The multi-million dollar contracts given to seven reputed gang leaders at two PNM-controlled corporations will now be the subject of an expansive audit that will also include the 12 other regional corporations across the country.
The announcement was made by Rural Development and Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein in a media release issued on Wednesday in which he signalled his intention to have this matter properly investigated.
His decision came hours after the Trinidad Guardian published an exclusive special report headlined “$6m Men” which highlighted the detailed of a confidential Special Branch report which named seven reputed gang leaders who benefitted from multi-million dollar State contracts from the Diego Martin Regional Corporation (DMRC) and the Port-of-Spain Corporation (POSC).
The information contained in a confidential report prepared in mid-May forms part of a Guardian Media investigation, just one week after Police Commissioner Gary Griffith blamed the State for placing funds in the hands of gang leaders.
Griffith warned that this practice had fuelled gang wars and contributed to an upsurge in homicides over the last 15 years.
Responding to the article in a press release, Hosein said he viewed the “allegations very seriously and intends to address them as a matter of urgency.”
Hosein said auditors from his ministry are scheduled “to commence an investigation as a matter of urgency, at all corporations” and “CEOs have already been contacted to provide support and cooperation to our internal audit unit.” The audit will be performed by the Internal Audit Unit of the Ministry of Rural and Local Government.
Following the audit, Hosein said he expected a report to be submitted to his office by the end of August.
In a telephone interview with Guardian Media yesterday, Hosein said he contacted his Permanent Secretary instructing her to call in the CEOs of the DMRC and the POSC requesting a preliminary report as soon as possible.
“I didn’t know about those things. I was the head of a corporation I never got involved in contracts and so on. Everybody should know there is a right way and a wrong way. If something wrong it has to be corrected,” Hosein said.
Each corporation is responsible for awarding contracts in their areas, which includes advertising, tendering process, selecting a contractor and awarding of contracts.
All corporations are guided by the provisions of the Central Tenders Board Act.
Hosein noted that CEOs who are the accounting officers of corporations are empowered to award contracts with a limit authority of $300,000 but must do so following “principles of transparency and accountability.”
On Wednesday, councillor Joseph Lewis, who represents the electoral district of Bagatelle/Blue Basin where a reputed gang leader obtained several contracts, maintained that burgesses have been benefitting from infrastructural works by the DMRC.
Asked if burgesses had appealed to him for road works in Blue Basin, Lewis said residents would always lobby for upgrades to their community.
Lewis felt that no one should be denied a contract “once they are legitimate businessmen...unless convicted by a court of law...we still do not have that right to debar anybody from getting a contract.”
However, he said following an audit at all 14 corporations last year, which was a directive from Cabinet, these contracts could have been picked up.
Lewis made it clear that councillors play no role in the selection and awarding of contracts.
“Councillors identify projects but we do not get involved in the tendering process.”
Allan Samuel, councillor for St Ann’s River South which falls in the electoral district of Sea Lots, however, admitted that gangsters had threatened him for contracts.
“Whatever these gangsters get, I am no part of that. I don’t deal with contracts.”
Samuel said it was a known fact that outsiders cannot venture in Port-of-Spain communities to do any type of work.
“Everybody knows that no other entity besides these fellas could work in their area. If you give a contract to somebody from the outside...they can’t go in there.”
For standing up, Samuel who also represents Duncan and Nelson Streets, as well as John John, said he received numerous threats to his life.
“Because John John warring down in Sea Lots and if I go, John John, they threatening me for giving Sea Lots something. And so the threats does be going right through. I have received many threats before.”
He said several other councillors were also threatened.
Samuel said it made no sense “risking his life over these fellas” and was not interested in being screened at the upcoming local government election for the area he is currently representing.
He wants to offer himself for the St James East electoral district where he lives.
Reporter: Shaliza Hassanali