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Spending spree at PM's residence

Champagne, wine, Merlot, and 70 kilos of shrimp on $200,000 grocery list

By Ria Taitt

Former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday said yesterday that the expenditure of approximately $200,000 was incurred to feed "an entire staff" during his final seven weeks at the Prime Minister's residence.

"I wouldn't go into the details, because I was into running the country, not the household," said Panday, who demitted office at the time of this expenditure.

"I was not interested in seeing about the household, But I can tell you that the expenditure was not for the personal benefit of myself and my family," he said. "I personally spent no money on anything. When food is brought for the household it is for the entire staff," he said.

But the premium quality of the fare has caused many observers to question whether it was really ordered to feed household staff. One invoice showed that two bottles of Taittinger champagne at $1,695 a bottle were purchased. Another invoice showed that 61 bottles of wine- 45 bottles of Bolla Classico Valpolicella and 16 bottles of Carmen CLS Merlot were purchased at a cost of $4,414.50. Some 70 kilos of shrimp were bought at a cost of $6,666.

Asked whether some of the items were purchased to feed guests, Panday said whatever it was for, the Comptroller of the household, Captain Gary Griffith, not himself (Panday), would know. Did he do a lot of entertaining? "I don't know the extent of my social life, and whether the state bore the expense of that," Panday replied.

Asked whether he believed it was appropriate to engage in such lavish expenditure after he was no longer Prime Minister, Panday said: "You should find out how much Mr Manning spent while I was waiting to move in (in 1995)". He added: "What I am finding difficult to accept is that people are trying to ask me how a household was managed. That is not my job. Someone was hired to do that job (Capt. Griffith). Perhaps you should speak with him. I don't know what he bought, and how he bought it".

Even though the Prime Minister's residence is situated in St Ann's, most of the groceries were purchased from Hardeo Ramhit at Southern Main Road in Cunupia. Close to $100,000 was purchased from this source while $15,000 was spent at Hilo St Anns, which is mere yards away. The majority of the vegetables were purchased from Ramesh Garib in Aranjuez. Asked how come the PM's residence sourced food from a location in Cunupia, situated so far away, Panday said: " I have absolutely no idea. I never shopped for a single item. But I never gave instructions to order anything from anywhere and I am sure that Captain Griffith would have all the answers".

Captain Griffith's cell phone was switched off up to press time, making it impossible for Newsday to reach him.

The invoices showed however that some of the items were ordered during the period after the Pandays moved out of the house in mid-February. Panday had stated then that although he was no longer occupying the house, he still had personal belongings stored there and was awaiting the movers. The two bottles of Taittinger champagne were purchased during this period.

Other observers pointed out that the Pandays were Hindus, hence they were surprised at the large quantities of pork and beef purchased.

Over 116 kgs of pork chops, pork belly, and pork cubes were purchased while over 50 kgs of beef were ordered. Two orders of food from Singho Restauraut amounting to $2,134.40 and $2386 were made.

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