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Warner hears of racket at Lake Asphalt
Millions of gallons of asphalt and bitumen from Trinidad Lake Asphalt, La Brea, cannot be accounted for, Works Minister Jack Warner heard when he visited the facility yesterday. The minister, who organised a meeting with officials of the company to address complaints by contractors about difficulty in obtaining bitumen to complete projects, was instead stunned by revelations from chairman Kuarlal Rampersad about an asphalt racket involving contractors and Petrotrin officials. Rampersad also revealed that contractors owe Lake Asphalt more than $24 million which it was currently trying to recover.
Describing the revelations as startling and mind-boggling, Warner said: “Am I to assume that this is like the diesel racket? I want to know where the bitumen is going and who are the culprits behind it.” The pitch racket was revealed during a presentation by chief executive officer, Deonarine Sarabjit, after Warner asked how Lake Asphalt’s supply could be greater than their demand. “Where it (bitumen) going?” the minister questioned. At that point Rampersad interjected, saying their investigations revealed contractors were requesting more asphalt than required for projects.
He said Lake Asphalt could not account for what the contractors were doing with the excess. Rampersad said the board had implemented measures to arrest the situation. Effective January 1, next year, all contractors must be registered business partners with Lake Asphalt and all movements of the company’s bitumen and TLA would be monitored. Rampersad said there was one instance where a contractor asked for 3.2 million barrels of bitumen to do a project, but only “one point, something” was used. Another contractor, he said, bought three million gallons to fix a road, but when they checked with the Ministry of Works he had not been hired to do any jobs in T&T.
“When we did our investigations we realised that certain contractors have this alliance, this relationship with Petrotrin people, so they will call and they will move in with the trucks and then they will make their demands, fill up bitumen,” he said. According to Rampersad, Lake Asphalt also was looking at quality control because there were reports that contractors were mixing the product with something else. PURE’s project manager, Hayden Phillip, revealed that a few years ago they sent refinery bitumen samples for testing at Lake Asphalt and received what appeared to be carbon copies results, stating that it was Trinidad Lake Asphalt.
Expressing concern about the quality of roads, Warner said: “I want to know whether I have anything to fear about the Point Fortin highway.” Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Energy, Juliana John Boodram, assured that Government was putting measures in place to recover revenue. “At the ministry we have recognised, not only in Lake Asphalt, not only with diesel, but in other areas Government is losing revenue. “For instance, in the ministerial division in aggregates we are losing a lot of revenue but we putting systems in place simultaneously. After the meeting, Warner said he did not want to prejudge the issue.
He said: “If what has been revealed today is correct and I have no reason to doubt that it is not correct, then we have to do certain checks and balances. “The nice thing for me is we already have the diesel matter to go by and therefore we don’t have to re-invent the wheel and we shall use that as a basis. I don’t want to prejudge the issue.” Asked why Warner was not informed about the situation before, Rampersad said the irregularities were unearthed three months ago following an investigation by the Ministry of Energy. He said Warner was not informed because he was not the line minister.
However, the previous line minister, Carolyn Seepersad Bachan, and the current minister were made aware of the situation. Warner noted that Lake Asphalt had the best asphalt in the world but T&T had the worst roads and he promised that measures would be put in place to ensure value for money.