There was no backing down by either Finance Minister Colm Imbert or Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar as they debated the Variation of the 2019 Budget on overpayments in the Parliament on Monday. Persad-Bissessar questioned how did issues of overpayment arise and who were entitled.
One name in particular, a former candidate for the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation (SGRC) Rajkumar Bagaloo, was most prominent. Imbert said the overpayment took place between October 1986 and and December 2011 so it had nothing to do with the current Government.
“As it arises the payment is made personal to them and they are not asked to repay.” However, Persad-Bissessar was not appeased. “How does it arise? Is it because it is a PNM candidate? How would they come forward from a list that is similarly circumstanced?” Couva South MP Rudy Indarsingh asked if there were other people who were in similar circumstances and what was the process used to write off the overpayments.
“The fact that this may be the same person who contested the seat in the SGRC is absolutely irrelevant. I am happy to assist Mr Bagaloo as I would assist anybody in similar circumstances. These matters arise as the work of the Auditor General who has determined when an overpayment has been made and parliamentary approval is required.
Arouca/Maloney MP Camille Robinson-Regis said she found it incredulous that Persad-Bissessar wanted to pretend that these write-offs did not occur sometimes on a regular basis.
“We have write-offs for fiscal 2019. We have in the Education Ministry 1,008 teachers where we are asking for the same thing. It is highly incredulous and very pretentious for the member of Siparia to behave as though Mr Bagaloo was plucked out of nowhere when we have over 1,000 teachers who are in a similar circumstance.
“Is it that if Mr Bagaloo was a PNM person that they would have said no, he is a PNM person? I have to wonder about that and I am very disturbed by it because this should not be taking place and it looks as though it is UNC targeting Madam Speaker, and we will have none of it.”
However, Persad-Bissessar said she knew the process and wondered how Bagaloo was top on the list.
“I am incredulous and pretentious? I know the process and these matters get Cabinet approval and these were approved by a PNM Cabinet for Mr Bagaloo to come into the queue to get his payment.
Pay him, of course, but we are asking how many others are similarly circumstanced and jumped to the front of the queue.”
Imbert said when the payments were sent to the ministry they were dealt with expeditiously, no matter who it was.
“It could be a PNM supporter, a UNC supporter, an NAR, an ONR, once they are public servants and citizens of TT we deal with them equitably, justly and expeditiously.”