Audit finds multimillion-dollar feeding frenzy at University of T&T

(Trinidad Guardian) A forensic audit into the University of T&T (UTT) by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan has unearthed a multimillion-dollar feeding frenzy among its staff and students at the expense of taxpayers. The findings of the audit, UTT chairman Curtis Manchoon said, has led to several job contracts being terminated to curb its growing expenses in the last few months.

As much as UTT would like to review salaries for contracted workers, Manchoon said finding highly qualified staff was not easy, hence the reason why attractive salaries were offered. All this, Manchoon said, contributed to UTT losing millions, with no benefits in return.

Last year, Manchoon said, UTT faced a TT$67 million deficit, while its operating expenses were estimated in excess of TT$400 million. UTT, Manchoon said, has been operating on a deficit for a couple of years, stressing that it would take a while for it to come out of the red.

Questioned if UTT was overstaffed, Manchoon replied: “I don’t know if to say that the place was overstaffed or the staff that was brought in was not properly utilised. You have to hold people accountable. It is taxpayers’ money you are using. The money is not falling from the sky.”

Manchoon said some UTT workers did not know what they were doing, while others had outside jobs. “How it happened I don’t know. What I discovered was that people could come to work when they want and go when they want…and nobody would ask them anything. They did not want their work time recorded. We attempted through the HR (Human Resource) manager to curtail that. There was huge resistance. The sense you get is everybody protecting one another.”

Promising to tighten UTT’s belt and make it a viable state enterprise, Manchoon, a former accountant, with Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and banker said that in his opinion people saw UTT as a “milking cow.” UTT forks out TT$300 million annually, Manchoon said, to pay its 1,200 staff at its nine campuses.

He felt the $300 million was too much in terms of salary disbursements “if you compare it to what we are earning from an economic point of view.” He added: “It is up to this board to clean up this horrendous mess and put in place a proper accounting system.”

UTT has a student population of 8,000.

Manchoon said if the board were to solve all the past problems, they would not be able to manage the university. Asked if there was a culture of greed at UTT, Manchoon said: “It would appear that there is evidence to suggest that this is true, but before our time.” Manchoon said his biggest task was to turn UTT into an entrepreneurial university, stating that this was vital to the economy.

“We have to get everyone on board to go the extra mile.” Admitting that it would have been easier to join an organisation that was well-managed with proper systems in place, Manchoon said that nepotism was also prevalent in UTT with family members of staff working in its campuses. He spoke about two relatives working in one department, a couple and siblings, being employed at the university.

“It is alleged that a mother hired a daughter. This is what we are trying to correct.” Former UTT vice provost, Abdel Mahmoud Sharaf recently stated that exorbitant sums of money were being spent through a facility which sees UTT staff, while on scholarship, being paid their full salaries plus benefits, as full-time postgraduate students studying abroad. The figures amount to as much as much as £1,000 or US$1,000 a month.

Responding to the allegations, Manchoon said while the claims are true, it happened under the former People’s National Movement administration. “As a matter of fact, one of the things I discovered as chairman was that UTT was actually paying students TT$85,000 each year to do their master’s and PhD under the Gate programme, which provides 100 per cent cost to the students…but only 50 per cent at the master’s and PhD levels.”

Manchoon said the board did not sanction the payments. He said an undergraduate who worked in a private enterprise for TT$12,000 salary was hired at UTT for TT$36,000. The audit revealed:

• One staff member was paid TT$40,000 a month for three years and was never seen in UTT. This amounted to approximately TT$1.5 million in wages.

• More than 50 per cent of 130 high-performing athlete students on scholarship dropped out. The students, representing 12 sporting disciplines, fell under the High Performance Sports Unit. This programme cost taxpayers TT$100 million each year to manage, with housing, meals and transportation provided. They also used the vehicles provided to visit nightclubs.

• A lecturer collected a salary of close to TT$100,000.

• An expatriate of India, who came to teach music, had no students in his class for three years. The teacher was also provided with a housing allowance.

• One student was awarded a staggering TT$3.3 million scholarship.