Region Six councillors question $2M reportedly spent to transport students for independence celebrations

The Regional Democratic Council (RDC) of Region Six on Thursday learnt that over $2 million was spent to transport National Cadet Corps students from the region to Georgetown in order for them to practice and later take part in independence celebrations in May.

Zamal Hussain, PPP/C Regional Councillor told a statutory meeting of the RDC that he made the discovery at a recent tender board meeting, where the bill for $2 million was brought for belated approval.

Hussain said he immediately became suspicious and contacted the Regional Education Officer (REdO), who informed him that the spending was due to a directive from the Ministry of Education. “Within five days period, we had spent $2 million. So, this was shocking to me, so I asked the [REdO] pertaining to the issue and she told me that this was a policy by the Ministry of Education to get cadet corps to go for training for the independence celebration in Georgetown,” he said.  

Hussain added that he was puzzled how the minister was able to direct the region to spend over $2 million, without the Regional Education Committee not seeing anything in writing.

The 52nd Independence Anniversary Flag Raising Ceremony saw the participation of thousands of students from around the country, including members of the resuscitated National Cadet Corps.

Regional Vice-Chairman Denis Deroop pointed out that the Regional Chairman David Armogan and the Regional Executive Officer Kim Williams-Stephen should have been made aware of the spending. “The minister or the PS [Permanent Secretary] should have [written] that this is necessary and [they] are requesting because this is money not budgeted for.”

Additionally, Deroop said he planned to write the Auditor General to seek clarity on the matter. “…To know how, without the RDC approval, we shifted this large sum of money to be spent here,” he said.

Deroop further stated that the council needs to know the process which was used to hire the buses. “This is a lot of money to hire buses. How many buses were hired? And what was the cost? At least we should have [a] proper procurement transaction done,” he declared.

He also questioned whether quotations were sought from all of the bus services within the region. “All these things should have been done before the activity. You can’t utilise the money and then bring the thing after to tender board,” he complained.

Meanwhile, it was noted that in early February, the RDC had passed a motion to finance the transportation for school children of severed sugar workers in the Canje and Skeldon areas. However, the motion was not implemented by Williams-Stephen until June and in the Canje area alone, and only after Deroop had suggested having a David G Bus moved from the Corentyne area, since the region is financing fuel and maintenance for the David G buses.

In February, Williams-Stephen and the REdO both said that there was no money to facilitate the motion. However, after implementation, some councillors were told that money was moved around in the region’s budget. 

Regional Chairman Armogan questioned if approval was received for such a decision.

However, at that point Williams-Stephen told Armogan that no money had to be moved around.

After her intervention, he told the council, “They had money, they didn’t have to move money around.”

He added, “To put $ 2 million into one event is a lot of money, so we got to be able to check some of these things.” He also noted that when the REdO was asked to hire a bus for Canje and Skeldon to benefit the children of the severed sugar workers, she had said she did not budget for that. “I hope the minister and PS can write to us and justify that kind of spending, so that we know it was done on instruction from the ministry,” he further said.

Meanwhile, Armogan suggested that the Regional Education Committee arrange a one-day workshop to look at ways in which the region’s National Grade Six Examination results can be improved. “There is need to bring people [to] the table to sit down and look at ways and means by which we can be able to improve our results,” he opined.

“Running around with buses and all these events would not do anything for education for our children. What we need to do is make sure that the money is spent in terms of bringing them up, in terms of educating them, in terms of improving their results,” he added.

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