Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has admitted that his Government let its guard down by allowing Minister in the Ministry of Education Dr Lovell Francis to accept an invitation to Guadeloupe by a private entity.
The long and short of it, Rowley said was that his Government had “mishandled” the situation.
The PM was asked at yesterday’s post Cabinet media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s if the controversial stage in the sea had resulted in a split in his Cabinet as reported in T&T Guardian on Wednesday.
The PM said only in T&T “a stage could cause such an exercising of the psyche….right up to the Cabinet.”
Upon his return from an inter-sessional meeting in Barbados, Rowley said he saw an article.
The article stated there appeared to be a growing rift between Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat and Francis over construction of the stage in the sea at the Karukera One Love Festival scheduled to take place today at Maracas Beach.
The article further stated that there was evidence that the Government knew two years ago about the plan to hold the concert in T&T with the erection of the stage in the seabed and approved Francis’ visit to Guadeloupe on a “diplomatic mission” at the invitation by promoters of Karukera One Love Music Festival.
A Cabinet note showed that approval was granted for Francis to travel to Guadeloupe for four days in August 2018 so he could be feted by the organisers of the festival.
It cost taxpayers $5,474 to pay Francis’s per diem for that trip.
Francis, however, defended his position in yesterday’s T&T Guardian, stating that he went on Government business and not to meet a promoter or organise a fete.
“As head of the Cabinet, I must tell you I was quite surprised…because something happened that…I don’t want to say ought not to have happened…but under normal circumstances would not have happened.”
The PM said a lot of the conversation about the stage “is rooted in the fact that minister Lovell went to Guadeloupe at the invitation of somebody who pays his ticket.”
Rowley said he distinctly recalled being told in 1991 by then prime minister Patrick Manning that a minister travelling on Government’s business must do so only at the expense of the people of T&T or of an international agency of which we are a member.
“Meaning… don’t take tickets and invitations from people. This situation in Guadeloupe I must say didn’t follow that instruction. I think somehow we let our guard down here and had a minister accepting an invitation to be funded to Guadeloupe. That is now being raised in the context of…well you were part of it and you cannot say you do not know.”
He said for the stage to be built in the sea required approval from several State agencies which was not done by the promoters.
Rowley said each agency is involved for a particular reason.
“And if you try to bypass that then you end up in this situation. And some people have difficulty telling you the whole story when it looks as if the story is a problem for them. So we have mishandled this in a way. But the bottom line is it was very straight forward…an idea, approvals required, approvals not had and there were even instances of instructions not being carried out.” (SH)