The Agricultural Society of T&T (ASTT) has drawn the battle line against the Ministry of Agriculture for failing to pay its directors their monthly remuneration.
So much so, ASTT’s president Dhanoo Sookoo at a press conference yesterday at the Valpark Chinese Restaurant instructed attorney Peter Taylor to issue a pre-action protocol letter to the ministry’s permanent secretary to sort out “the payments” or face the court.
Joined by her 26 directors, Sookoo spoke about a 2019 audit report conducted by the Central Audit Committee of the Ministry of Finance which accused the ASTT of fraudulent activities and breaches which she denied.
In perusing the audit, Sookoo said it did not contain a signature, ministry’s stamp nor were the ASTT’s board minutes examined and members interviewed.
The audit, she said has tarnished the name of the ASTT’s board.
“As much as it (audit) is garbage we will be taking the matter to court. It’s time for those responsible for this malicious and vindictive action that has been brought against the ASTT to answer.”
Representing thousands of farmers, Sookoo said for years, the ministry has been trying to sully the ASTT’s good name and destroy the hard work they have been doing.
Since 2014, Sookoo said funds allocated to pay for the rental of the ASTT’s Chaguanas office at Penco Street “were collected by the Ministry of Agriculture and we have not received any money to pay the landlord. The ministry needs to tell T&T what you have done with those millions of dollars that you have collected under the ASTT’s name.”
Sookoo estimated the rental figure owed is $15 million.
“That is what we want Police Commissioner (Gary) Griffith to investigate. Where the money gone?”
In light of this, Sookoo called on Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat to investigate the matter.
“We are calling on Rambharat that there is serious fraud happening at your ministry. I have identified that by correspondence sent to you on November 2 and further investigations into the ASTT’s accounts notes that there is even more than we have discovered.”
Sookoo said she has been using her home in Sangre Grande as the ASTT’s office to help farmers regularise their leases, increase food production and to discuss agriculture developments.
“The ASTT is not a parlour!”
Insisting that she has documents to substantiate her claims, Sookoo also raised issue with several of its directors who she claimed have not been paid its $4,500 monthly stipend “for months” due to “victimisation and politicising.”
The entire ASTT board, she said had not received payments last December and January which was overbearing as they have been conducting the people’s business and using their personal cellphones to get the job done.
She called on the ministry’s accounting department to get its act together.
In 2019, Sookoo said the ASTT board has done far more than the ministry in the last four years.
Rambharat did not respond to a Whatsapp message which he read.