PORT OF SPAIN — Head of the Public Service and Permanent Secretary to the Prime Minister, Reynold Cooper, said yesterday it was “highly improper” for a permanent secretary to accept gifts in excess of $5,000 outside of a special occasion such as retirement.
Cooper said he agreed with former head of the public service, Reginald Dumas, that it was improper for Cheryl Blackman to have accepted the gift of an all-expenses-paid trip to Jamaica, given by former minister Jack Warner.
Cooper pointed out that the Integrity in Public Life Act requires a person in public life must disclose all gifts received in excess of $5,000. Permanent secretaries fall under the Integrity in Public Life Act.
The current price of a return ticket from Trinidad and Tobago to Jamaica is $4,185 (economy) and $6,843 (first class).
Warner told a meeting last Thursday he paid for all the expenses associated with a trip to Jamaica in January 2011 for Blackman and other members of staff.
He said: “I have never travelled for the government except once when in January 2011, I went to Jamaica with my permanent secretary and other members of staff from the Ministry of Works and Transport for the signing of the documents for the merger of Caribbean Airlines and Air Jamaica.
“For that trip I paid all my expenses including my air travel and accomodation, and I also paid the expenses for my staff.”
Blackman’s characterisation of the trip was different. She said it was an entirely private trip, which had nothing to do with the Caribbean Airlines/Air Jamaica merger.
Cooper said there was no rule against receiving a gift. But, he noted, it was improper to accept certain gifts.
“There are certain gifts you would accept and others you may not,” he said.
Asked whether an all-expenses paid gift to Jamaica was an appropriate gift in any circumstances, he said not outside of a retirement. He said sometimes the ministry (not the minister) would give a public servant a cruise for themselves and a spouse upon retirement or a first-class ticket to go somewhere.
“Depending on the value of the gift, you would know whether you want to accept it or not. If the gift is of relatively small value, you might say ‘okay, no problem’. But if it is of large value, you should be sceptical and ask (yourself) why am I being given this gift of this magnitude, especially if it is outside of an occasion such as your birthday, or your retirement. You should ask questions. You should not just accept a gift because it is offered,” he said
“If it is your birthday you are given a watch, not an expensive watch but a reasonably priced watch, then you might say ‘Okay. Thank you!’.
So the value of the gift has some bearing on whether or not you would accept it. But I don’t think she broke any law. But as Mr Dumas said, it was improper to accept … (a gift of a trip to Jamaica) and I agree with him.” (Express)