Secretary of Finance and Enterprise Development of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Joel Jack is part of the local delegation accompanying Finance Minister Colm Imbert on an international multi-...
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Sandra Fernandez: National Quarries asked me to give false information
Former CEO of National Quarries Ltd Sandra Fernandez got the scare of her life when she peeped through her blinds to the sound of a blaring siren and armed police outside her Maracas home in St Joseph. At that time, Fernandez was embroiled in a dispute with senior officials of National Quarries, which culminated in her being suspended. Fernandez is contending that she was sent home because she was asked to do something she knew was illegal.
In the following interview, she tells of the effect it has had on her and her children.
Q: Mrs Fernandez, what informed your suspension?
A: (Dressed in a pink dress and matching accessories in the living room of her home on Thursday morning) I believe it was my unwillingness to carry out a particular transaction.
For me to give information falsely about a particular contractor with regard to a certain piece of equipment. Knowing everything was untrue, I did not want to be part of it. I refused to sign the letter on October 9.
That said night, I was issued a letter for the very first time to produce my certificates.
You said you were asked to do something illegal. What was that?
It was to state that I had a meeting with a particular contractor and that I had agreed to pay freight for equipment. I never had such a meeting. I refused to sign that letter, which was dated June 16, but it was given to me around October 3, and I was asked to pay particular attention to the dates. It was done in an employee’s handwriting, and it was given for me to sign.
What were your misgivings about signing that letter?
I knew it was untrue. I never had any meeting with that particular contractor, and nothing was agreed that National Quarries would pay for any equipment or any freight. And this is why I immediately reported the matter to the Anti-Corruption [Investigation] Bureau and to a police superintendent (name given). This matter is being pursued. I am not at liberty to speak to any great extent on it; it should remain confidential. However, another newspaper has been carrying false information in their coverage of this matter.
What did you do when you got the letter from the then chairman?
I was very depressed when some past board members told me they had seen my signature on the letter. That was when I went to the police and the Anti-Corruption Bureau. Another thing that I found strange was when the company withdrew the disciplinary matter against me on the same day it was due to begin.
Why was it withdrawn?
That was not disclosed. However, when I submitted my resume and application to National Quarries during October 2011 for a three-month period on contract, I kept a copy of my application, which I still have in my possession. Perhaps that is why they cancelled the proceedings of the disciplinary tribunal. My contract was subsequently renewed on more than one occasion; the last being for a two-year period from June 2012.
During that time, Mrs Fernandez, were you ever told of the academic qualifications for the CEO post?
Nobody ever raised it with me. Nobody ever came forward and asked. But I did start a masters—which I am currently pursuing. I will be doing an exam shortly. When this matter came up, I wondered why after two years they were now questioning my academic qualifications as it related to the position. After working to the max for two years, [I have]...extensive experience in finance and management; the record is there to show where, with my experience, I managed to turn around the company.
I found it strange why my qualification was being questioned after two years.
I gathered there was some matter where the police came to your home?
Well, yes. They came around 10 am and returned after midnight the same night.
What was this experience like? How did you know police were outside your home?
Well, they came with blaring siren...
The siren was on?
Yes. Blue lights flashing. The noise from the siren caused my children to wake up...and at that hour of the morning, I contacted (a named police superintendent) and he instructed me not to go outside. My neighbour came out and they handed him a package and they said they were from the Chaguanas Police Station. I did make a statement to that police station the next day.
Did you find that strange?
Of course. I mean, I never experienced this sort of thing before. I did not go out to meet them because I had no business with them. I was scared...two police officers outside my home with guns….I wasn’t going outside.
How many occasions did they come to your house?
After that, a police officer came with sirens blaring again, around midday, and one of them was shouting out my name on some kind of PA system: “Sandra Fernandez! ... Sandra Fernandez!” They stayed a while and then drove off.
Did you come out this time?
No. They dropped off another envelope with my neighbour and then drove off. I was upstairs and I peeped through the blind, and I was able to see the two officers: one was a woman police officer, who had a big gun in her hands, and the male officer was in a jeans and a T-shirt. I was scared. I was saying [to myself]: you went to report a matter, you are being ethical, doing the right thing, and then people are coming after you. I was scared not only for me, but for my children.
How did they take it?
My children got very ill. One of my daughters was constantly throwing up. They were being definitely affected.
Mrs Fernandez, there is this question of you being offered $800,000 to settle this matter once and for all. Is this true?
The thing about it, Mr Raphael, is that the terms of this settlement are confidential. However, I am seeing more false information being spread in a newspaper. The figure has not been finalised and it is nowhere near what is being reported.
Are you willing to accept any monetary figure to end this situation?
...National Quarries cancelled the tribunal; a settlement has been derived; and the terms of the agreement are confidential. No figure has been finalised and it is confidential. When I submitted my job application, I stated I was pursuing a degree, and that I had over 20 years’ experience in management and financial matters. In the cover letter, I said if additional information is required, or any additional documentation, I can make that available. No request was made.
Are you prepared to return to National Quarries?
No. No. I am not prepared to return to National Quarries. At this time I don’t want to go back there, because of some people who are still employed at the company. I initially wanted to go back to finish what I started, but as I speak, I have no desire to go back there.
I noticed a security guard was posted at your home?
When I reported the matters to the Anti-Corruption Squad, I was terrified, like I said before... I was told I had daughters who could be raped. I was offered a permanent job; I was offered money—which I never accepted. Because of that, I had no choice but to get security at my home.
Were you surprised at the turn of events at National Quarries?
Of course. Of course. I was not treated fairly. In addition to which, other media, including on the Internet, [are] saying all kinds of things about me. All false. It was devastating for me and my children. People were asking my son: “What is happening with your mother?”—because incorrect information was being published in the newspapers and it was taking a toll on me and my children.
The police were doing their work. However, I want to it to be clear that I never in any way misguided the board of National Quarries by giving false information; and they hired me for what I had at the time. I never lied on my resume. Never.