Minority leader: THA ‘joyrides’ cost $20m in 3 years

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

THA Minority Leader Kelvon Morris. – File photo by Jeff K Mayers

Minority Leader Kelvon Morris has condemned the current Tobago House of Assembly (THA) administration for “joyriding” around the world on taxpayer-funded trips which provide no tangible benefits to the island.

At a PNM meeting in Canaan on April 21, Morris claimed that since the Farley Augustine-led administration came into power, it has racked up approximately $20 million in trips.

Morris said, “I don’t recall a time that the THA would have seen so many secretaries travel within a fiscal period, and in some circumstances, you are having multiple secretaries – three and four – going on the same trip. The question is: what is there to show for it?”

Morris said the public should compare what happens when members of central government travel on official duty.

“In the national scenario you see the Prime Minister go out and he comes back to report. You would seen the benefits where we would negotiate better payments for our energy deposits, oil and that kind of thing, royalties. We are able to break ground in places such as Venezuela with the Dragon gas deal. You are actually seeing tangible benefits.

“Conversely, have you ever heard this administration, whether they went to World Trade Market, ITB (Berlin trade show), Jamaica to learn how to do house (programmes), Grenada to learn how to do Carnival. Have you ever really seen or heard any tangible arrangement?”

Morris was also heavily critical of Secretary of Infrastructure, Quarries and Urban Development Trevor James’s October 2023 trip to Martinique. James left the island on a private jet, owing to the threat of Tropical Storm Tammy.

Morris queried whether James was even the ideal secretary for the conference.

“You know what that trip was about?

“That trip was something called the first Connectivity Conference of the Greater Caribbean. That trip was really treating with transportation. “You know who has the responsibility for transportation? That responsibility lies within the Division of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation. Yet you had the secretary of infrastructure jetting off for this trip…

“This trip cost us about $70,000 for two days. You understand the kind of callous squandermania that is going on?”

Morris said this cost is separate from the cost of the private jet. Augustine has declared that the THA would not pay for the jet service.

James also went to Dubai in 2023 to woo investors.

Former deputy chief secretary Watson Duke also visited Dubai in March 2022 for a similar purpose.

Morris also slammed a March 2024 trip to Jamaica to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the University of Technology (UTech) to provide solutions to infrastructural shortcomings in Tobago.

“You have a trip where four secretaries – two secretaries, two assistants – and the Chief Secretary went to Jamaica. They went for about ten days to Jamaica to sign one MOU. That trip alone cost us about $1 million. And yuh know what? Up to now nobody could see this MOU.”

He also criticised Tourism Secretary Tashia Burris’s recent trip to Ghana.

At last week’s post-Executive Council briefing, Burris said her division had taken steps towards attracting tourists from Ghana and the rest of the African continent. She said the THA would also use its October Carnival to lure tourists from that country. She also discussed the possibility of importing yam from Ghana.

Morris said the administration continues to blame central government for its problems. He said members and supporters of the administration falsely claim central government is undermining it by giving it less funding.

He noted that for the last three fiscal years, the THA has received $2.134 billion (2021/2022), $2.336 billion (2022/2023) and $2.522 billion (2023/2024).

“That (last fiscal year) was a further increase of $185 million. And what this is saying is that this current administration received a total cumulative increase, over what was given in 2021, of over $387 million.

“So the fact is, this administration has actually received more money than the PNM previously.

“So when you hear them going around and saying they are not getting as much money as former PNM administrations, I want you to tell them they lie, they real lie.”