In part one of an Unspun investigation highlighted yesterday in the T&T Guardian, three United National Congress (UNC) councillors from the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation (SGRC) raised queries in a 12-page letter to Rural Development and Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein regarding alleged breaches, financial mismanagement and impropriety against the corporation’s CEO Betty Ann Dial.
As we conclude the story today, however, Dial has denied all the allegations, stating that she has done everything above board.
Another bone of contention raised by the councillors involved Minister Hosein giving approval to all corporations last December to utilise up to one million dollars to either provide truck-borne water to communities, purchase a water tender or repair its non-functioning water trucks.
In response to this measure, the letter stated the CEO implemented a programme of water trucking service which to date, has not been presented to council for approval.
The CEO, according to the letter, stated that she did not require the council’s approval, but the councillors stated this was another blatant disregard for best practices and the provisions of the Act.
“The CEO has no authority in this situation to make decisions without regard to the council,” the letter stated.
The council had initially agreed to purchase a new water tender.
Minutes of February’s Finance Committee meeting showed UNC councillor Calvin Seecharan raising objections to one or two people alone making financial decisions in the council.
Seecharan said the council was not run by an executive CEO or chairman but 12 members.
At a statutory meeting held on April 30, 2020, the council also approved the sum of one million dollars for the Sangre Grande Market and abattoir under the corporation’s development programme project 2019/2020.
This was to undertake upgrade works on the market’s public washrooms, inclusive of plumbing, electrical and sink repairs. Also, construction of a steel frame structure with guttering was listed to be done.
However, the CEO, the letter stated, wanted to pursue an alternative programme of underground drainage which did not receive the council’s approval.
Allegations of favouritism were also levelled against Valencia/East Toco PNM councillor Terry Rondon for receiving the lion’s share of the corporation’s resources, resulting in the council passing a resolution last November that the programme of works is equitably distributed among all councillors.
To date, the letter stated no action had been taken to correct this inequity, according to a source in the corporation who requested anonymity.
“Simple things councillors could get done in the corporation and I feel if we manage things the way it was supposed to be managed things could be done in the corporation,” said the source.
He said burgesses complain to councillors daily about unemployment, lack of pipe-borne water and poor roads.
“Councillors are being victimised because they are standing up for the right thing. Sometimes to get water in your area is a problem. Simple things to help people out there that the corporation could help with is a problem because administration finds you stepping on their corn.”
The source said many of the UNC councillors have been targeted for speaking out.
“The PNM (councillors) not saying anything because they are getting what they want and they feel if they stand up they will be victimised just like the UNC councillors.”
Last month, Minister Hosein confirmed to Unspun that he had received the chairmen’s letter which was forwarded to his permanent secretary Desdra Bascombe for attention.
Bascombe in a brief telephone interview with this journalist confirmed that the letter was referred to the ministry’s legal department for review, but refused to say what were their findings so far and when the probe will come to an end.
“The entire report was sent previously to legal and I requested some additional information from the CEO which she provided. So they are currently going through the documents…..they are about one inch thick,” Bascombe said.
CEO: I am human…I try my best
On August 25, Guardian Media sent an email to Dial and Juteram highlighting the allegations contained in the letter and offered them an opportunity to respond.
Juteram declined comment.
Dial, however, defended her position.
“This is a matter between the three councillors and myself. That matter was dealt with already. I did a comprehensive report to the ministry,” Dial said when contacted by Unspun.
“The most I can tell you, there is no truth to it and the ministry will be dealing with it,” she said.
Last month, Juteram during a statutory meeting read the content of Unspun’s email to council members and called on Dial and Rondon to clear their names.
Dial defended herself, stating what the councillors did was in very poor taste.
“It is sad to know that these councillors would go to this extent to chastise a public officer who has been doing nothing but to take the region forward and doing her job to the best of her ability within the realms of the laws, rules and regulations and they have no remorse.”
Dial said despite all the disrespect, insults and hiccups faced, she felt she was doing a good job.
“I am not saying that I can’t make mistakes. I am human. But I try my best.”
She dismissed the councillor’s letter as allegations.
The CEO said the councillors had a habit of bullying her and administrative staff to do what they wanted while they showed Juteram no respect.
“As far as I see you’ll are failing. You’ll are a failed council and you’ll are looking for a scapegoat and the scapegoat is the CEO. I didn’t make promises to anybody.”
Insisting that the councillors were grasping at straws, Dial went so far as to say these councillors had a few skeletons in their closets.
“I could divulge information that you’ll would have given me but I am not like that. But you want to hire people…that is not your function. You want to give out contracts…that is not your function …you want to give out hampers.”
Dial said she found it strange that only three of the eight councillors were against her.
“I feel sorry for you all.”
At no time of Dial’s discussion, she presented financial statements or documents to refute the councillors’ allegations except to say that she had already responded to the ministry.
During the meeting Juteram said the views of the councillors did not represent the entire council, insisting that he had no problems with Dial.
“I don’t want to be embroiled in what this simply looking like some form of a propaganda…a plotting…a political…something has to be done,” Juteram said.
Rondon ashamed of what’s happening in Sangre Grande
Describing himself as a victim of unwarranted attacks by some of the UNC councillors, Rondon called on Juteram to put his foot down.
Rondon accused the UNC hierarchy of meddling in the corporation’s affairs.
“Chairman, I tell you, you know I told them (UNC) their party is interfering with the corporation. We are not going anywhere,” a visibly upset Rondon told the council.
Rondon said these councillors were reluctant to carry the northeastern region forward.
During an interview with Unspun, Rondon expressed disappointment and hurt by the turn of events, stating the corporation was in disarray with the constant pulling and tugging and infighting within the UNC.
“I wrote their political leader a letter in January month explaining to her the behaviour of these councillors who bringing a regional corporation which was number one, right down. She did not reply.”
Rondon said he now hangs his head in shame knowing the corporation was regressing.
He said some of the councillors were only out to make bacchanal and mischief rather than serve the people.
“I am ashamed of what is taking place in Sangre Grande. Every day is total disrespect. We have a CEO willing to carry us forward. No dice. Is only infighting. I am getting so fed up and now I see they are attacking me,” Rondon concluded.