In a testy response to his government’s increase in travel allowances for Cabinet ministers and their spouses, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis yesterday said no spouse has taken advantage of the increase.
“That was a matter that was discussed over a year ago,” Minnis said during a press conference at the VIP Lounge in Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA).
“But, you would note that even though that was done a year ago, you check the records and you’ll find that I don’t think one Cabinet minister’s spouse has taken advantage of that and you’ll find, in most instances, Cabinet ministers travel by themselves.
“Not only that, but what you don’t know is that on many occasions, Cabinet ministers, including myself, travel with insufficient funds.
“I used my own credit card to pay the government’s bills. That happens regularly. So, we always have to travel with our own cash and our own credit card.
“In fact, I was placed in an embarrassing situation as prime minister of the country when I traveled to Brussels only to discover that they did not accept cash. They did not accept swipe card.
“You needed a chip. I had to borrow a card from someone else to pay a bill.
“We had an ambassador caught in the same situation, could not pay a bill and I was to a point where the ambassador was in a compromised position. I was about to call Jamaica for assistance to pay our bill.
“And you worrying about $100? Next question.”
Last month, it was 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.
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.
When Minnis served as opposition leader, he was highly critical of the Christie administration’s frequent travels.
In 2014, Minnis, at the time leader of the opposition, suggested that then Prime Minister Perry Christie and then Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell were overspending on travel.
Minnis accused Christie of “extravagant” travel and said Christie had not kept his promise to release the details of his international travel expenses.
During the 2017 campaign, Minnis committed to fully reporting on his ministers’ travel expenses, noting that there would be nothing to hide.
However, no comprehensive report on the Minnis administration’s total travel expenses has been released.