An ongoing investigation into motor vehicle inspections at the Port-of-Spain Licensing Division has unearthed a racket involving senior licensing officers, overpriced inspection stickers, and complicit private garages.
The investigation revealed collusion between some senior licensing officers and operators of inspection stations. According to insiders at the Ministry of Transport, it became evident that senior officers sought to create panic so that the demand for stickers would increase significantly and this drove the price up. Licensing officers, Guardian Media learned, were offering them for sale at $1,500. The person willing to pay that amount would bypass the long wait time and have the stickers conveniently delivered to their homes and workplaces.
Guardian Media also understands that a Ministry of Works and Transport official visited the Port-of-Spain Licensing Division office and seized the inspection registers after getting wind of the corrupt practice.
It was in there they got additional evidence of the unethical behaviour. It showed more than 300 inspection stickers being distributed in a single day. But, that particular office can only inspect between 50-70 vehicles daily.
When the Ministry of Works and Transport got wind of the scheme, it attempted to prevent the information from being put into the public domain, but it was too late. The news spread rapidly on social media and people willingly paid three times the actual cost to have their vehicles inspected.
Guardian Media was told that the Transport Ministry recommended a five-month moratorium to put a spoke in the wheel of those cashing in on the rush and to protect citizens from exploitation.
Sinanan confirmed that he was aware of the illegal operations and planned to shut it down as soon as possible.
He said it was clear that the number of inspections being done was significantly less than the number of stickers being distributed. The matter is still being investigated.
He said the moratorium was given to ensure citizens were "not taken advantage of". Unfortunately, Sinanan said, people are willing to pay that money and he is urging them against it.
He is also warning private garages that their licences will be revoked if caught in the act.
One garage owner, Richie Sookhai of Sookhai's Diesel yesterday confirmed that people were offering to pay extra for the convenience.
"But that is not something we would even entertain here," he said.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Sookhai said that people slept in their cars outside his inspection bay from 2 am.
"It was slow in the past five months, ten cars or so for the day and then the day after Boxing day...madness," he said.
Sookhai extended business hours to keep up with the demand but was still turning people away and telling them to come back another day for inspection.
Back in July, drivers faced much of the same situation. Sinanan said then that there were 137,000 T-vehicles in the country and only the licensing offices in Port-of-Spain and San Fernando were equipped to inspect those heavy vehicles. Even then, Sinanan said it was impossible for the two bays to have all those vehicles inspected in a timely manner. The Government then allowed private garages to inspect the heavy vehicles.
He hinted at the corruption even then, saying that there was a lot of allegations about vehicles having inspection stickers without being present for inspection.
The Port-of-Spain office introduced a "randomisation of licencing vehicles". Sinanan explained then that the licensing office previously went to a sequence where the computer generated numbers from two to 999 but there were allegations then that people were paying for special favours to jump the queue.
The new system allowed the number to be computer generated. He was confident then that no one could manipulate the system.
But it seems that senior officials found a way around that, which prompted an investigation into the number of vehicles actually inspected compared to the number of stickers handed out.