Any shortfall in allocations for the National Security Ministry will be made up during the mid-year review. This was the refrain from Minister Fitzgerald Hinds during the Standing Finance Committee examination of the allocations in the draft estimates of expenditure for the financial year 2023 under Head 22.
Hinds enumerated a number of vacancies in various sectors of the ministry. He said there were 237 posts in administration at the National Security Ministry, of which 92 were filled, 145 were vacant, 143 vacant with bodies and two without bodies. The 2023 estimate for salaries and cost of living allowance is $18,400,000, an increase of $1,549,100 over the previous year.
Hinds said there were 4,219 prison officers with 3,821 posts being filled and 398 vacancies, of which 85 posts had bodies and 313 did not. He said there were 66 civilian staff, with 11 posts filled and 55 vacant, of which there were 16 posts with bodies, and 39 without. He said recruitment was ongoing to fill the positions and 250 new recruits had been brought on in 2022.
Asked why the overtime figure was estimated to be $46.5 million in 2023, an increase of $1,111,930 over the 2022 revised estimates, he said the average overtime was $4 million per month. He said in 2022, many officers were off the job because of quarantine and self-isolation, so others had had to double up, but he anticipated this figure would decrease in 2023. He said there was no outstanding cost of living allowance owed to prison officers.
Hinds said the 1,810 military personnel positions in the coast guard were filled, and another 121 people had been hired in 2022. He said he had not heard any complaints about a shortage in manpower but it would be dealt with.
Opposition MP Saddam Hosein asked whether the $1 million increase in the salaries and cost of living allowance for immigration officers would be enough since many positions remained vacant and overtime had not been paid since 2019. Hinds said overtime had been paid and claims had been regularised recently. He said of the 405 positions available, 257 were filled with 148 vacant, of which 126 had bodies and 22 did not. He said recruitment by the Public Service Commission was ongoing.
Hinds said at the Forensic Sciences Centre, there were two pathologists and the UNDP was assisting with recruitment. He said there were 81 posts, with 38 filled and 43 vacant, of which 23 were vacant without bodies and 20 vacant with bodies.
Asked about the issue of lifeguards, where $16,000,000 had been allocated for wages and COLA, he said there were 93 positions, with 81 filled, 12 vacant, nine with bodies and three without, and 36 regular workers. He said plans were in place to hire more lifeguards.
Hinds said a $72.6 million extraordinary expenditure covered covert operations of the ministry, and would be used to purchase equipment for various departments.
With respect to the Prison Service and Fire Service in Tobago, Hinds said the allocations provided would be sufficient for the needs of the organisations.
Hinds and Finance Minister Colm Imbert said many allocations were decreased from fiscal 2022 because arrears from previous years had been paid off. Hinds said he would provide information requested about allocations to Opposition MPs at a later date.
Hosein asked whether Hinds was satisfied with the ODPM’s performance given the events of Wednesday, where private citizens were seen coordinating rescue efforts. Hinds said there was no disaster in any country where citizens don’t rally. He said as minister in charge of the ODPM, he had heard nothing about unavailability of resources, so he thought the $16.5 million allocation was adequate. He said the ODPM is a coordinating agency and one of the most efficient in this country.