Lead Editor Business
State-owned Community-based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) Company Limited has renewed contracts “across the board” for employees because of the COVID 19 pandemic.
On September 14 the company, through its lawyers Hove and Associates, responded to several questions posed by Guardian Media about the renewal of contracts, just before the general elections, for CEPEP workers .
The company said: “The CEPEP Company took a decision to amend contracts in the interest of business continuity and in light of the COVID 19 pandemic . . . contracts were renewed “across the board”
This is at variance with the information which shows that only certain people had their contracts amended, among them Chief Executive Officer Keith Eddy.
In the days leading up to the August 10 general election, there was a scramble at CEPEP to sign the contracts of several employees to ensure they would have jobs at the company until at least 2023. If the government had changed and wanted to get rid of them, they would have been saddled with employees who had at least three years left on their contracts.
A Sunday Guardian investigation shows a pattern of not just renewal of contracts but changes in contracts that led to some people whose tenure would have ended next year getting extensions to 2023 and others that ended in 2022 being extended to 2023.
All of these contracts were signed days before the election by Eddy who was himself the beneficiary of two contract changes. In Eddy’s case, it was a change in designation from General Manager to Chief Executive Officer and an increase in his salary of more than $20,000.
For some of the more junior staff, it was an addition of at least a year to their contracts and in one case a change in the terms of their contract, with CEPEP providing a company car and a telephone for an employee in lieu of a travelling and telephone allowance.
Last Saturday CEPEP went to court seeking to block the further publication of the investigation into the company’s operations and got an interim order preventing the publication of this and other stories. On Thursday Justice Kevin Ramcharan removed the injunction as it pertains to the publication of the stories saying it was, prima facie in the public interest.
Eddy and Gopaulsingh, in their respective affidavits filed in the High Court, deny all allegations of wrongdoing.
CEPEP was asked the following questions:
Are four-year and five-year contracts the norm in CEPEPE
It said: “There are instances of four-year contracts and we are not aware of any five-year contracts.”
The company was also asked: Did it have anything to do with the impending general election?
CEPEP through its lawyers responded by saying: “In keeping with your intent to find a scandal within the CEPEP Company unfortunately for you, the contracts had nothing to do with the impending general election.
“Please note that owing to these present High Court proceedings and the Claims filed against the Guardian Media Limited and yourself, in particular defamation, misuse of private information
and unlawful means conspiracy, coupled with the fact that our client has made a formal complaint to the police concerning the unlawful conspiracy, we have instructed our clients to not
respond to any further questions from your media house and/or its servants or agents pending the determination of these matters. “
Guardian Media has copies of all the contracts in question, including Eddy’s and can also say that while CEPEP may not be aware of any claim of anyone being given a five-year contract we have in our possession at least one such contract.
On December 2, 2019, Eddy had his contract amended to change his designation from General Manager to CEO. This change of contract came four days after a memorandum was sent to the Senior Human Resource Officer from Corporate Secretary Nicole Gopaulsingh, under the caption Approval of Amended Job description and compensation packages—General Manager/CEO and Corporate Secretary/Head Legal, advising that the board chaired by Marilyn Michael had resolved to change Eddy’s position and to significantly increase her salary and Eddy’s.
On July 10 Eddy’s contract was again amended. This time he was given an additional year moving the end of contract date from June 10, 2022, to June 10, 2023, lengthening his contracted period from three to four years. The amended contract covers a remuneration package of $65,000 a month, up from just over $42,000 a month.
A month after that contract was signed, $135,000 was deposited in Eddy’s account by CEPEP reflecting the retroactive salary to December 2019, minus the taxes but the Chairman of CEPEP has said that was an accounting error.
In a press release on September 8, chairman Marilyn Michael claimed an accounting error led to the payment of almost a quarter-million dollars to Eddy and Gopaulsingh on August 14.
Michael said the error was recognised on August 19 and subsequently corrected on September 1.
The payments of $135,000 to Eddy and $92,935.31 to Gopaulsingh were made to their accounts four days after the August 10 general election, Guardian Media exclusively reported on September 6.
Guardian Media has copies of the transactions and the figures represent major increases in salaries for the two that were approved by the CEPEP board in 2019 but only paid in August.
The records show that Eddy was paid $180,000, representing increments of $21,500 per month for eight months of increased base salary and $8,000 for the eight months of increased entertainment allowance. However, when 25 per cent in taxes were deducted, the sum of $135,000 was forwarded to his bank account. Similarly, Gopaulsingh received eight months of increments and increased allowances minus taxes that worked out to $92,935.31. However, the CEPEP press release insists that the payments were subsequently reversed.
In a sworn affidavit Michael said: “I wish to state that although the salary increases were approved by the Board of Directors they have not benefited from same as we are awaiting an opinion from learned senior counsel regarding whether or not further approval is required by Cabinet.”
This appears to be different from CEPEP’s press release which claimed the company was awaiting word from the Chief Personnel Officer and the Cabinet HR committee before paying the approved salaries to Eddy or Gopaulsingh.
Former CEPEPchairman Ashton Ford had raised concerns about the hiring and firing process at the company early last year. In board minutes which Guardian Media has copies of, Ford said: “As Chairman of the Board I have not been given access to the contracts of the engaged personnel, especially, the appointed Heads of Department. The Board has only been informed of these appointments through copies of memoranda issued by the Senior Human Resource Officer and addressed to the General Manager, which are then passed onto the Human Resource Committee of the Board.”
He insisted: “I am compelled to submit this statement because of information reaching me that certain management decisions may result in litigation against the CEPEP Company Limited.”
Ford’s concerns were conveyed in a document he sent to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance on October 29, 2019, in which he detailed reasons for his resignation from the Board of Directors. Among the reasons he gave were how senior staff is hired, a lack of recognition by the management of the authority of the board and its relationship with the management and interference from the line Minister Kazim Hosein.
Hosein has repeatedly denied that he has been interfering in the operations of CEPEP and acknowledged that he was aware of Ford’s allegations but rubbished them. He insisted that his hands are clean telling Guardian Media he is a simple man and would never be part of anything close to corruption.