PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Sept 14, CMC – The Integrity Commission has found there was no breach of the Public Life Act when Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar took her sister, Vidwatie Newton, with her on official trips overseas since coming to office in 2010 costing nearly a million dollars.
The Office of the Prime Minister has released the contents of a letter sent by the Integrity Commission dated September 12, 2012 on the issue.
"Pursuant to Section 33 of the Integrity in Public Life Act, Chapter 22:01, 'the Act', the Integrity Commission has conducted an investigation into an alleged breach of the Act, to wit: Ms Vidwatie Newton, a non-employee of the State, travels on overseas trips which were financed by the Office of the Prime Minister.
"Kindly be advised that the Commission has found no breach of the Integrity in Public Life Act, Chapter 22:01 by anyone at the Office of the Prime Minister,” the two paragraph letter stated.
Earlier this year, the main opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) had written to the Integrity Commission requesting an investigation into whether there was a breach in the Integrity in Public Life Act with the Prime Minister utilising State funds for Newton to accompany her on overseas trips.
The move by the opposition follows a statement in Parliament by government that an estimated TT$$868,268.11 (One TT dollar = US$0.16 cents) had been spent on Newton's travel and other associated costs between June 1, 2010 and March 31, 2012.
Leader of Government Business Roodal Moonilal also told legislators that TT$4.6 million was spent for the Prime Minister and her official delegation to travel to India in January this year.
Newton's total expenditure for the India trip was TT$233,600.
In addition to India, Newton, whom the government said is a qualified nurse, also travelled to Australia, London, Hong Kong and Dubai with the Prime Minister.
Earlier this year, the Office of the Prime Minister released a statement indicating that the election of a female prime minister brought with it different needs.
"Many personal issues unique to a woman warrant the involvement of a close and trusted assistant. This, more so, on occasions of official foreign travel when the hectic schedule and frenetic pace demands the Honourable Prime Minister's undivided attention, without the distraction of critical personal care.
"Ms Vidwatie Newton was a qualified nurse with many years experience. She is responsible for the Prime Minister's diet, medication, exercise, wardrobe and other health-related and personal issues. It is quite reasonable for the Honourable Prime Minister to trust and rely upon her sister for this level of personal care and attention. It should be noted as well that this support is provided on a continuous basis literally, as and when required."
The statement said that the Prime Minister had the option of formally employing her sister as a member of her personal staff, but "she refused to do so to avoid any allegations of nepotism, in consequence of which, Ms Newton receives no salary from the State.
“Moreover, such employment would essentially be for fixed hours and a fixed work week, in keeping with industrial relations practice,” the statement noted.