Lethem Town Council’s purchases from mayor’s wife under scrutiny over procurement

An attempt by the Lethem Town Council to single-source the procurement of goods for the municipality has been snagged by the region, which says the proper procedure was not followed.

As a result, businesswoman Theresa Torres, who is the wife of the Mayor Carlton Beckles, is currently owed for items she supplied on credit.

Torres, who runs C&T Variety Store, had agreed to supply over $2 million worth of items on credit after being assured that she would be paid once the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) signed the payment vouchers.

She went ahead with the delivery of some of the goods despite being told that it would take about three months before she could begin receiving payments.

However, the decision by the Town Council’s Finance Committee to single source stationery, toiletries and other items from her store was seen as going against the standard procurement process.

A regional official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Stabroek News yesterday that what occurred was inappropriate as the standard process was not followed. The official said that money for items totalling in excess of $250,000 has to be taken to the Regional Tender Board for approval.

The official, who is familiar with the single sourcing of the goods from Torres, explained that vouchers were submitted on December 30, 2016, which was the last working day of the year. It was explained that the standard procedure was that invoices from three proposed suppliers have to be submitted for the Tender Board to choose the supplier.

The Tender Board, the official said, meets once a week. If the receipts were supplied on the last working day of 2016, there would have been enough time between then and now for a decision to be made.

When asked what happens in a case where a single sourced supplier has already delivered items without the approval of the Tender Board, the official hinted that the supplier may not be able to collect payments owed.

Town Clerk Keisha Vincent-Williams told Stabroek News yesterday that she was unaware that the RDC had an issue with the invoices provided or the release of the money and only became aware of same when contacted by this newspaper.

She said the goods were sourced following a directive issued by the RDC. She said it was the Finance Committee that subsequently decided that the items would be taken from Torres as there was no one else at the time who was willing to deliver them on credit.

A total of 12 invoices in the name of Torres were submitted. Some had no date but the attached receipts had dates spanning from December 12 to December 23, 2016. One of the receipts, which is dated December 21, is for $243,720 worth of stationery and a water dispenser. Another receipt, issued the following day, is for $233,280 for more stationery, four filing cabinets and two first aid kits along with a receipt for $248,000 for 16 boxes of typing paper. On the same day, a receipt for a large amount of stationery, totalling $137,440, was also issued. Among the other items on the remaining receipts are toiletries, cleaning tools, curtains, newspapers, fans, vinolay, teacups, spoons and drinking glasses.

Vincent-Williams, who took up office late last year, made it clear that the Finance Committee has the authority to decide who items are taken from. “The decision came from the Finance Committee,” she stressed while adding that when she inquired at the region’s accounts department, she was told that the invoices have to go to the Tender Board.

Stabroek News saw a letter from the REO’s office, which was signed on behalf of then REO Carl Parker, indicating that there was an outstanding sum of $2,399,480 to be expended by the Municipality of Lethem for the remainder of 2016. The letter is dated December 19, 2016 but based on this newspaper’s enquiries it was delivered to the Town Clerk at least five days later.

In the letter, it was indicated that the outstanding balance should be used to “offset day-to-day expenses and payment of wages and salaries on or before 31st December, 2016.”

Vice-Chairman of the Finance Committee Ahrens Landry, in an invited comment, told Stabroek News yesterday that in order to get money from the RDC, bills have to be provided and it is then left up to the RDC to decide whether to release money. He said that with regard to the Torres matter, this was done and no objections were raised by the RDC.

He also said the Committee did not want a situation where the money was “taken back.”

Asked why the procurement process was not followed, he explained that given that the year was coming to an end and that such a process would have taken some time to be completed, a decision was made to source the product from someone, who in this case turned out to be Torres.

Landry made it clear that Parker has to take some blame. He said Parker was the person who has the power to advise the committee but he never did so in relation to the matter.

“He supposed to guide us… He has more experience than all of us,” Landry stressed.

Stabroek News was later informed by persons in Lethem that money was available all year but the Council was never made aware of this. The money, this newspaper was told, could only be used on specific items.