Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd defended the government’s decision to increase travel benefits for ministers and their spouses, noting that ministers’ spouses don’t travel for “a fun time” but rather to collaborate with other dignitaries’ spouses.
Lloyd co-chaired the Cabinet subcommittee that proposed the new policy.
“…[I]n my circumstance, my wife and I have traveled on official business twice in two and a half years, two times paid for by the government of The Bahamas,” Lloyd told The Nassau Guardian on Wednesday.
“Two times? Are you serious? Are you joking me about travel with regards to spouses? And in those circumstances, your wives are collaborating with other wives in issues which affect the international community, not just going shopping or liming or having a fun time.
“[They are] very much engaged in business which affect and impact your society.”
On Monday, Perspective revealed that a new travel policy for ministers — that was implemented by Cabinet last year — increases the number of annual trips for the ministers’ spouses and affords them a $100 daily per diem.
The $100 per diem for spouses is equivalent to the per diem paid to technical officers in the public service.
When pressed on why it is necessary for ministers’ spouses to travel on government trips, Lloyd replied, “What you mean? She’s the spouse of a Cabinet minister. What do you mean why should you travel?… In the previous administration, didn’t wives travel?”
The policy also increases ministers’ per diem by 25 percent for domestic travel and 67 percent for international travel.
The ministerial per diem for domestic travel was increased from $80 to $100 per day and from $150 to $250 for international travel.
He said the policy was “widely discussed and ventilated” in the Cabinet before it was approved.
“You know, I understand that there are certain — what I consider — hot button or even emotional issues,” Lloyd said.
“The issue of travel in respect of ministers or parliamentarians or public officials — let me use that — has always been an issue that attracts the attention.”
He added, “Let’s put things in context. What we are talking about here, more than half of the members of Cabinet do not really travel as such. They don’t. I, for instance, a minister who is responsible for the largest ministry with the biggest budget, hardly travel.
“Last year, for instance, I traveled three times, one of which was paid for by the organization: the Varkey Foundation out of Dubai fully paid for. So, that [wasn’t] a cost to the government of The Bahamas, number one.”
The minister said it is important that The Bahamas engages the world.
“It is our responsibility to be at the table where decisions are being made which affect our lives,” he said.
“And it is critical for us to understand that international travel by members of a government is necessary. It is necessary. It’s not an option.”
On Monday, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Philip Brave Davis vowed to repeal the policy.
“Certainly, we will not be giving a per diem to the wives of Cabinet ministers traveling,” he said.
“We will not be doing that, not at all.”