(Trinidad Guardian) The award of million-dollar contracts to three companies owned by a serving police officer is now the subject of an audit initiated by State-owned Angostura Ltd and has been linked to the absence of the company’s chief executive officer from work.
Company insiders said the head of the audit department Ingrid Lashley called in accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers to investigate the award of several contracts authorised by CEO Genevieve Jodhan a month ago, while Jodhan was abroad at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Angostura is one of the crown jewels acquired by the State after the 2009 bailout of the CL Financial Group. It is a publicly traded company and makers of the world-renowned Angostura Aromatic Bitters and a host of premium rums, including 1919.
PWC has completed its review following the complaint and intends on allowing Jodhan an opportunity to respond to the findings today. She has 10 days thereafter to respond.
The matter has also been referred to the Ministry of National Security, as it involves a national public interest and a senior police officer.
But Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith on Wednesday night said he was unaware of the probe involving police officer Sgt Mark Hernandez.
Hernandez, 42, is listed as the executive chairman and owner of MH Tactical Response Group (MHT), New Order Security Services (NOSS) and Corporate Asset Protection (CAP), all registered at Eastern Main Road, St Augustine.
Company officials said security footage at Angostura confirmed Hernandez had been a frequent visitor to the company’s Laventille compound after hours, although he did not sign the visitor’s log during those visits. He had been recruited to train staff on weapon safety and other security issues.
Jodhan, 53, did not respond to a query about Hernandez. However, she said she is on vacation leave and is carded to return to office on November 27.
Guardian Media was informed by company insiders that Jodhan, who returned to work last Friday, had been initially sent on administrative leave which was subsequently retracted, after she opted to go on vacation leave for 20 working days from Monday.
In an emailed response to questions from Guardian Media on Wednesday night, Jodhan said she was aware that “there is an investigation into procurement practices initiated as a consequence of a complaint made through the company’s Whistle Blower Process, and expects that this investigation will be fair, and completed expeditiously.”
She said as the CEO of a publicly traded company, she “has always held the interest and welfare of all employees and stakeholders in mind in the conduct of the company’s business and will continue to so do.”
One informed source said while Jodhan was empowered to authorise contracts up to the sum of $500,000 without board approval, the contracts under review exceeded that sum and were not in keeping with a directive of the board. The official said it is the company’s procurement practice to invite three tenders for public contracts to ensure transparency.
Jodhan, in a statement to Guardian Media on Wednesday night, defended her actions, saying they were lawful and in keeping with the procurement policy of the company.
The following are the questions and responses from Jodhan:
Did you authorise any contracts without board approval or defied the BOD’s instructions regarding issuing contracts to three companies?
“Any transactions that I have approved has been well within my authority as per the company’s delegation of authority.”
Did you not follow the practice of inviting three bidders for contracts issued to NOSS, CAP and MHT?
“As per our procurement policy we do not have to invite three bids for many services, ‘single sourcing’ of suppliers for goods and services is allowed.”