Attorney Devesh Maharaj is now wearing different hats at the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA). Official documents obtained by Sunday Guardian revealed that Maharaj's law firm-Devesh Maharaj & Associates-which is representing CDA in several legal matters, is also being paid a monthly fee of $15,000 to provide full-time corporate/legal services to the CDA.
Financial statements reveal that to date $75,000 has been paid to the law firm for the corporate/legal fees services. This represents the sum paid to the law firm apart from legal fees incurred by CDA for representation in several matters.
Sunday Guardian learnt that an attorney, formerly employed at Maharaj's law firm at Mansfield Chambers, Abercromby Street, Port- of-Spain, has been acting as the CDA's corporate secretary for the past five months, replacing Andrew Rahaman who resigned after just a few months on the job.
Investigations further revealed that the board has not yet approved the acting appointment. A resolution was due to be passed on March 30, appointing the young attorney corporate secretary of CDA but that meeting has been rescheduled to a date to be announced.
Chairman Daniel Solomon heads the CDA board. Solomon and Maharaj both operate from Mansfield Chambers. Several attempts to contact Maharaj for comment were futile. When contacted, Solomon referred questions to CDA's public relations officer Peter Campbell.
Acting corporate secretary: 'I do not get $15,000'
Contacted yesterday, the young attorney, who was admitted to the Bar one year ago, confirmed that she was previously employed at Maharaj's law firm before assuming the position of acting corporate secretary at CDA. Admitting that she has not signed a contract with CDA to date, the attorney asked: "For the position of corporate secretary I am being paid a $15,000 salary?"
She added: "I can surely inform you without a doubt that on a monthly basis the cheque which is deposited into my account is not anywhere near $15,000. This I can support with my payslip if you want. "I wish I were collecting $15,000 a month. I applied for the job either mid or at the end of December and submitted my resume and supporting documents to the human resources committee. Thus far I am not sure of the board's position in respect to the corporate secretary position.
"No, I have not signed any contract with the CDA to date but I applied independently from the chambers I came from for the position of corporate secretary." Asked to explain how she came to be acting as CDA's corporate secretary, the hesitant attorney referred all questions to Maharaj: "I came from the chambers of Devesh Maharaj & Associates so usually this would be referred to as a secondment.
To be honest, I think the finance manager perhaps would be able to inform you better of the arrangement between CDA and chambers that I came from."
Bhoe: If there is a problem I will deal with it
Contacted yesterday, Planning and Economy Minister Bhoe Tewarie under whose purview CDA falls said: "I am not familiar with the issue. I try to keep an arm's length with my boards and I work through the chairman, but if there is a problem that needs to be attended to I would make sure that it is attended to."
CDA's PR officer Peter Campbell said in a release the corporate secretary resigned abruptly late last year and an emergency request was made to Devesh Maharaj & Associates to provide those services for an interim period of three months. The firm complied with the request. Following the end of the three-month period, CDA requested additional time, as they had not yet completed interviews.
CDA has retained a recruitment agency and interviews have been completed with names of candidates supplied by the agency. A note was to be taken at the last Board meeting, which was to be held on April 2, for the appointment of a corporate secretary. However, the majority of the Board members did not attend so this has been deferred to the next Board meeting.
According to the CDA release, March 30 was the acting corporate secretary's last day on the job and a further request was made for her to continue to act until the next Board meeting. Campbell said Devesh Maharaj & Associates was one of the law firms unanimously approved at a Board meeting as an addition to the CDA panel of attorneys. The chairman of the Board recused himself from that decision.
He explained that over the last 13 months the law firms have been assigned an extensive amount of legal work as the CDA seeks to regularise tenants and collect arrears of rent. Devesh Maharaj & Associates has incurred some of the lowest legal costs to date.
The CDA spokesman said no director has raised any issue concerning any conflict of interest and the Authority is of the view there is none. He said at the Board's Legal and Leasing committee meeting on February 13, which the majority of Board members attended, the committee expressed their satisfaction with the services provided.
"The Authority wants to state it continues to conduct all its business operations with transparency and accountability in the public domain and remains committed to sound business practices and ethics," Campbell said.