City refunds unused balance of Japanese grant

– town clerk calls for audit of project

City Hall has refunded the Japanese Embassy the over $700,000 balance from the grant it received 2009, but not in US currency as requested by that embassy.

Acting Town Clerk Carol Sooba could not explain why the money was not converted when she was asked by Mayor Hamilton Green, at the council’s statutory meeting yesterday. She said that the matter is not that simple. Sooba told the mayor and councillors that a representative from the embassy in Trinidad has been calling her every week. She said the embassy is requesting a report and the conversion to US$ of the money refunded.

In 2009, the Japanese government had given the council a grant of US$75,828 towards a grassroots environmental enhancement project for Lodge Housing Scheme and Century Palm Gardens. The project was not fully executed and Green had admitted that poor administration was the reason for the failure.

The donor subsequently wrote to the council asking for the reimbursement of $753,264; the money that was left over, after the council failed to complete the project within the prescribed time frame.

According to Sooba, she has no record about the spending of the money from the grant. “This is not looking so transparent to me,” she said. Sooba also suggested that the council move to the bank for information and that a state audit should be done. “There is inadequate information in my domain…,” she stated. Green then told her that she is authorised to call in the auditors to rectify the problem.

Deputy Mayor Patricia Chase-Green said it was unfortunate that the council received money and could not say what was done with it.

However, Public Relations Officer of the council, Royston King, had previously confirmed to this newspaper that a compactor truck, the fabrication and installation of garbage receptacles and a public awareness programme were the things the money was spent on.

In April 2009, Green had held a meeting with residents of Lodge Housing Scheme and Century Palm Gardens and revealed that the project was expected to commence shortly and would be executed in two stages. He had told the residents that funding had been secured from the Government of Japan and a garbage truck was purchased for waste collection from the two communities.

He had also promised road repairs and street lighting in the areas. In June that same year, the mayor’s personal assistant, John Green, had said in a letter that an account had been opened at Republic Bank and the funds deposited there.

Green had told Stabroek News that Town Clerk Yonette Pluck-Cort, acting City Treasurer Andrew Meredith and Director of the Solid Waste Management Unit Hubert Urlin, were the signatories to the account. All three have since been dismissed, Green had noted.

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