Members of a National Insurance Scheme (NIS) inspection team say they were held captive by almost two dozen men for about 20 minutes until businessman Omprakash ‘Buddy’ Shivraj arrived at the New Providence, East Bank housing development site, a source said yesterday.
Almost two weeks have passed and the police are yet to act on the allegations of threats and physical assault made against Shivraj and his employees by the members of the team.
The source, who is close to the team but did not want to be identified for safety concerns, told Stabroek News that the inspectors are still rattled by the incident but are still managing to execute their duties.
When contacted, Shivraj had denied the allegations saying that they were all lies. He said too that it was the NIS employees who were the aggressors and when he arrived at the location he had a peaceful discussion with them before they left. He had said too that it was unreasonable for his records to be seized, when he was paying his workers the following day.
Detailing what transpired on the day of the incident, the source said that the group, comprising Senior Inspector Nicholas Yearwood, inspectors Regan Baxter, Carolyn Peters and Leslie Allen, along with driver Horace Richards, arrived at the location around 10 am.
It was quickly pointed out that prior to its arrival the group did not know that the site, where a housing scheme is being constructed, belonged to Shivraj. The source said that the inspectors were met by workers who refused to provide information about the identity of the owner, although the inspectors identified themselves and outlined the purpose of their visit.
As a result of the uncooperative attitude of the workers, the inspectors decided to walk around the property “to see what evidence they could find,” the source said.
While walking around, Senior Inspector Yearwood found wage records and time sheets in what appeared to be a workers’ changing room. “After they were not giving [any] information, they decide that they will impound the books,” the source said, while explaining that under the law, inspectors have such authority but are required to give a receipt when the seizure is made.
It was at this point that trouble for the group started. The source said that suddenly a red car pulled up and a man holding a cell phone jumped out. According to the source, the man handed Yearwood the phone, saying that Shivraj wanted to have a word with him.
During the short conversation between the two men, it is being alleged that Yearwood was verbally abused by the businessman, which resulted in the inspector handing the phone back to the worker.
Thereafter, the source explained, the inspectors got into the NIS vehicle with a view of leaving the property, but about twenty workers flocked around. Two bobcats, loaded with steel rods, were used to sandwich the vehicle. The source added that the vehicle’s buckets were elevated further, preventing the inspectors from making an attempt to get to safety.
According to the source, as the group sat in the vehicle, contact was made with superiors, including the Chief Inspector, who was briefed on what was transpiring. Stabroek News was told that the frightened inspectors were left there for 20 minutes until the businessman arrived with four men.
Shivraj, based on the account of the source, had a brief discussion with Yearwood before signalling to his workers to go to the NIS vehicle and retrieve the seized books.
Yearwood, during the conversation, would have identified himself and outlined the reason for the visit, which was to ensure that the employer was registered and was making payments to the Scheme, this newspaper was told. The source said that payment to the NIS was last made in 2004 for this operation.
The source said that the men opened the door and forcibly took the books, which were in the possession of Baxter. When the men bent over, guns could be seen sticking out of their pants’ waist, the source added.
During the commotion, Stabroek News was told, one of the businessman’s employees started taking photographs of the inspectors and threatened that they will “get them at their homes.”
The chief inspector, along with about 10 to 12 persons, later arrived at the location and accompanied the inspectors to the Providence Police Station.
According to the source, members of the group spent about 30 minutes at the police station and not over an hour as has been reported. This newspaper was told that although the report was made, no attempt was made by the ranks to visit the site, something the source said came as no surprise.
The source told Stabroek News that there was a fruitful meeting between the group and Chairman of NIS Dr. Roger Luncheon, four days after the incident occurred. The source pointed out that while commitments have been made to put measures in place, including providing inspectors with vehicles, security and better means of communication, they are all waiting to see what will be the outcome of the matter.
It was further explained that inspectors are there “to see that people uphold the act… and that payments are up to date as well as to look for employees and self employed persons.”
Inspectors are in the fields every day and their work also involved making queries and investigating industrial issues. “There are some very difficult employers but you issue them a warning and thereafter take them to court for no compliance”, the source said.
The source stressed that while the incident was scary, the inspectors will not allow it to daunt their spirits but at the same time, a speedy investigation into the matter is needed.