Acting Chairman of the Enmore/Hope NDC, Mohammed Dawud yesterday maintained that no decision had been made to sell 15 computers which were controversially seized by the eGovernment Unit on Thursday.
In an interview with Stabroek News, Dawud said that the computers were outdated and key components had malfunctioned and so the council had been considering its options. He also asserted that the computers were the property of the Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) and had nothing to do with the government. He also revealed that there had been an attempt on the same day to enter the community centre where computers are also kept but that this was thwarted by guards.
Dawud said he was assaulted by a fellow resident during the visit by the eGovernment Unit of the Ministry of Public Telecommunications, accompanied by officers from the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU) and he had reported this to the police.
According to Dawud, at the time the team went to the Enmore/Hope NDC, he was not there, but he got a call from the distraught clerk asking him to come to the office.
“Around 2:30 I got a call from the clerk at the Enmore NDC, telling me that some people from the Ministry of the Presidency removing the computers from the resource centre and I could come over immediately”, Dawud said. The Acting Chairman said he immediately left for the NDC and when he got there he asked for the person in charge. He said a man by the name of Ronald Baker approached him and gave him a business card. Dawud said that Baker told him that he was a political advisor in the president’s office and they were there to seize the computers because they had received a report that the NDC was selling out the computers. The acting chairman explained that Baker further told him that some of the computers were dusty and were not working but when they were ready to put things in place, he would return the computers.
Dawud said that after Baker had explained the team’s reason for being at the NDC, he asked for permission to take photos while the officers were removing the computers, which was eventually granted by Baker. “After I got the permission I started to flash and then he [the assailant] walk up to me and started to grab away my phone and started to assault me” Dawud explained. Dawud said that the assailant would always try to thwart the plans of councilors during statutory meetings. “I told him I have permission to do this and you cannot come and assault me and he did it in the presence of all the officers who were there”, Dwaud told Stabroek News. The acting Chairman said that the assailant was later cautioned by the team to leave him alone, but he continued, this time uttering threatening language at him. Dawud said that he showed restraint and proceeded to take his photos but left the NDC a while after. The Acting Chairman said that he reported the assault to the Enmore police station.
Dawud told Stabroek News that approximately ten men had gone to the NDC that day. He said that he was told that someone from the eGovernment Unit was present along with officers from SARU. The acting chairman said that the team took 15 Desktop Computers and 8 Back Up Power Packs. He maintained that the computers were not the Government’s computers but were given to them by the Caribbean Development Bank-funded Basic Needs Trust Fund (BNTF).
A letter seen by Stabroek News dated September 2, 2016, from BNTF to Mark Mahase, the then Vice Chairman of the NDC, stated that with “Reference to your letter dated August 18, 2016, Please be informed that the computer laboratory with the computers and accessories were handed over to the NDC formally. The NDC signed a Memorandum of Understanding to maintain and operate the centre. It is therefore the NDC’s responsibility to maintain and operate the centre”. The letter was signed by Michael Singh, BNTF Project Manager.
Dawud said that the computers were there long before this current NDC took office after the Local Government Elections in 2016. He said they were unsure as to who or where the computers had come from and so after inquiring, BNTF had responded. Dawud said that when they made checks on the computers they realized that 90 percent of the electronics had malfunctioned and were outdated.
“A long time (ago) they were given to the NDC and things changed, if you want to keep classes for people in the community the system needs to be updated”, Dawud said. He explained that components like the memory, hard drive and other critical parts of the computer needed to be upgraded. The acting chairman explained that the computers were already in use as classes were being conducted on them, but as some had malfunctioned they were put aside.
The Acting Chairman further explained that no decision was made to either sell or keep the computers. “We [The Council] had held a meeting to discuss the computers, some councilors suggested that maybe we could sell it out and take the monies to replace them with new ones”, Dawud explained. He said that during that meeting the new Overseer did not document everything that was said at that meeting. “We just made a suggestion in the meeting, we did not go for a vote, it was not confirmed. All that was written in the minutes was ‘Councilors decided to sell computers’ and it was not confirmed”, Dawud said.
Dawud said that he was made to understand that there was a rumour that the NDC wanted to sell the computers to a councilor who owns an internet café. He said that he was the only person who owned an internet café at the moment.
The Vice Chairman also told Stabroek News that he was informed that on Thursday the eGovernment team also visited the Community Centre, through Estate Road, where they also have computers which were from GuySuCo. He said that the team was turned away by security guards at the compound. Dawud said he is unsure whether they may return for those computers as well.
Dawud said that no one informed them of the intention to take the computers, there was no warrant, the team just arrived and took the computers. “We feel that there are other NDCs they can go but they are only targeting Enmore because they went to the NDC and the Community Centre”, Dawud complained. “I feel that it all deals with politics and its unconstitutional for them to act like this..they should have informed us because the clerk and the new overseer knew nothing and they were scared when they showed up to them”, Dawud said.
The Acting Chairman said that they have been advised to launch civil proceedings against the State. Dawud said that they are working along with former attorney general, Anil Nandlall who will be guiding them on their next move. The acting chairman said that an emergency meeting was called to discuss the way forward.
The opposition PPP in a statement on Thursday had described the incident as another flagrant abuse of authority and another extreme authoritarian initiative of the Government using SARU, as a weapon. It said that currently SARU has absolutely no law enforcement powers.
The PPP charged that these abuses are taking place in broad daylight without the SARA (State Assets Recovery Agency) Bill being enacted. “One can only imagine the illegal rampages which will take place when this Bill assumes the force of law,” the statement said, while adding that the party was calling on the Commissioner of Police to launch a full investigation into the matter.
Meanwhile, a statement from the Ministry of Public Telecommunications captioned `Enmore NDC foiled in their attempt to sell computers donated by Basic Needs Trust Fund’ said that team was at the NDC to investigate a report that a batch of computers was about to be sold.
“On arrival at the Enmore NDC, eGovernment’s officials, in the company of officers attached to the State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU), found fifteen (15) computers in a state of disrepair. They were improperly stored in dusty conditions. There was absolutely no evidence that the computers were used recently despite the PPP/C’s claim that the units were being used to teach evening classes for residents.
“The computers will be returned to the Enmore community once it has been agreed that they would not be sold or otherwise disposed of. eGovernment fully intends to support the residents of Enmore/Hope under its Community ICT hub initiative which provides free Internet service and computer skills training”, the statement said.