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Uproar in the House as PM reveals $117m spent on overseas trips

Holness: Ministers must travel with frugality

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, February 12, 2014    

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A nasty episode of name-calling, jeers and shouts of abuse characterised most of the approximately hour-long interlude during which Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller answered questions about her frequent overseas trips in the House of Representatives yesterday.

House Speaker Michael Peart fought to keep order during most of the period as Opposition Leader Andrew Holness posed some follow-up questions emanating from the 61-page document tabled by Simpson Miller with her answers to his original questions.

There were only a few copies of the document available. The Opposition had to make do with two copies, and the Government members with probably two more. No copies were available for the press.

The prime minister's answers said that full cost of overseas visits by members of her Government, including junior ministers, was $117.8 million. The cost of trips paid for by the Office of the Prime Minister was $25 million for staff, and $15 million for the prime minister alone on her 25 trips.

Holness was greeted with laughter and derision when he rose to ask additional questions.

Leader of Opposition Business Derrick Smith suggested that the Speaker ensure that the opposition leader was protected by the chair, but Peart said the jeers were not confined to one side.

When the Opposition demanded that the Government show the opposition leader some respect, junior minister Luther Buchanan said, "him doan deserve that yet".

"No amount of noise and distraction is going to prevent me, or the members on this side from bringing out the truth about the operations of this Government. So they can make as much noise as they want," Holness responded.

"I take a stand on this side, that when the prime minister rises on her feet, and all my members here are aware of the stand I take, that the Office of the Prime Minister must be respected. I take that stand and I am not here begging respect from anyone," he added.

Holness said that it was understood that prime ministers must travel, however, the debate was not about "whether or not prime ministers should travel, or are entitled to travel, but that when prime ministers travel they must report to Parliament".

"And they must exercise the entitlement of travel with discretion and frugality," the opposition leader said.

The most expensive trip listed by the prime minister's document was the $6.5 million spent on a seven-day visit Ethiopia in May 2013 for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Organisation of African States (OAS)/African Union.

But Holness came under some heavy bombardment from Government members when he asked about the outcome of the expensive Addis Ababa trip.

The prime minister said that she was surprised at the question being asked about an African nation.

"Fifty years of the African Union and I am touring where my ancestors were born and bred, some of them, and some in Jamaica, and you know something, Mr Speaker, never mind enslavers, because there were times when our own caught us and sell us into slavery...," Simpson Miller said as she related the story of African children caught and sold into slavery.

"The African blood runs deep in my veins..." she said.

"The African blood runs deep in me, as well," Holness responded.

"No, no, no," shouted Government MPs, which angered Holness.

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