IAN KEVIN RAMDHANIE
Caribbean Institute for Security
and Public Safety
A serious attempt to defraud the Government. That’s how Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj has described the problems pinpointed by a Finance Ministry audit of the Unemployment Relief Programme’s (Agriculture) programme in his ministry. He said he supported Works Minister Dr Suruj Rambachan’s move to have the Finance Ministry audit the URP Agriculture programme, which falls under his ministry.
Maharaj’s comments came after Rambachan spoke about the audit in yesterday’s On the Road to General Election 2015 column.
Rambachan had asked for Finance to audit the programme in Maharaj’s ministry. All URP projects, including URP (Social) and URP (Agriculture), fall under the Works Ministry. He said inconsistencies were found between the scope of works and what contractors claimed for. He added that the first 70 projects are done and payments are being processed. But Finance sources have described the situation with the programme as very difficult.
Maharaj said his ministry was responsible for identifying the projects in URP Agriculture, and projects were located all over T&T.
He admitted, “But it appears the information coming to us leaves a lot of questions to be answered, such as work that was billed for was not done. It appears there was a serious attempt to defraud the Government and I support Minister Rambachan 100 per cent in the audit, via which he has exposed apparent attempts to exploit the system. “The stigma of the URP being corrupt is not going to be tolerated under this administration.
“We had examples of people saying they did projects and when we checked nothing was done and if done, it was completed by someone else. There was also an instance of two and three contractors claiming for the same work and also of people sub-contracting out jobs.” Maharaj added, “The projects involve people in URP more than five, six years, the situation transcends PNM and PP administrations. It is people who feel comfortable enough to engage in these criminal activities and can get away with it.
“But while others may not have dealt with it, I must commend Minister Rambachan for taking the bull by the horns. He probably never made it public, but a couple months ago he disclosed his life was threatened on the situation. I’m concerned that while Government is well intentioned on the programmes, some people are prepared to engage in activities others will reject.” However, he said the programme was unfairly being labelled as corrupt.
“I don’t agree with view that URP is corruption-laden or controlled by criminals. There may be one or two culprits who have gotten in the system. We need to consider a serious overhauling of URP to plug those loopholes and make it more transparent and accountable.”