In responding to concerns about the cost of presidential travel, Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh is quoted as saying that “over the past three years, the average annual expenditure for the entire government on travel has been $200M.”
The 2010 Estimates which Dr Singh presented just three days ago has a head ‘Transport, Travel and Postage’ under which is a line item ‘Overseas Conferences and Official Visits.’ The Estimates disclose nil costs for the Office of the President, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and indeed all the ministries, departments and regions, barring the Finance Ministry and the Guyana Defence Force. It is under these two budget agencies from which Dr Singh would have derived his $200 million figures. But it would have been helpful and reassuring if Dr Singh had indicated, at least for the Office of the President, the total cost of overseas visits for the period, the subject of concern and speculation.
Dr Singh should have explained whether that line item includes per diem allowances and other costs associated with overseas visits, and indicate if payment for any such trips is reflected under any other line item, or channelled through any other government agency or controlled entity. The entourage to witness the President receiving an honorary doctorate in Russia included Mr Winston Brassington, head of NICIL. Details that would indicate the propriety of the financial arrangements for that trip (which had some private elements to it), would help to dispel many of the public concerns and neutralise speculation.
The in-country costs of presidential visits are invariably met by the host country. Dr Singh should disclose whether Dr Jagdeo has been receiving per diem for such visits, and the amounts paid to him for the past three years.
Finally can Dr Singh please say whether he agrees with a response to an Audit Office 2003 query on overseas travel, that the “concerned official” (suspected to be the President) is exempted from clearing his travel advances. If the President is not exempted, can Dr Singh tell us the number and value of advances the President has outstanding.