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Dr Rafeeq: I gave no approval for SWRHA stipends

Former Health Minister Dr Hamza Rafeeq said yesterday (THURS) he did not give approval for board members of the South West Regional Health Authority to pay themselves stipends of over $.5 million.

Ronnie Bissessar, former Chairman of the SWRHA said Rafeeq verbally consented to the payments to Directors who served on committees of the Board.

"Verbal approval can be taken in cases of emergency and at the earliest opportunity it is supposed to be rectified by a written approval. Committee fees are not an emergency", Rafeeq said.

An internal audit conducted by the Health Ministry found board members breached the RHA Act by paying themselves honoraria totalling over $573,000, for membership on certain committees.

Rafeeq told Newsday Bissessar approached him and asked if he would give consideration to the issue of committee fees. "I agreed in principle but said the details have to be worked out".

Rafeeq said the number of Board members serving on committees, the number of committees had to be decided. "I don't know if Mr Bissessar took that as approval", Rafeeq said.

He said it came to his attention that Board members were getting stipends, and he wrote to the Chairman requesting details. Rafeeq said when he saw the "exorbitant fees" he asked Bissessar for a list of all the meetings which the committees held and who attended.

He was surprised to find that Bissessar himself was sitting on ten committees. Bissessar responded to the Minister's request stating that no minutes were not kept of meetings. Rafeeq said he asked about written approval and Bissessar told him "approval was verbal".

It was then that an internal audit was conducted by the Ministry. Rafeeq said Board fees were determined by Cabinet, and committee fees had to be approved by the Minister.

Asked what action was taken after the unauthorised payments were discovered, Rafeeq said: "The life of the board had come to an end and a new board was appointed, I gave directives to the new board to stick to Cabinet appointed board fees, until the problem of committee fees was sorted," he added.

Bissessar: SWRHA will not be Hamza's ‘scapegoat’

By Clint Chan Tack

Former South-West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) chairman, Ronnie Bissessar, yesterday dismissed former Health Minister Dr Hamza Rafeeq's statements that he (Rafeeq) gave oral consent to the payment of honoraria to the former SWRHA Board members, but never gave formal consent. He also dismissed being asked to submit his recommendations in writing for submission to Cabinet.

Speaking with reporters at his San Fernando law office, Bissessar produced copies of letters sent to Rafeeq from September 17, 1999 to January 20, 2000 which showed that Dr Rafeeq was aware of the payments. He explained that under the Regional Health Authorities (RHA) Act, and contrary to statements by auditor, ministerial consent does not have to be written for approval to be given. The former chairman added that Rafeeq apologised to him on several occasions for not responding to the Board's requests.

He rejected Rafeeq's claim about communicating with SWRHA mostly by letter. " That is far from the truth," Bissessar declared. He disclosed that during the two year tenure of his Board, Rafeeq either called him directly, spoke with former CEO Trevor Hewitt, or held informal meetings with him at the Ministry of Health, or at public functions which they attended.

Bissessar said he was certain to find only 12 or 15 letters from Rafeeq during his two-year stint as SWRHA chairman if he had opened his files.

Bissessar declared that the former SWRHA Board will not be Rafeeq's "scapegoat". "Board members would not receive honoraria if they had the slightest doubt, or any inkling that there was some doubt about the payment. These are people who are all extremely well remunerated in their ordinary spheres," he stated.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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