Tourism Minister Shamfa Cudjoe is not denying a $59,000 telephone bill she racked up over a four-day period.
Giving an explanation yesterday, the minister said she too was alarmed by the large sum, adding that an investigation was ongoing by TSTT upon her request.
The charges being examined included:
Call usage – $1,111.06
Roaming Data usage – $50,616.61 and
Value added tax – $6,562.13.
On Monday, details of the exorbitant phone bill was disclosed in the Senate by temporary Senator Christlyn Moore during debate on the mid-term budget review.
Moore claimed that the bill included calls for January 29 to February 3 of this year. She had also charged that it was not in keeping with Government’s demand for the country to cut costs especially given the struggling state of the economy.
It was reported that the four-day $59,000 phone bill, with an explanation that only $1,100 of the bill represented actual calls. The rest however, were roaming fees and VAT.
But in a statement issued yesterday afternoon, Cudjoe sought to clear herself of any wrongdoing, insisting that she acted above board as a Government Minister.
She said she attended the Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s Caribbean Travel Marketplace in the Bahamas in her capacity as Minister of Tourism during January 29 to February 3, 2017.
Her attendance on the trip, Cudjoe said was necessary.
“At the time of the trip, the ministry was dealing with several issues which required my attention and therefore necessitated that I remain accessible,” Cudjoe said.
But she said while using her phone during this time it was for “official government business,” adding that she made herself available as a Government minister.
“During this period, as is common while travelling on official government business, my mobile telephone was placed on roaming.
“However, at every reasonable opportunity, I also made use of the Wi-Fi facility where it was available,” Cudjoe said.
She said when presented with the bill, she too was shocked.
“However, when presented with the TSTT bill which covered the period in question, I was surprised and concerned as the charges appeared to be abnormally high.
“I requested that the ministry launch an immediate investigation with TSTT, which is still ongoing,” Cudjoe said.
According to Cudjoe, TSTT said the company had no control over the charges imposed by regional and international carriers and explained that this would apply to roaming rates incurred while in the Bahamas.
She said notwithstanding this she assured there was no abuse of the telephone facility afforded to her as a Government Minister.
“I sought then, and continue now to exercise fiscal prudence in all undertakings especially in the conduct of affairs of the Ministry of Tourism,” Cudjoe said.
The bill dated February 24 which was obtained by CNC3, showed charges for roaming data alone at $50,616.61.
On January 29 only, the roaming data amounted to $4,400.78.
January 30 it was $15,522.37
January 31 $12,679.98
February 1, $7,077.66
February 2, $10,523.60
February 3, $412.22
The minister’s total roaming calls amounted to $1,111.06
Source: Guardian http://www.guardian.co.tt/news/2017-05-16/i-acted-above-board