emanates from a government that said it repudiated the sordid ways of the PNM. In the USA, Kamla would be facing what they call “honest services fraud.”

Medford is a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. It has a population of 55,000 persons. On Tuesday, April 24, the Boston Globe, revealed:

“Medford Housing Authority chief Robert Covelle hired his close friend and bocce team mate to a $53,000-a-year job, demoting a staff member to create the opening, his employees say. He hired his son’s girl friend in a non-bid contract to do more than $4,000 worth of seasonal decorations in the office, according to federal investigators. He created a new $85,000-a-year job that went to a family friend of Major Michael J. McGlynn of Medford.”

In the USA, “it is illegal for public official to use their official position to help friends of family get jobs or contracts.”

Without much prodding, federal and state authorities were on the case. The Globe reports:

“In recent months, state troopers have raided authority offices, carrying out boxes of documents, while authority officials have been called to testify a state grand jury that is considering criminal charges. Last week, some city councilors called for Covell’s resignation after a federal audit showed almost $1.4 million in questionable spending in a 15 month period, including the $4,355 paid to decorator Erica DeCrescenzo, now married to Covelle’s son” (My italics).

And just to show they mean business, the state Department of Housing and Community Development launched their own investigation, “sent their findings to HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development), which launched civil and criminal investigation simultaneously, according to state officials who asked not to be indentified.”

There was no talk about Coville needing his daughter-in-law at his side to help with his special needs. Nor for that matter, was there any nonsense about “Cabinet” giving special authorization to flout the laws of the state. The only question was this: “from whence came your authority to use public funds as though they were coming from your private purse?”

Next we turn to New York where Carl Kruger, the once-powerful New York senator, was sentenced to seven years in jail for corruption and bribery. According to the New York Times: “Mr Kruger, who was elected to the State Senate in 1994 and rose to become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, had been accused by the authorities of accepting more than $1 million in bribes from two hospitals executives, a prominent lobbyist and a health care consultant. In return, he agreed to take official action to benefit them or their clients, prosecutors said. Prosecutors charged that the bribes had been paid to two consulting companies controlled by one of Mr. Kruger’s co-defendant, a gynecologist who government suggest was an intimate companion of Mr. Kruger” (April 27, 2012).

The notion of “intimate companion” is important in that Mr. Kruger was convicted on two counts of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and two counts of conspiracy to commit bribery. Our concern here is honest services fraud as it relates to the Trinidad and Tobago situation. Inherent in the notion of “honest services fraud” is the concept that government officials owe obligations of independent judgment and faithful service to the public. As Bruce Collins and his colleagues noted, “Even when members of the public did not suffer an economic loss, courts concluded they could nonetheless be deprived of their right to conscientious, loyal, faithful, disinterested and honest government.” This is a violation of their sworn duties to the public.

In sentencing Kruger, Judge Jed S. Rakoff may have been thinking of countries such as Trinidad and Tobago when he said: “We have only to look at other countries to see that once corruption takes hold, democracy itself becomes a charade, justice becomes a mere slogan camouflaging a cesspool of self-interest.”

Keith Rowley may have been listening to Judge Rakoff when he announced “that the issue of the $866,000 of public funds spent on the travels of the Prime Minister’s sister Vidwatie Newton, is to be referred to the Integrity Commission.” He also meant to keep the civil servants feet to the fire when he tried to dissuade public officers from “seeking to provide a palatable explanation to what we call political abuse of public funds” (Express, April 30). Public officials who support such a position should also be held culpably of trying to defraud the public.

In Trinidad, becoming the head of state gives one carte blanche to do what one wants to do. One can hire one’s sister or one’s niece without any concern about how it undermines public confidence in the fairness principle; give enormous contracts to family friends without serious consideration to its illegality; or turn over the official residence into the playground of one’s family and their siblings.

In the United States Kamla’s actions would have been depicted as an attempt to commit honest services fraud for which she could be sent to jail whether she profited personally from her actions or not. In Trinidad it’s all about the creative application of the law which, in other countries, is called lawless or stealing from the public purse. It’s about time we put a stop to this in Trinidad.

19 Responses to “Stealing from the Public Purse”


  • Linda Edwards, class of 67

    Thank you Selwyn. Trinis unfamiliar with the full picture, often knock the USA for being big, bad and bodacious, but IT IS A COUNTRY WHERE MANY POLITICIANS ARE IN JAIL.
    Stealing from the public purse in the US is a major crime, and those entrusted with fiduciary responsibility MUST stand the consequenes of their actions. But, wha does one expect when three Muslims allegedly involved in a JFK airport plot are hounded down and deported, in response to an extradition order, people involved in the death of a US soldier in TnT, including his ex-wife, who may hve ordered the hit, are rounded up and deported,in response to another order, but the BIG CROOKS who stole from the Airport Project are still running around in TnT and applying for government contacts? What do you say when Duprey gives money to Panday for his daughter’s expensive London digs. but ruins the savings of thouands of small investors? What do you say when Panday himself, acts inappropriately in a conversation with a British judge on an airplane, and nobody is particularly bothered, but he wipes his hands publicly after shaking hands with MAnning in PArliament? (Manning should have been the one washing his hands, given Panday’s people traditional toilet practices, but if he smelt anything, he kept a dignified demeanor.) If the world was a jackass, politicians in TnT would be living under its tail, clinging on like leeches, while the feces spattered past them..Our tolerant attitudes, give aid and comfor to their shenanigans.

  • I am in no way in agreement with the PM’s sister traveling first class to anywhere, but how come when manning was in power and the treasury was being raped mercilessly, “The good doctor”. HAD NO OPINION!!!

    • Thank You Ron It’s About time the people of T&T wake up to the PNM bullshit, That we put up with in the past NO MORE. T&T has to come out of the dark ages and into the 21st century And we can see the light with this new captain.

      • Sando Tiger, We can’t see the light if the UNC is doing the same thing as the PNM did. Who cares what party the leadership claims when in the end they are both deceiving the people of our nation? The problem is that elite people in our society seem to share and spend the wealth of the nation without regard to what any of us think. We keep blaming one another for everything instead of holding our representatives accountable for what they do and fail to do. Enough was enough when the PNM did it and it’s like pouring salt on a wound now that the PNM is doing it because the PNM is in power only because we wanted change and we currently find ourselves in the same sad state with bad leaders. It doesn’t matter what they look like or where they come from. They are killing us slowly the same.

  • Davy de Verteuil

    If this woman sister of PAM travel in service of the country fine, otherwise its theft, Grand larceny to-boot. A crime was committed. Enough of Manning this happened after lets deal with things on merit. Manning paid the ultimate price and its high time we focus on what’s going on today. Manning’s fault doesn’t omit any criminal behaviour from scrutiny of the law or does it absolve criminals from due processes. Time we get over Patrick Manning Fools!

  • Well said Ron. When the mantra was sung ‘all ah we thief’ it has become selective to those who want to hear and espouse their venom on the selected few to this date. By the way, this goes back to Eric williams days when money was no problem, and productivity was ‘preached’ by pointing out what ancestral labour was employed in building landmarks in T&T.

  • One of the things I have noticed in my life is that a lack of information often is interpreted as not happening. As far as democracy goes the US of A is the most corrupt. They perpetuate their style of democracy by corrupoting others. Look at their biggest programme for global democracy. Money spewed out to willing listeners to “get their country democratized”. As to who goes to jail and who doesn’t well I would leave that for those more versed than I to explain, but I am yet to see someone high up jailed for the billions missing in Iraq.
    I think the good doctor had an opinion when the country was “being raped mercilessly”, it was one of compromise and discussion. He is a party stalwart so that is expected. What was not expected was the verocity of his attacks on anything done after the demise of his party. This is why I still maintain that multiparty democracy (two party) is bad for small countries. A good citizen would not constantly critizise but offer up solutions to the problems that arise.
    On the issue of the pm’s sister, there is no solution. Is it that noone outside of the government should travel on official travel?? Does the opposition want to institute such a rule or law?? Is it that the pm should not have medical personnel travel with them?? Or is it that if someone travels with a government delegation it should not be a relative nof any nmember of the government or delegation??
    The people need to know.

  • We will see in due course. And who said there was no complain. people used to complain and showed their disgust for the lack of transparencies in the last regime. Did they fired Patos for that behaviour. We complained about course overuns in Lara, Napa, RR survey cost. Did not Rowley confronted Patos and Calder Hart, such that Patos called Rowley a WAJANG. You guys have convenient meories. Go back and read the past news about oppositon to Patos.

  • Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley is right to ask the Integrity Commission to investigate the $866,000 in public funds spent on the travels of the Prime Minister’s sister.

  • Linda Edwards, class of 67

    One of the things I do, that amuses me no end, is agree with Selwyn, another Afro-originated trini on a major issue, then sit back and watch the fur fly, epecially from the department of “MAnning did it first”, which seems to justify all that the UNC is doing now.Are they satisfied to be MAnning copy cats?
    As for the USA, if you want to imitate their lifestyle in its worst forms, they will not stop you, but the case of the blind Chinese lawyer, and his seeking rescue in the US embassy in Beijing, says much. He did not go to the Brits, the Germans, the French or the Dutch- all former colonial powers. He sought rescue from the USA. The Americans escorted him to the hospital. Go figure.

  • As a trini it is time to stop that kind of fraud whether it happenend in Manning time who ever time if there is proof jail them taxpayer is the one hurting

  • Was employing your wife as a minister of gov’t ‘creative application of the law’? Was having her travel with you whether to Haiti or everywhere else similarly ‘creative’? How creative was paying her a hefty ‘housing allowance’ while she lived in the prime minister’s official residence?

  • Linda, I am not sure what the story is about the Chinese dissident. But we should be careful when we love our adversary’s dissidents since we also have dissidents and our adversary could love them. I wonder what is the story behind the imprisoned doctor that gave the information for the “taking out” of Bin Laden. How come we weren’t proactive in getting him out of Pakistan??

  • Linda Edwards, class of 67

    Al, let me recommend you read the international news. This Chinese human rights advocate,a blind lawyer, was placed on house arrest for protesting the forced abortions of women, in support of the One Child policy. He was beaten, his wife was beaten, and in true “South Africa Under Apartied” policy, he could not have visitors. Even his friends were harassed.He managed to escape from his home, climbed aver a wall and swam a river to get to the other side. Friends helped him to the American embassy in Bejing, before the government people in his hometown knew he had escaped.
    China of course accused the US of interfering in their internal affairs. In the glare of the US Secretary of State’s visit in China, the American Ambassador accompanied the disident to the hospital to get medical attention for his knee, damaged in jumping over a wall. The upshot of all that glare, is that China has agreed that he could apply for a student visa for him and his family to come to the US. New York University promptly granted him a scholarship in political science, in order to facilitate his leaving China. I follow stories like these, to honor the memory of Miriam Makeba, who, under aparthied, had to get a one-way ticket into exile, in order to sing.
    Check Blind Chinese Dissident on Google, for more on him.

    I do not know about the doctor who fingered Bin Laden, has he been heard from, or seen, since?
    The story I heard was that one of Bin LAden’s supporters made a phone call, which was intercepted, and having captured the signature of that cell phone, followed it to Bin LAden’s compound.If he had ditched the phone, The US might still have been looking for BL.

  • When Manning took the Priestess Pena with him all over the world as his spiritual adviser . When Manning took the team including cultural performers to the Middle East at the cost of seven million tax payers dollars you all had no comment or inquiry, why all the questions now ?

    • It was because of what Manning did that there was a change made. The people thought that they where voting for change and yet it is still the same old thing just a different package. What Manning did is done. Kamla is the Prime Minister now and we had hoped to have placed “Manning” style politics aside when she was elected Prime Minister. In no way does the actions of Manning excuse Kamla now. We the people are still hurting regardless of who is responsible for the wasteful spending. Enough is enough!

  • HART built Marriott for 300.million Elias & friends renovate Trinidad Hilton for700million =do the MATH

    That same entity threw its weight behind the PP or rather withdrew support for the PNM because PNM decided to import OPVs and install a 360 degree Radar for drug & contraband interdiction.
    Since The inauguration of the PP Gov these plans to monitor Trinidad boundaries cease being the country’s security essentials/concerns.
    Politic as you may, when you sober up do the math and make your judgement!

  • I wonder if these people who come out in defence of the UNC and KPB-would allow someone to come into their own homes, interfere with their personal bank account, use their funds for travel and other exotics and not say a word- of course not- the first thing they will do is call the police to lock up the person and then want their money back- But, it’s different for the country. And these same people boast to foreigners how much they love their country and how wonderful it is….what forked tongues…

    However that said- for these people it’s not about the money or the fraud that’s perpetrated upon the nation- it’s about Race- is ok if the Indian do it because the Afro’s did it first…..

    I don’t beat around the bush and make politics from these opinions because it’s not- it’s simply Race that’s driving them-

  • To those people who passionately defend the governments ineptness and corrupt practices by pointing their fingers at Mr. manning and the PNM I say you are blinded by your bigotry. The PP got a resounding victory because people were fed up and wanted a change. But you know what! It pales in comparison to the blatant disregard for peoples rights and freedoms as is being forced upon the population at present. There is a darkness that has settled like a cloud over our beloved country. Blatant bigotry and oppression. Never in my life would I have ever believed that I would see one race being openly oppressed by another. In sweet TnT of all places! The love of money is the root of all evil and it continues to be the main motivation for those wielding political power. May God help us all!

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