Region Two Chairman, REO at loggerheads on range of issues

The chairman and some councillors of the Regional Democratic Council of Region Two (Pomeroon/ Supenaam) remain at loggerheads with the Regional Executive Officer (REO) over the “laid-back” approach he has taken towards the execution of projects.

In an interview with Stabroek News, Devanand Ramdatt, the regional chairman said that if the REO, Rupert Hopkinson continues to delay the projects, they would “have to move in the direction of a no-confidence motion.”

He pointed out that no motion has been prepared as yet and explained that by not getting projects done in a timely manner, the REO has been hindering the progress in the region. Ramdatt was disappointed that there has been a backlog of several key issues that needed to be addressed, some as old as six months and despite having discussions with the REO, there has been no improvement.

He argued that “as the accounting officer who is paid a huge salary,” he should look into the interest of the people… the REO has his priorities all mixed up.”

  Rupert Hopkinson
Rupert Hopkinson

In response, Hopkinson told Stabroek News that implementation of projects is a function of the engineers, who supply the REO with a design of the project for the tender board meeting and the bills of quantities.  “If the engineer does not do that then the REO and the tender board cannot implement a project.”

He said the region has been very stern with implementation, noting that 35% of the work has been completed and by end of the month the capital projects would jump to about 75%. He also showed Stabroek News a copy of 35 tenders that would soon be awarded.

Hopkinson said he is the “hardest worker” but is not supported by the engineer and other officials of the region who have “lingering loyalty to the opposition. I have to literally beg them to work.”

He warned that he is “not making jokes anymore” and that if they do not work, he would report them to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communities.

Hopkinson had told this newspaper previously that the delay of the projects was not his fault and blamed the engineer for failing to submit the necessary documents.

The REO pointed out too that, “the government allocates money to have works done and so there’s no question that the REO can hold back any money.”

He said too that he was expecting the no-confidence motion because he was seen as a “political appointee,” coming from the APNU+AFC coalition.  He pointed out that upon his appointment there was no accommodation for him and he was put up at the State House, where he was told in January, that, “there was a plot to poison me.”

The Principal Personnel Officer conducted an investigation and one staff member [who cooks at state house] was dismissed, two were transferred and two remained. He said the police also confirmed that there was a plot to poison him and the matter was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, which advised that no charges should be filed. He also said that someone  unlawfully entered his room and destroyed his television remote control.

 

Drainage and irrigation

   Devanand Ramdatt
Devanand Ramdatt

Ramdatt said that drainage and irrigation (D&I) matters have not been attended to and noted that rice farmers and residents of Riverstown have been affected by flooding due to the koker not being repaired.

This newspaper has seen a few emails that the chairman sent to the REO regarding matters to be addressed urgently, based on his inspections around the region.

In an email dated February 26 the chairman informed him about the Airy Hall/Riverstown koker that was damaged. A follow up email was also sent on June 6 that it was “very unfortunate that no timely action was taken.”

In another email sent earlier this month, the chairman mentioned the damaged Westbury koker where emergency work had to be done to prevent flooding during the spring tide.

Ramdatt told this newspaper that he does not want to be part of a system where the REO “does not make an effort to address complaints but would find engineers and resources to do emergency work.”

With regards to the kokers, Hopkinson said he takes reports from the engineers who are the “technical persons” and treat that as priority.

Speaking about some other grouses, Ramdatt said the REO sold items belonging to the region without the approved procedure, pointing out that “two canter loads of materials, estimated to cost above $4M were sold for below $5000.”

“How can I as regional chairman, to ensure that we serve in the interest of the people, sit and accept this?” he questioned. “The RDC is calling for an investigation”.

A man, said to be a “close associate” of the REO, removed the materials including, a water pump, the back half of a tractor and rubber rollers from the D&I compound.

One of the pumps, according to the chairman, was reportedly being sold in the region, subsequently for $300,000.

On May 16, in an emailed signed by two regional officers; Karran Chan and Nait Ram, the REO was told: “It has been brought to our attention that several items, in the D&I compound, that are serviceable are up for sale as unserviceable items. This is a breach of the Procurement Act.”

The email also mentioned the procedures that should be followed, including: inspection by technical persons, such as the mechanical engineer and mechanical superintendent, to confirm whether the items are unserviceable and that approval has to be sought from the finance secretary for approval of sale.

Further, the email said, an advertisement should be placed in the media, followed by a public auction, which should take place in the presence of regional officers and the highest bidder for each item is then awarded the item.

In response, Hopkinson said people would apply for the articles and would be sent to the stock verifier who would then comment in writing whether the stocks are serviceable or not. He then approves the items to be removed.

 

Compulsion

The stock verifier is supposed to ensure that the person only takes items that have been allocated to him “but with the compulsion to steal, they can take other items.”

He said too that if they remove items that he did not approve then “the stock verifier and the purchaser should be taken to the police. They cannot find me culpable for something that I have no control over… This is not fair to me.”

Ramdatt told this newspaper too that the region had stockpiled materials for road projects, including sand, stone and loam and that Hopkinson removed them to create play parks.

“We have no details of these parks and all I am asking is that he acts in the best interest of the people,” he said. “One of the play parks has two deep trenches” close by. He also accused the REO of excavating a trench close to the road shoulder and said it can lead to erosion.

Regarding the play park, Hopkinson said he used that area with the trench because “I am an economist and I have a vision. We can use the waterways as a form of boating later on for little kids and have lifeguards so we can create employment.”

The area, he said, can also be used for “Essequibo night” activities and would be an economic venture that can develop the region. The parks, he said, can be used as a form of relaxation in a region, which is said to have a high suicide rate.

Ramdatt noted that the residents took offence at a statement Hopkinson made against them in this newspaper on February 23 that: “In Region Two there is a culture of dishonesty and the people and the system are damaged.”

The article dealt with the missing materials from the demolished Aurora School. “The residents are hardworking and to make such a comment does not go down well… He should guard his words… This is a united region; we are known for unity and peace.”

To that, the REO said he has the evidence and showed SN photos of a canter removing materials from the school.

The chairman said too that an entire ECG machine from the Suddie Hospital went missing and that the REO has to take responsibility to ensure there is a proper system.”

Hopkinson responded that the ECG machine had “mysteriously reappeared” at the hospital and said that is not the function of the REO but of the Regional Health Officer. An official at the hospital told Stabroek News police are still conducting investigations into the matter.

Ramdatt also accused Hopkinson of not adhering to employment practices by employing a few persons – some, allegedly with questionable background – without proper approval from the public service commission.

He claimed that one of the employees who was attached to a media house where he allegedly “had issues due to malpractice” is being accommodated at the Regional Guest House.

Further, the chairman said, the employee has “turned away a number of farmers” because they were wearing slippers. Admitting that the office has a dress code in effect, he pointed out the security guards would use their discretion before allowing the farmers to enter. He said they take into consideration the fact that farmers may come from a far way and would find it difficult to “go home and change and then come back to make a complaint.”

He has also turned away two pensioners from Kabakaburi in the Pomeroon. Ramdatt said he wrote to the employee about having the dress code issue reviewed to facilitate the farmers but he has not responded.

The REO explained that the employee is doing a stint at the region and that “when his time comes to an end his services would be reviewed for possible continuation.”

Ramdatt, as chairman of the Education Standing Committee said he was never notified about books being there, whether for donation or otherwise. Further, Hopkinson has used a building in the education department to display some of his books without “proper documentation.”

But according to the REO, his family has given the books, worth $15M, as a gift to the education department. He said he has since written to the chairman, informing him about the donation.

Meantime, Hopkinson said, “I don’t think that the chairman and I have any real problem; it is not deep seated, it is artificial… But he is obligated and compelled to give me a hard time so his party can look good…”

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