Wednesday 18 September, 2019

$92k Tobago weekend 'value for money', says Acting PS

Acting Permanent Secretary Natasha Barrow defends the expenditure on a weekend trip to Tobago before a Joint Select Committee on Monday

Acting Permanent Secretary Natasha Barrow defends the expenditure on a weekend trip to Tobago before a Joint Select Committee on Monday

Acting Permanent Secretary at the Sport and Youth Affairs Ministry Natasha Barrow has defended the expenditure of $92,000 on a weekend in Tobago for a 12-member delegation led by Minister Darryl Smith.

Appearing before the Joint Select Committee on Public Administration and Appropriations, Barrow, who has been acting in the position since January 2017, said the cost of the trip – paid for by taxpayers – was value for money.

Questioned by Committee Chairman Brigid Annisette-George on whether she had any concerns over the size and nature of the delegation, the Acting Permanent Secretary indicated that the trip was the “cost of doing business”.

“I don’t know that I don’t have a concern about the size, I do think that it was the cost of doing business.”

Barrow said the cost of the hotel accommodation was “high”, but she said those who went on the trip had to be there for other meetings carded for discussions in Tobago.

She admitted, however, that no other options for accommodation were looked at outside of the Magdalena Grand Resort.

An “enlightening” site visit to Dwight Yorke was also on the agenda, as she said the conditions at the facility are appalling and the delegation had to view these problems firsthand.

“I do think that the persons who were required for the other meetings that they were necessary, mainly because I think the site visit especially to Dwight Yorke stadium was extremely enlightening. The conditions there, I think, it is extremely appalling with regards to not being able to actually use that facility and we do have a lot of events that are coming up at that particular facility and I do think it was necessary for us to actually see what was happening at that facility…we got a lot of reports in front of us and I think…you don’t get that kind of urgency that you would get if you actually go and see a location.”  

She maintained that pictures and videos of the state of the stadium would not have given an accurate enough depiction of the existing problems at the facility.

Barrow listed problems with the infrastructure at the stadium as she sought to solidify the necessity for the delegation’s trip to Tobago.

The Acting Permanent Secretary, who earlier indicated that there was no ceiling on expenditure, said that the reasonableness of funds expended was measured by resulting “benefits”.

She however admitted that more prudence could have been exercised in monitoring when people were coming in and out of Tobago “a little bit better”.

Asked by the JSC Chairman whether there were any lessons learned from the controversial trip, Barrow said that there needs to be better scheduling of how the review of facilities is conducted, as well as the formulation of a proper maintenance and repair plan.

She added that there must be evaluation of value for expenditure, admitting that there could have been more prudence demonstrated in the number of persons forming the delegation, the timeframe and examination of other options for hotel accommodation.

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