The big debate on Wednesday didn’t come from the Parliament.
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Community improvement company tells JSC: Kidnapping, equipment seized on Laventille project
The Community Improvement Services Limited (CISL) has been experiencing security challenges in most of the regional corporations it is dealing with, in particular, Laventille. One contractor reported a kidnapping on a site, project equipment was held for ransom and a CISL worker was assaulted in 2013, he told the JSC. CEO Raees Patel said the CISL held discussions with the Ministry of Local Government about assistance but noted in certain areas a police presence makes the situation more volatile.
“The police are a threat (to the community).” He said the CISL tries to locate “community leaders” and ask them for help to develop their communities. He said they help the CISL enter the communities and are not paid for this. Patel made the disclosure before a Joint Select Committee (JSC) of Parliament yesterday, before which the CISL appeared. He said the CISL has completed 272 projects, with another 14 ongoing, from 2010 to the present, compared to 55 projects in six years under the last administration.
Under the previous PNM government the CISL, a special purpose state company, was formed in 2004 and came under the ministry of planning and then local government. It was allocated about $40 million annually. Patel said the company, basically, was not functioning when they met it, even though it continued to receive it’s yearly allocation. Director Aaron Achan told the JSC the present board, appointed in 2010, inherited a “lot of weaknesses” when it took control of the CISL.
Its mission statement said it was dedicated to the upliftment of the quality of life of citizens of T&T by strengthening community life and institutions. The CISL operates in five municipal regions, Port-of-Spain, Diego Martin, San Juan/Laventille, Tunapuna/Piarco and Arima. Patel told the JSC the company has also done some projects in the south, from Marabella to San Fernando.
Arouca South MP Alicia Hospedales had a major concern with the non payment of contractors for community projects. She said contractors who are not paid are holding the communities to ransom and it was reflecting badly on the MP. She cited an example of a curb wall project off Henry Street, Arima. Patel said the CISL was not a construction agency, it was a project manager and, therefore, was not responsible for that aspect of the job.
He said the CISL made representation, however to the Local Government Ministry for the construction of the curb wall but was told no other funding was available. Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government Isaac James said a general concern was the delayed release of payment for contractors. “It’s out of our hands. We don’t know exactly where the bottleneck is.”
JSC chairman, Senator Dr Victor Wheeler, said there was also a concern about an elevator at the National Development Centre for people with disabilities which could not carry those in wheelchairs from the first to the second floor. Arjoon said the elevator can hold a wheelchair, it just that the chair cannot make a 180-degree turn inside it. He said the matter was being addressed. JSC member Senator David Small said what was of “genuine concern” to him was why the CISL had no internal auditor.
Patel said its organisational structure, since inception, did not allow for it. “The board has an audit committee for operational and procedural matters and financial audits are done by an auditor hired by the Ministry of Finance.” La Brea MP Fitzgerald Jeffrey was concerned about the CISL’s credit card policy but finance manager Vinod Jaroo said the company has none now. Jaroo said the credit card policy was established when the CISL was first formed.
Hospedales was worried about the CISL’s cell phones expenses, which she said was $7,000 plus in the last financial year. She found this a very large amount. Jaroo said because of the large number of projects CISL workers are in constant contact with its directors and has to plan more meetings and site visits.