For the record, I’m no telecommunications expert. That said, we learned of a government minister who racked up a phone bill to the tune of $59,059 in a matter of four days, from 29 January to 3 February. In her attempt to justify the wanton expenditure, we were informed that the large bill was a result of “roaming” options.
And, as was expected, a couple of her colleagues came out in support.
The numbers $59,059 bothered me because recently citizens were threatened by a civil-engineer-turned-financial-guru that should we fail to pay our property taxes the government would rush in and confiscate our properties. Of course, ‘confiscate’ is my choice of word and not his. I am not sure he understands the concept since most things are literally way above his head. But a four-day phone bill of $59,059 bill is not easy to wrap one’s mind around, be it for roaming or for liming.
Let us play for a moment with the numbers.
Assuming that Minister ‘Roma’ roamed for four sleepless days, that would give her a nice round figure of 96 roaming hours. That would translate to about $615 per hour or $10.25 per minute. If we go out on a limb and assume that she slept for six hours and roamed in the shower, while doing her make-up, while having lunch, breakfast and whatever else, that would make her total roaming time 72 hours. In that case, her hourly roaming rate works out to about $820.
I generally function on about four hours sleep—voluntarily!—but I figure most ministers aren’t really allowed to get much more. Not with a Prime Minister who might send you a text or a WhatsApp message at some unearthly hour and expect a prompt response.
I think it is quite possible that Minister Roma may get no more than me. So four-hour beauty naps would leave her with a flat 80 roaming hours. On this assumption, her roaming skills would cost taxpayers $738 per hour. “Situation-specific,” we are told, so entirely justified.
Since it is we taxpayers who pick up the ‘situation-specific’ tab, I think we are well within our rights to ask how many other tabs like this do we pick up on a monthly basis. After all, when government ministers travel, be they Romeos or Romas, one expects such travels to be “situation-specific,” even if that means on a golf course.
Or perhaps the situation involves a shopping spree with a Government-sponsored credit card, with taxpayers picking up the tab?
Or perhaps the same credit card minister years later walking into a bank with a bag full of cash and conflicting stories about the source of the funds but having no investigation launched into the whole affair, her private explanation to the Prime Minister or to the Finance Minister or to the Cabinet being deemed better than the bank’s?
Why are we in T&T concerned about different strokes for different folks when there is crime to be concerned about? Isn’t ‘different strokes for different folks’ a reality everywhere in the world?
But back to Minister Roma, who, remember, told us early on that “We in charge now” and that we have to “deal with it.” It is highly unlikely, even improbable, that she just woke up on the Friday morning of 29 February and decided to start roaming.
It, therefore, seems fair to ask the following five questions:
(1) Is this the first time she has travelled and decided that her office needed to keep her in the loop “with several issues which required [her] attention.”
(2) Is roaming now a habit?
(3) How many bills of this or similar size have we, the taxpayers, paid in the past, unbeknownst to us, not only for Minster Roma and her current Cabinet colleagues but for their predecessors as well?
(4) How many bills of this or similar size are we, the taxpayers, likely to pay in the future, unbeknownst to us, not only for Minster Roma and her current Cabinet colleagues but for their successors as well?
(5) Is there a mechanism by which we can ensure that we, the taxpayers, get this information, the Freedom of Information Act perhaps?
I am willing to wager the entire proceeds of my next government contract that this is not the first time that a minister has run up such a bill. I am also pretty sure that Minister Roma never gave a thought to the old adage about “What happens in the dark…”
I have a difficulty believing that she ever anticipated that the bill would become public and provoke the outrage of the citizenry.
For too long too many persons have used “the govament” for their own personal gain and enrichment. It happens when Public Service employees photo-copy books, when they print enormous amounts of personal material, when they make unlimited phone calls or when they abuse state property for personal use. And the list goes on.
It happens when police abuse citizens and the courts awards payment and it happens when the former servant becomes the master, “Massa.”
Someone needs to bell the cat and there is no time like the present. In these days when our tightened belts are already like nooses around our necks, taxpayers cannot afford to be saddled with the likes of Minister Roma or Minister Romeo.
It has been said time and time again: “From those to whom much is given…” If we the taxpayers demand that such persons, who already get a bagful of allowances, be required to foot their own bill, I am quite sure that such persons will roam less.
Or when they’re in Rome, they’ll take along a pack of cards and play rummy instead of roaming at our expense.