Alleged misuse of excavator causes standoff at Region Five council

-REO demanding apology from Chairman

A standoff between the Chairman and the Regional Executive Officer (REO) of the Region Five council relates to the alleged illegal use of an excavator and the Minister of Communities has said he is prepared to reconcile the two sides if asked.

Chairman of the Mahaica-Berbice council, Vickchand Ramphal and REO, Ovid Morrison are not on speaking terms as Morrison feels he was disrespected by Ramphal when the matter of the excavator’s use was raised at the council.

Vickchand Ramphal

Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan told Stabroek News on Friday that he is privy to details on how the issue manifested and if asked to intercede he will first point out to Chairman Ramphal where he believes the breakdown began and how to make amends.

“I believe that the Chairman owes a proper explanation to the REO, in good faith. That is following his (the REO’s) discovery of this unlawful act and bringing it to light, as is properly expected.”

“He (the REO) should have been accorded greater respect than the manner in which the chairman sought to deal with the matter. So, I believe, a level of leadership is needed, and that has to come from the Regional Chairman. I will encourage the Regional Chairman to recognize his initial inappropriate response to the issue and for saner counsel to prevail,” he added.

Ramphal earlier this month complained to Stabroek News that Region 5 was in a crisis as REO Morrison refuses to meet with him.

“I have indicated to him that there are matters that we need to sit down and discuss and he refused. This situation is frustrating to me and it is not one that would do well for the region and its people,” he further added.

Having exhausted attempts at “offering the olive branch” to Morrison, Ramphal said, he will discuss with the councillors whether they should solicit external help, namely the Minister of Communities, to help bring the two sides together.

Giving his account of how the stalemate started, Ramphal said there were complaints that a National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) excavator was being used at an area in the region and he had no idea who gave the go ahead for it. He said he told Morrison they should visit the area to see what the works were, but that Morrison told him he checked and there was no work being done for the RDC. He pointed out that on the day of the statutory meeting, the last Thursday in the month of April, he heard that the excavator was still at the site and told Morrison that they should go and visit, given that all the councillors were present.

According to Ramphal, Morrison then accused him of insinuating that he was not telling the truth and demanded that he apologize. He said he explained that if they went and it was proven to be not true, he would apologize, but Morrison said he was leaving the meeting and that he would not be disrespected.

At this point, he said, he uttered the words, “well then you are free to go” and Morrison became more infuriated. Councillors from the APNU+AFC coalition joined Morrison in the walkout.

‘Troubling’

But Bulkan says that the truth of the matter was that Morrison found out that an excavator the ministry was paying for, was being used for personal works for the Chairman of the NDC at Bath Settlement, in Berbice, and that he complained to Ramphal. Morrison’s concerns were brushed aside, Bulkan said, and the REO felt that given the seriousness of the matter of the misuse of state resources, it should not have been.

“I have seen that account in the media but I have not heard from the Regional Chairman since or at all. The information I am privy to is quite troubling. In particular, that government’s equipment belonging to the NDIA was used to do work for private individuals. When this was discovered by the REO and RDC … and brought to the attention of the councilors at a RDC meeting, the Regional Chairman sought to impugn both the accuracy of the information and the intentions of the REO, who was bringing this information to the council,” Bulkan said.

“So, it does not augur well if the leaders at that level of the RDC bringing information on transparency and efficiency in the region will be treated in this manner. In fact, this information was unearthed under my instigation when following an award for … nine … excavators valued in excess of $55m, I forwarded to the REO and asked him to monitor these machines which have to do works in Region Five in many communities prone to flooding. In particular, in the Trafalgar areas, perennial flooding. Lo and behold to find out that an excavator was doing work for I believe (the) then chairman of the Bath NDC,” he added.

Bulkan said that his ministry is forging ahead with plans for transparency in the local government realm.

“We are trying to improve management at the regional and local levels and it seems that some of our regional leaders are not in consonance with this new era of accountability,” Bulkan stressed.

And while he has not yet heard from Chairman Ramphal, the Minister of Communities says he was looking forward to that call and will use the opportunity to once again remind the Chairman of the partnership role he plays in a fully functional and transparent local government system. “I look forward to hearing from him,” the Minister said.

Morrison in his account of the incident forwarded to Stabroek News from his office in the form of an interview with a staff member said:

“Mr. Abel Seetaram an APNU+AFC Councilor raised this allegation (about the excavator) at the RDC Meeting in April last. He informed the Chairman that I was there and I would support the allegations. Yet the Chairman in his usual biased style accused Councillor Seetaram of making a `vicious’ allegation against his two known PPP/C colleagues. Apart from telling him that I was there, the Councilor told him that he had pictures to prove the allegations of misuse of the equipment. Mr Ramphal dismissed these offers of evidence and his whole attitude suggested that he was more prepared to defend the alleged perpetrators than to get to the bottom of the matter.”

Morrison, according to the interview sent from his office, said that it was at this point he told the Chairman that he found his obvious skepticism about a matter in which he as REO was personally involved, to be disconcerting; that he was taking umbrage about his attitude and would withdraw from the meeting.

“He didn’t say No Mr Morrison this is not about disrespecting you. He   had every opportunity to clarify the reasons for his skepticism; to allay my concerns about his response to the report. He chose not to do so. Instead he said rather brusquely; Mr Morrison you are free to leave the meeting. He   literally told me that he didn’t care about my reactions; that I could do whatever I want to do,” he said.

“Yet he is now saying that he doesn’t disrespect me.”

Morrison said: “If Mr. Ramphal has concluded that he can go about throwing tantrums about people in the media, I would strongly suggest that he seeks counselling because this Regional Executive Officer/Clerk of Council is not one that would accept that type of disrespect: I give respect at all times and I demand respect at all times. Region 5 may be `in crisis’ but the work of the Secretariat in the service of the people of the Region, will continue- unhindered by the antics of   leaders who should know better but choose to indulge in biased impulsive and reckless behaviour.”

Morrison repeated his position that he was demanding a written apology from Ramphal for the disrespect shown to him as Clerk of the Council/ Regional Executive Officer at the April sitting of the RDC Statutory Meeting before relations with him and Ramphal can return to normalcy.

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