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Augustine: 'Disorganised' Trinis made Dubai expo trip expensive – TT Newsday

Chief Secretary Farley Augustine has said disorganisation on the part of the Trinidad planners of the Dubai Expo 2020 led to the THA having to fork out close to $179,000 to send Deputy Chief Secretary Watson Duke, Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd CEO Louis Lewis and head of the Business Development Unit (BDU) Shelly-Ann Baptiste to the global event.
On Monday, THA Minority Leader Kelvon Morris raised concerns about the expenses and planning arrangements for the Tobago team to participate in the expo, which is being held in the United Arab Emirates.
Morris also took issue with Duke’s presentation at the event, last Thursday, in which he proposed to transform Roxborough into a city by promoting investment opportunities for light manufacturing, medical tourism and housing, among other areas.
He said it was the first time he had heard of such a plan and wondered who approved the proposal.
“Most plans like that should have special development approval so that you’re prepared when you’re going to sell something,” Morris said.
At Wednesday’s post-Executive Council media briefing, Augustine accused Morris of peddling misinformation about the trip. He said he needed to set the record straight.
“I don’t care too much to engage in public discourse around comess. Public policy should not be formed around comess. Public policy ought to be formed around facts and public discussion ought to be formed around facts,” Augustine said.
Saying Tobago’s display items were sent to Dubai long before the Progressive Democratic Patriots assumed office, Augustine said early in his administration’s tenure, he received a note from the secretary of community development about “a relatively long list of people” who was supposed to attend.
He said the team would have included the former secretary for community development, head of BDU, several officers from the Division of Finance, TTAL CEO Louis Lewis and representatives from the tourism sector.
“Our initial response to the matter was, ‘No,’” Augustine declared.
He said he later received a letter from Expo TT inviting him to attend the event. All expenses would have been covered by Dubai.
“When I received the invitation, I said it is way too early (in the PDP’s term), under three months.”
Augustine said he suggested that Duke, as deputy chief secretary, should represent him as well as Tobago at the expo. He said Duke’s information was sent from the assembly’s protocol office to the organisers of the trip.
“Because the deputy chief secretary was now attending, we decided to send two other officers along with him – the head of the tourism agency, Louis Lewis, and the head of BDU, Shelley-Ann Baptiste.”
He said based on the information he had received from Trinidad, the Dubai government would have covered Duke’s expenses, except his per diem; the expenses and half of the per diem for Baptiste; and accommodation and expenses on the ground for Lewis.
Augustine said the three-man team was due to leave on March 4.
“As a THA, we proceeded to procure the tickets for Mr Lewis. But on the morning of March 4, we would then hear from the disorganised organisers in Trinidad that they did not have visas and did not have tickets available (for Duke and Baptiste). This is the said Friday, March 4, that they were supposed to leave Tobago.”
He said Duke was scheduled to make his presentation on March 10. The country’s main display was the following day.
“I spoke to the Minister of Trade (Paula Gopee-Scoon): she had to get information and then call me back. She herself did not even realise that the Trinidad and Tobago contingent had not left as yet. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs could not say when the visas would be available.”
Since Lewis had left for Dubai on March 4, Augustine said the executive council decided to pay for Duke and Baptiste.
“The executive decided we cannot leave Mr Louis Lewis alone in Dubai, we need to send the other two. So we took an executive decision that we will just procure the tickets and send Mr Duke and Mrs Baptiste to meet Mr Louis Lewis, who was already en route to Dubai since the Friday.”
Augustine said on March 5, Baptiste got her visa and secured a flight via KLM.
“But because he (Duke) wasn’t getting the visa through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Duke himself had to organise between the Saturday and Sunday and get his visa himself.”
He said Duke got his visa three hours before his  British Airways flight left Piarco  Airport on Sunday evening.
“Imagine that, getting a visa three hours before taking a flight.”
Augustine said the team’s issues did not end there.
“The reports coming from our team members were that we were very disorganised in Dubai. In fact, at one point, after having informed us that Mr Duke will speak on the (March) 10, when we got to Dubai, Mr Duke’s name is not on the programme.
“I said to our protocol office, if Mr Duke is not speaking as the deputy chief secretary, then no one else from Tobago is speaking. He was one of the most senior public servants on the trip, and so I could not understand the level of disorganisation.”
Augustine revealed the total cost of sending the three-member team to Dubai was $178. 724.17
“I will also let you know that if, in fact, we were only paying for Mr Louis Lewis, then the cost that the THA would have paid would have been $66,916.91. We had to increase our budget because the organisers in Trinidad were extremely disorganised, (and) did not know their head from their foot.”
He said the executive council did its due diligence by using Tobago Services Ltd to procure the tickets.
“This is a company the THA in the past has done business with and the company was so kind to provide the tickets on the weekend without getting any payments in advance while we tried to work out getting the relevant exec council minute done to authorise the payments. But as an executive, we agreed and I instructed the chief administrator to move ahead with getting Mrs Baptiste and Mr Duke to Dubai.”

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