$800 million madness at YTEPP

Loans and salary advances to staff, some of which remain outstanding, a superuser who had the ability to take a transaction from start to finish to the value of $10 million with no approvals and lack of proper procurement procedures were just some of the issues which came to light yesterday, when Youth Training and Employment Partnership Programme (YTEPP) officials appeared before the Public Accounts Enterprises Committee of Parliament.

Committee members expressed concern that the organisation, which has a mandate to train young people, seemed to have lost its way and had instead been overrun by “madness” and had gone “awry” to the detriment of taxpayers, who had spent close to $800 million on the organisation from 2008-2014.

Things appeared to be so wrong at YTEPP that committee chair Wade Mark likened it to the legend of “Rip Van Winkle, who slept for 20 years and all kinds of activities were taking place around him he was not aware of.” Officials of YTEPP, he said, were “still sleeping on the job.

Committee member Fitzgerald Hinds first raised concerns over the superuser, whom he said appeared to have powers that not even the highest office holders in the country, including the Prime Minister, President and Chief Justice, had.

YTEPP CEO Nigel Forgenie noted that the “initial problem arose when YTEPP was given authority for the processing of stipends. It took the monthly expenditure release levels up to over five million dollars.”

Director of Finance Jerome Grant defended the system, saying this was how it was set up by First Citizens Bank. But both he and Forgenie assured that when the issue was highlighted by the internal auditor “that power was revoked.”

But committee member David Small was also concerned, noting a discrepancy in the figure, as while Forgenie said the five million was to pay stipends, the finance director said it was eight million. Small wondered why the superuser was given such ability. Forgenie said the money was used for “usual salary payments, it is not something done every day but once a month for salary and stipend commitment.”

Committee member Jennifer Baptiste-Primus asked how many OJTs were at YTEPP to generate a stipend payment of $8m. Forgenie said there were “10 thousand trainees on the OJT payroll at that time” but promised to provide the specifics in writing.

Forgenie, who told the committee he had been at YTEPP for 12 years, also raised members’ ire when he confirmed they gave salary advances or loans.

Asked on what authorisation, he said it was in the Memorandum of Association, adding the limit is $10,000 and was usually loans for educational purposes which “must be repaid during the course for which the monies are advanced.”

But neither the investment division of the Ministry of Finance nor the Ministry of Education seemed to be aware YTEPP had such a policy.

Chitamanie Sookhoo, of the Investment Division of Finance Ministry’s Social and Economic Transformation Unit, told the committee such issues do not go to the ministry.

“The board is there to ensure there is adequate policy in place,” Sookhoo said.

However, Ministry of Education official Carol Bickram admitted they picked up this matter after getting the minutes of a board meeting and had sent a letter to YTEPP “for clarification on the authority.”

Small was concerned that while Forgenie said the loan was $10,000, one employee was currently owing $20,365. He said it was clear “something has gone awry, someone got a loan and you can’t figure out how to get it back?”

Baptiste-Primus urged chairman Thora Best to take immediate steps to ensure the loans are recovered once the persons were still employed there.

Small also expressed concern that under Forgenie’s watch 67 people got transport allowances and 82 got cellphone allowances. He said as far as he was aware, this does not happen in any ministry and “may be an abuse of a facility”.

Mark urged the CEO and chairman to get acquainted with the State Enterprise Performance Manual since allocation of cellphone and transport allowances to staff is not permissible under it. Mark was concerned the loans would eventually be written off under the State Limitation Act.

“Something is wrong at YTEPP,” Mark declared, adding YTEPP did not seem to have a proper procurement policy but instead relied on staff “integrity, honesty and trust”.

The committee also heard an employee was responsible for purchasing keyboards from China for an internet unit, but when reconciliation was done invoices were found to be altered. The amount involved was $25,000 and the Fraud Squad was called in.

Source: www.guardian.co.tt (Rosemarie Sant) 

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