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Cepep wants $700 m in budget
Chairman of The Cepep Company Ltd Adesh Deonarine is hoping the Government will accede to the request for an estimated $700 million allocation in next Monday’s budget, which is to be presented by Finance Minister Larry Howai. Deonarine said the social programme, which was the brainchild of former prime minister Patrick Manning was well-structured and effective in providing employment for thousands of people.
In the last two years, he said, the company was revamped and irregularity or corruption had been rooted out. While he is unsure about receiving the $700 million to sustain the Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme, which has provided employment opportunities for unskilled and semi-skilled citizens since its inception in 2002, Deonarine said the company had improved and expanded and the stigma of being “a Cepep worker” was eliminated.
Cepep played a key role in clean-up actions in last month’s floods and he said the need for Cepep was growing. He said should the programme come to a closure, workers would lose: “Where are they going to go? “They have responded to disasters, provided daily cleaning and beatification of our environment,” he said. Deonarine was speaking in an interview on Tuesday at Guardian offices in Port-of-Spain.
He said, “We have put forward our proposal as usual but you know how it is with budget allocations, you may ask for $700 million but you may get $500 million. “What happened with the allocation this year is that people didn’t understand that we had asked for that amount of money in order to maintain but we only got $320 million. “What we did is that we utilised that amount of funds based on the number of commitments we had and then we went back to the ministry to ask for the additional funds which was $240 million.”
In 2010 Cepep had 106 contracting companies in 34 Environmental Work Areas and today, there are 204 with a workforce of close to 10,000, primarily women. Cepep was officially launched by Manning on July 29, 2002 at Moruga, but field operations only started on September 3. In 2004, Cepep’s allocation was $225 million; its expenditure was $244 million in 2005, $423 million in 2006 and $350 million in 2007.
When he came on board in November 2010, Deonarine said the company had issues of mismanagement and financial irregularities. He said there were many “square pegs in round holes.” The company, he said was not operating according to its mandate. There were issues of non-payment of NIS to workers; monies were spent without proper record-keeping and accountability; bank records were not done for years; abuse of the award of contracts; and exorbitant payments were made to consultants aligned to the Manning administration.
However, Deonarine said the finance department was “revamped” and more staff was added. They also did an internal audit, he said. “There were basic irregularities regarding contracts and I can say that those issues have since been rectified.” Today, the staff is close to 110 and the company is expected to move from its Chaguanas office to Ste Madeleine in South, by next month.
Teams, not gangs
Deonarine said even though the number of contractors has increased, they are tying to control the number of teams. “Under the last adminstration, one contractor had ten teams which meant 100 workers. “However, now what we are trying to do is split it up by giving a contractor three teams and what we have done is increase the workforce from 6,000 to 10,000.” He said about 80 per cent was female. They now refer to gangs as teams.
Deonarine was confident that the programme was a well-structured one, once used and managed the proper way. He said, “Cepep is really based on semi-skilled and unskilled. “There is a grab for it...not everyone is qualified academially so we are using the programmes for what it is really for in terms of development.”
He said some contractors never had their contracts renewed since the inception of the programme, however they had since been terminated. He said as far as the company was concerned, they had “graduated.” Deonarine said, “Now we have the contractors on the programme for one year with a renewal for three years maximum, after three years, you have to graduate out of the programme meaning that a new contractor will take your place.
Evolution of Cepep
Cutting grass, painting stones and sweeping garbage may have been what CEPEP was primarily known for but today, Deonarine said workers pride themselves in other aspects such as community work and projects, beautification of the environment and building relationships with communities to assist in their time of need.
So far, two Memoranda of Understandings (MOUs) have been signed with the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of T&T to provide academic training to workers and the National Entrepreneurship Development Company Ltd to provide financial assistance and financial literacy to contractors.
The company is looking to expand by signing more MOUs with the Environmental Management Authority, Institute of Marine Affairs, National Training Agency and is embarking on projects such as solar lighting, recycling, janitorial services and composting.
Deonarine said, “We are looking at being a revenue earner. “We are looking to try and get at least $20 million a year in revenue from these projects once fully set up. “We have to market ourselves and change the whole concept of how people see Cepep.”
BOX Economist: Use CEPEP to develop Economist Dr Marlene Attzs said the programme was a short term fix for people attached to it. She said it was difficult to say whether Cepep was sustainable or not. Attzs said because Cepep operated on a cycle basis it did not lend to long term development despite its invaluable service at times. She said Cepep’s target was people in low-income households and that instead of being “a Cepep worker for life” they should try to develop their skills.
Attzs said while the programme and its workers should be applauded for providing work in certain communities in times of disaster and other clean-up actions, life learning skills was also important. “There has to be add-ons, people have to build on the human capital,” she said.
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