The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation (SGRC) Betty Ann Dial is the subject of a probe by the legal department of the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government following allegations of mismanagement, breaches and improper practices levied against her by three of the corporation’s United National Congress (UNC) councillors.
The allegations stem from a March 23, 2021, letter written by councillors Anil Maharaj, Kenwyn Phillip and Nassar Hosein to Rural Development and Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein who accused Dial of not following proper procedures according to the Municipal Corporations Act, making unilateral decisions involving taxpayers money and operating as a one-woman show.
The letter has triggered tension and disharmony in the UNC controlled corporation.
Councillors Hosein, Maharaj and Phillip wrote the 12-page letter in their capacity as chairmen of committees, calling on Hosein (Kazim) to “intervene, investigate and as a matter of urgency address the grave infringements of what appear to be improper practices by the CEO of the SGRC.”
Phillip chairs Public Health while Hosein (Nassar) is in charge of personnel.
When Unspun and Guardian Media spoke to Dial about the allegations she denied any wrongdoing and dismissed the allegations levelled by the councillors as untrue.
Manzanilla councillor Kenwyn Phillip
In July, a scandal erupted in the corporation when Maharaj resigned as chairman of Finance after he was charged with misbehaviour in public office.
And despite calls by People’s National Movement (PNM) councillors for Maharaj to step down as councillor for the Cumuto/Tamana area, he has refused.
Now Dial has come under the microscope by certain members of the council as revealed in part one of an Unspun investigation that aired last night in the CNC3 News.
In 2019, the UNC toppled the PNM and gained control of the corporation’s five of the eight electoral districts.
The corporation is managed by the chairman Anil Juteram.
A copy of the letter obtained during Unspun’s investigation listed 11 alleged breaches and seven administrative failures by Dial.
The letter drew reference to a Finance Committee meeting on January 19, 2021, in which the council approved a one-month employment programme for 50 street cleaners and eight supervisors which was ratified by the council at a statutory meeting on January 28.
There was an uncommitted sum of $204,000 for this local health programme to address the need for extra sanitation, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Phillip made a request for work to begin in February of this year.
At a February 4, public health meeting Phillip enquired about the short term employment programme only to be told there were other pressing matters the corporation was grappling with.
It was brought to the council’s attention that the corporation was faced with a two million dollar deficit.
This was contained in the Minutes of February’s Finance Meeting obtained by Unspun.
Dial informed the council that priorities must be set, pointing out that the administration should be asked to determine whether the programme was feasible and instead of a resolution being passed without any discussion or investigation.
During March’s Finance Committee meeting, Phillip again raised the matter.
This time the council was told by Dial that the budget division had advised that funding under this vote be utilised to pay some of the corporation’s outstanding bills which included insurance, telephone and gas.
Cumuto Tamana councillor Anil Maharaj
Council was told the corporation had a $400,000 insurance bill of which only half had been paid.
UNC councillor Calvin Seecharan questioned if the council’s approval would be required for a transfer of releases but Dial explained that approval of council was needed for the transfer of allocation and not a transfer of releases.
Phillip quoted Section 118 of the Municipal Corporations’ Act which stated that all matters of financial nature must be brought to council for approval, questioning if the resolution taken by council was illegal.
Dial said implementing the programme would put the corporation in a deeper financial bind and once funding became available the sanitation programme could be given the green light.
Both Phillip and Seecharan felt that the council’s decision was derailed by Dial who opted to shift the funds to priority areas.
Up to the time, the UNC councillors wrote Minister Hosein the programme was never implemented.
The letter also raised concerns regarding a noticeable increase in wages and COLA payments for two particular months last year.
While the corporation’s average monthly wages and COLA bill has remained consistent at three million dollars, there was an unusually high payroll for the months of April and September of 2020.
An SGRC document identified as “An analysis of wages and cola in financial statements for 2020” which Guardian Media got its hands on showed in April the payment of wages and cola was $4,585,433 while September recorded a figure of $4,454.138.
“The above normal expenditure for the months of April and September 2020 was not approved by the SGRC nor has any justification or explanation been provided to the council,” the financial statement stated.
The councillors noted in their letter that it should be of no small concern that increased expenditure for April and September amount to almost $1.5 million.
“Administration and CEO have failed to provide any justification for this increased expenditure in April and September 2020 and or evidence of council’s approval for the same,” the letter pointed out.
One irregularity highlighted by the three chairmen was the council’s approval of $3,539,000 in wages, COLA and overtime allowances for September’s 2020 Programme of Works submitted by the local health and technical department, while the corporation’s financial statements reported expenses totalling $4,948,785.
“This represents an excess of $1,409,000 over the amount approved,” the letter stated.
Sangre Grande Regional Corporation Chairman Anil Juteram.
However, a corporation document for wages and COLA overtime allowances for September found that this $1,409,000 excess in expenditure had been approved by the council.
Another inconsistency highlighted in the letter involved the CEO presenting to the council for approval a document titled project payments from the technical department for approval for December 2020 at a statutory meeting on January 28.
The document, the letter stated, purported to request payment authorisation for 11 contractors totalling over $1.7 million for local roads, bridges, drainage and irrigation and disaster preparedness.
However, the document was not accompanied by copies of corresponding contracts to verify whether the sums stated on the document were correct.
Also, there were no signatures of any corporation’s officers to confirm if the jobs had been complete or any invoices from contractors to support payments requests.
“Apart from the clear disregard by the CEO of any procurement and or tendering processes, the unapproved procuring and retention of the contracted services set out in the document constitute a breach in Section 118 of the Act as no request was presented to the Finance Committee for approval,” the letter stated.
One glaring discrepancy observed by the chairmen stemmed from a January 28, statutory meeting titled “Programme of Works for the month of February 2021” bearing the signatures of the CEO, principal medical and health officer, public health supervisor and public health officer came to council for approval.
This programme fell under the purview of the corporation’s local health authority section.
The document gave a breakdown of wages and cola allowances of workers who performed mostly sanitation duties at 16 districts in the north-eastern region which was brought to council for approval totalling $1,378,110.
A perusal of the documents unearthed two different costs for work undertaken at the Monte Cristo area in Sangre Grande.
One document listed the expenditure at $52,020 while another document signed by the CEO and three other corporation health officers registered the figure at $526,020.
Sangre Grande Northwest councillor Nassar Hosein
“The overall total should instead have been $904,710 and not $1,378,110. This inconsistency of $473,400 was casually explained by the CEO as a typo despite so many senior officers signing the document. Whether this almost half a million dollars worth of discrepancy on the part of the CEO is abject carelessness, or worse, is a matter for determination but the fact remains, neither is acceptable,” the letter stated.
Read Part 2 in