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Things looking up —EMBD chairman
Insisting that “things are looking a lot better than before” with the intervention of Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, deputy chairman of the Estate Management Business & Development Company (EMBD), Stephen Broadbridge, is now shifting any notion of corruption at the State enterprise to “a long time ago.”In last Sunday’s T&T Guardian, Broadbridge said he had refused to sign cheques, amounting to well over $50 million in variations, at the EMBD’s Valsayn office because they did not have the board’s approval. Yesterday, Broadbridge, in a telephone interview, said it was fair for the EMBD to request $1.2 billion from the Government for the 2011/2012 fiscal year and he spoke about the good work the company has done for the agricultural sector. Told that farmers were complaining about shoddy work the EMBD did on agricultural access roads and retention ponds and asked about the perception of corruption at the company, Broadbridge said: “I think there was an awful lot of corruption a long time ago.
The PNM administration before us did so little. Our job is gigantic. “Before the Government came into power, the PNM had Utharo Rao (former chairman) and while he was there quite a lot of projects had gone wrong. “I think I will wait on the minister before I jump to conclusions. “Things are looking a lot better than before. I was very uncomfortable before but I am a lot more comfortable now with the minister taking things in hand. “Because I feel things are in good hands, I am not going to betray them.” Broadbridge and EMBD staff met with Moonilal at his ministry’s South Quay, Port-of-Spain, office last Friday. The meeting came after Moonilal launched an investigation into governance issues in the EMBD over the low cost of the rental of State lands to businesses. Dhano Sookoo, one of three directors who resigned from the company’s board last week, had complained that, despite the millions of taxpayers’ money the EMBD was spending, farmers had little to show for it.
She also claimed the database of the EMBD and the Agricultural Society of T&T (ASTT), of which she is president, was hacked into and files of farmers’ complaints about the company have gone missing. Broadbridge, commenting on that, said there were times when incidents were a result of pure inefficiency rather than corruption. He said he sometimes found the farmers’ complaints suspicious and noted he gave some of them his telephone number but to date they had not called him. Broadbridge said he had promised the farmers he would personally check out any complaint they had. He said while not every single road or retention pond the EMBD constructed would be perfect, most of them were up to standard. “I don’t think it’s fair to say the roads are terrible,” he added. Miles of road and hundreds of retention ponds were built by the EMBD, he said. Further, before any contractor was paid, an engineer went on the site and checked out the project, he added. “I believe there is also some involvement by the farming community in the sign-off,” Broadbridge said.
Justifying the EMBD’s $1.2 billion request, he said the company had to spend money to relocate people who were living in houses the PNM built on very valuable agricultural land. He said: “We had to spend money to fix things and clean up the problems that were left. We didn’t jump into a nice, clean thing.” Broadbridge said the EMBD also spent money to fix the office. Further, he added, $1.2 billion was a fair amount to spend on the agricultural sector because food security was vital for T&T. He added: “Vasant Bharath (former Food Production Minister) took it very seriously and the EMBD went vigorously into constructing supporting infrastructure.” Sookoo, on the other hand, had very little to say on the EMBD bacchanal when contacted yesterday. “I resigned from the EMBD. I don’t know what is going on there,” she said. She noted, however: “Things are not right. We must have information on how taxpayers’ dollars are spent.” Sookoo said the missing files still have not been retrieved. Former president of the ASTT, Wendy Lee Yuen, said farmers have complained to her about badlyconstructed roads. She also had seen some retention ponds that had her baffled, she said. “They were built in high grounds with high banks. I don’t know if the Fire Service or the Water & Sewerage Authority are supposed to come and fill them,” she said. Lee Yuen said an operational and quality audit, rather than a forensic one, needed to be done at the EMBD.
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