Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.
By LEANDRA ROLLE
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday defended the government's decision to increase its travel benefits for Cabinet ministers and their spouses.
He insisted that records would show that officials' spouses have not been taking advantage of the benefits.
"…You check the records and you would find that I don't think one Cabinet minister's spouse has taken advantage of that," he told reporters yesterday.
"And you would find, in most instances, that Cabinet ministers travel by themselves and not only that but what you don't know is on many occasions Cabinet ministers, including myself, travel with insufficient funds and use my own credit card to pay government's bills.
"That happens regularly so we always have to travel with our own cash and our own credit card."
Dr Minnis made the statement yesterday at a press conference at Sir Lynden International Airport following his trip to Barbados to attend a CARICOM meeting.
The new travel policy, which was implemented by Cabinet last year, allows for ministers' spouses to go on additional trips, including a $100 daily per diem. The policy also increases ministerial per diem from $80 to $100 per day for domestic travel and $150 to $250 for international travel.
Further defending the move yesterday, Dr Minnis recalled when he "almost" called Jamaica for assistance to pay the country's travel bill.
"...I was placed in an embarrassing situation as prime minister of the country when I travelled 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.
"And we had an ambassador in the same situation and could not pay bills and I was almost pressured, (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 bills and you worried about $100?"
This is not the first time a Cabinet minister has defended the government for increasing its travel expenses.
Last year, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands defended the administration's decision to increase its travel budget by $4 million in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
His comments came amidst criticism from the Progressive Liberal Party that called the move a wrong decision and a badly timed one.
"And now the discussion starts...about how can we spend $10 for this and $5 for that.. I think this is the beauty of democracy that you are able to have an impassioned discussion about facts," Dr Sands told reporters.
"The facts are there and we want to stand on our record…we have been as open and as transparent as possible and people will dissect information, which is now available."
While in opposition, the Free National Movement frequently criticised the Christie administration's travel expenditure.
Although Dr Minnis agreed in 2017 to release a detailed breakdown of the travel expenses of all Cabinet ministers, the administration has not followed through on his pledge.