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CDA mired in $117m debt Audit, cost cutting in progress, says chairman

Published: 
Sunday, April 16, 2017
Chaguaramas Hotel and Convention Centre

A daily-paid worker at the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA) who was serving time in jail continued to be recorded as present for work and on the payroll. The situation was identified in July last year. Sources said the man’s colleagues knew he was incarcerated yet they continued to mark him present and a salary was paid.

That is just one example of irregularities affecting the state agency adding to its massive $117 million debt.

Another claim is that funds from the Public Sector Investment Programme were being used to pay salaries, according to a preliminary audit.

In March, Government announced that it would conduct a manpower audit into the CDA starting this month. This comes almost one year after line minister Camille Robinson-Regis received two audits—one internal and one financial—into the CDA’s operations.

The cash-strapped CDA’s debt includes non-payment to hundreds of companies, private citizens, suppliers, restaurants and caterers. The CDA is also owing close to $10 million in lawyer fees, has a $60,000 food bill to clear and a pension liability of more than $50 million.

The T&T Guardian was told that the CDA, “has no money” and its revenue has reportedly been on the decline for the last 18 months. Several projects have been stalled.

“CDA income cannot cover expenses of salaries alone, much less pay suppliers,” an employee said.

A source told the T&T Guardian: “The CDA is operating on a deficit and the current board and management are struggling to meet monthly expenses.”

One of its tenants, Royal Bank, whose rent was close to $36,000, is set to move out of Chaguaramas this month. Earlier this year, the bank announced that it was going to reduce its staff. The changes are in keeping with the bank’s strategic plan, which included merging the operations at its Chaguaramas and Westmoorings branches.

Sources within the CDA said there were employees who were misfits for many positions as they lacked qualifications and “did absolutely nothing all day.”

“People are receiving salaries and there is no documentation. Almost all the monthly positions fall into that category,” the source said.

“The CDA has no work for some of the positions.”

Several weeks ago, CDA chairman Gupte Lutchmedial said the authority’s debt was more $100 million and that the CDA is grappling with mismanagement and misuse of public funds.

Chaguaramas is a 14,500-acre peninsula located on the north-western part of the island. The CDA governs the area and all of its investments.

 

No approval for restructure

A contention over the past few weeks has been a restructuring exercise which got the attention of president of the Public Services Association (PSA) Watson Duke.

A senior officer in the CDA, speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed the process was illegal.

“According to the CDA’s organisational structure as stated in the Draft Estimates, these (positions) no longer exist in the CDA but it is still printed in the Draft Estimates. That is proof that the structure has not changed officially.

“There was no approval to change it, so if you check here, these are the salaries still pegged to ranges. Therein lies that the organisation restructuring is illegal. We did not have the requisite approval. This alone will prove that. If we had gone through the CPO for approval, this would have changed for fiscal 2017.”

Duke said it was unbelievable that employees in the CDA could be paid new salaries for which there was no approval. He said the CDA salaries came from State funds.

Duke said the CDA is run by a board and that no minister could pay the CDA money.

“It has to be done through a particular channel. It must first be approved by the Board of Directors, then they must give the CEO the go ahead and the CEO must instruct the human resource department to go ahead and pay, so if CDA workers are paid money, it must have been money that came through the right channels.”

He said while the CPO did play a role in the inter-ministerial committee, the committee was always headed by the Finance Minister.

CDA chairman responds

Lutchmedial, when contacted did not deny some of the claims but said an audit is being done by Charles Bobb-Semple of Gloria Eastman and Associates.

Asked what was the way forward for the CDA to boost revenue, he said: “We are on a cost-cutting exercise and we are looking at ways of increasing revenue. We have to streamline the organisation and cut off the wastage.”