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High cost of going Down Under

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

High cost of going Down Under

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It is costing Barbadian taxpayers well over $1/4 million for Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and his delegation to participate in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which formally opens in Australia today.
The Prime Minister left the island last Friday to attend the three-day summit – the usual highlight of which is the Queen’s annual call to action of her former subjects that make up the 54-nation grouping of ex-British colonies.
Stuart, in the face of tough economic times at home, has decided to upkeep the well established tradition of having high-level representation by Barbados at the Commonwealth meeting.
He is due to return home on November 1 from Perth, along with members of his official delegation that includes Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxine McClean, Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office Keith Franklin, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Charles Burnett, this island’s High Commissioner to London Tony Arthur, along with Stuart’s personal assistant Evette King.
Based on the figures contained in the official Cabinet paper, which details the Prime Minister’s travel to and from Barbados to Australia via London, the WEEKEND NATION has been reliably informed that the full cost is $260 386. 41.
This includes an allotment of $137 078.55 to cover the Prime Minister’s expenditure; $96 293.54 for the Minister of Foreign Affairs and $27 014. 32 for the costs associated with the Overseas Mission.
Stuart’s first class, round trip ticket alone, which was independently verified by this newspaper through checks with a leading travel agent, is costing $48 943.10, McClean’s $48 808.70, while that
of their two permanent secretaries, is $39 961.40 and $29 902.05 for Franklin and Burnett respectively. The ticket for King, who is travelling in a lower class, costs $11 122.25.
The remaining costs relate to accommodation, per diem and other trip expenses.
Yesterday Minister of Health Donville Inniss jumped to the defence of Stuart saying:
“Rest assured that this Prime Minister like his immediate predecessor [David Thompson] does not go any where outside of Barbados unless he feels he absolutely has to go. We don’t go joyriding.”
He contended that “Barbados has been able to reach this level of development because we have engaged individuals and other countries at an international level”.
You cannot run a society in a vacuum. The harsh reality is that ministers and public officers need to travel to conduct business. There will always be an issue of how much travel is too much travel and that is a matter that you will discuss and have your views based on the political colour of your eyes.”
Last Sunday, former Opposition Leader Mia Mottley raised the issue of Government’s spending on overseas travel, accusing members of the Stuart Government of engaging in excess travel.
Mottley, who was addressing a political meeting at the time, said while under normal circumstances she would be the first to encourage the Prime Minister and his Minister of Foreign Affairs to go to the Commonwealth Summit, “it can’t be business as usual” given the current prevailing economic climate.
Inniss said:“We in this Government I gather have done far less travel than the former Government did.
Even though we are having challenges, we still need to travel and open new markets for Barbadian products and goods. We still  need to travel to negotiate new financing.
“From the time David Thompson took over the leadership of this country he made it clear that it will not be business as usual. Ministers travel only when ministers need to travel.”
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica, who was in Barbados to deliver last night’s David Thompson lecture, as well as his Vincentian counterpart Ralph Gonsalves, are among regional leaders who have opted not to attend this year’s Perth meeting.
The official reason given this year by both leaders is that the summit, which is usually held around this time, clashes with their national independence celebrations.
Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ken Baugh has also been quoted as saying that his country would not suffer as a result of its absence from this year’s CHOGM Summit.
Baugh said consideration was given to having a permanent secretary represent Jamaica, which has just completed a transition in leadership. However, he acknowledged that it would have been costly to send her, and that the nature of the meeting would not allow her participation in the plenary or caucuses of the heads meeting. (News Desk Exclusive)