Prof. Ravi Chaturvedi
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Inconsistencies delaying $$ to contractors — Howai
Finance Minister Larry Howai says the ministry has identified numerous inconsistencies in claims being made by contractors for monies owed to them and as a result, now need to sort these out before proceeding with payments. He made the comment in response to protests last week by a group of contractors who claimed they were owed for work on some 57 government projects.
“We have been able to agree payments for about 25 per cent of the contracts, although, in some cases, for sums much less than requested, as the work that was verified was less than the amounts claimed to have been done,” Howai told the T&T Guardian. He said the payments would be made by the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure and should commence for those amounts verified by Friday.
“The process of verification is difficult. For example, if a contractor claims that he cleared an area last year but over the past year the grass grew back, it's hard to say whether he did the work or not and we have to consult with villagers and farmers to determine what, if anything, was done. But the work continues and should take several weeks to be completed.”
Faced with rising debts, inability to care for their families, threats from employees and repossession of equipment, contractors protested outside of the Ministry of Finance last Friday, having also protested outside Parliament days earlier. With at least one person said to be contemplating suicide, the men and women said the nearly one year wait on Government to settle payments has gone on long enough.
Contractor Danny Persad and a group of contractors who worked for the Unemployment relief Programme last year held placards calling on Howai to administer payments to 289 contractors. The contractors have been waiting for payment since last July and are even more agitated after about eight audits with little progress made. They are blaming Works Minister Suruj Rambachan for the delay, saying he has disregarded the audits.
Terrence Hypolite, who built drains and did work for farmers in Felicity last year, said in addition to owing his ten employees, he also owes a significant sum to the bank. “My wife’s gratuity went into this project. My son had money for a house and he put it into this project and now I don’t know what to tell them.” The contractors are owed almost $116 million collectively for the projects, which included clearing land for roads, building man-made ponds, box drains and clearing land.
They last met Howai on May 5 and were told that payment would begin in two weeks.