(Trinidad Guardian) The Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme’s (CEPEP) expenditure records for the period 2013 to 2015, amounting to more than TT$1.5 billion in funds, cannot be found, chairman Ashton Ford revealed on Thursday.
Ford disclosed this while addressing the media at CEPEP’s headquarters in Ste Madeleine after a meeting with the board members. He said there is no trace of the accounting information on the computer system and he had received information that documents had been deliberately destroyed.
“I was told that there was a shredding spree prior to the September 7, 2015, General Election,” Ford told the T&T Guardian after a press conference in which the issue was raised.
Ford said, as it stands now, the audit for that period cannot be completed because the records cannot be found. He said the records relate to the company’s expenses, including payments to contractors and staff for that period. Ford said the management encountered this situation when they were appointed in 2016.
Speaking earlier at Thursday’s press conference, CEPEP general manager Keith Eddy said from what he understands the accounts for the three years involved annual expenses of between $500 and $600 million.
“We have been unable to recover any of the information, hence it is very difficult for the current management team to check the 2015 external audit which was done on the company, given that we have no information that we could double check. So we keep trying to work with the auditor in order to get the audit closed off,” Eddy said.
Eddy said they are trying to source the information through bank records and now trying “to build the whole accounting profile all over again.” Asked how the information went missing in the first place, Eddy said the management team was “just told when we got here that there was no information available through the computer system that they were using.” He said they also could find no paperwork.
“But the information was also kept on the server, which I guess would have crashed or whatever and we just don’t have the information,” he said. Noting that several attempts have been made to recover the data, he said they even enquired from Price Waterhouse Coopers whether they had “any kind of software or anything” to help them recover the information, but to no avail.
Addressing recent claims of possible collusion and favouritism in the award of CEPEP contracts raised this week by former People’s Partnership minister Devant Maharaj, Ford said there was absolutely no truth to claims that People’s National Movement party supporters were being favoured for contracts.
However, he asked, “But what is wrong with PNM people getting contracts and the UNC kept it for eight years and the media remain quiet. Why?” Asked if Minister of Rural Development and Local Government Kazim Hosein has anything to do with the award of contracts, he said, “The Minister is like everybody else. People call the minister for help, they call the MP for help, they call the mayor for help, they call the councillor, the chairman, the opposition call us and we work with them.
“Because let me tell you when you have this company, this company cannot say they cleaning A because A is PNM and leaving out B. You have to clean the country and that is the point I am making and that is why Dr Moonilal can say it is nothing strange for people to call and ask for help. He said it and they were there for eight years. And now people getting contract they want to know if it is PNM. Is that fair?”
Asked if it was normal practice for a minister to ask that a contract is given to a specific person, he said, “We cannot guarantee that. You have to go through a process.
“When the Tender Committee meet they have to make sure that the people fulfil the requirements and no minister can help you there and no MP can help you there, you know. If you do not fulfil that requirement that is it.”
He noted that some contractors have been with CEPEP for eight years. An informant who leaked a voice recording of an alleged conversation between Hosein and La Brea MP Nicole Olivierre over the award of CEPEP contracts has reportedly gone into hiding after receiving threats on the issue, but Ford said that was the joke of the century.