Chairman of NAMDEVCO Wayne Innis, left, looks on as workers bag tomatoes at the company’s facility in Chaguanas.

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Calls are being made for an independent, public audit of the hamper distribution being done by the Government following allegations of corruption.

This comes after the president of the Agricultural Society of T&T Daryl Rampersad said that he had received multiple reports from various farming communities that only a handful of farmers were being allowed to supply NAMDECO with fresh produce for its food hamper programme.

Speaking at the UNC’s press conference yesterday, Oropouche West MP Devanand Tancoo said Rampersad’s allegations must be investigated.

“Mr Rampersad reported that certain persons were operating as middlemen, buying produce cheaply from farmers and selling the same produce to NAMDEVCO at prices that were as much as 300 and 400 per cent higher,” Tancoo said.

He noted that an audit was also needed on the extent of borrowing to finance debt.

“In August 2020, the government was forced to dip into the HSF among other things because it needed an urgent and substantial cash injection to the Consolidated Fund to avert the potential risk of non-payment on issued cheques etc as a result of insufficient funds. Simply the Government needed an injection of cash because the Consolidated Fund was at its limit,” Tancoo said.

He added, “Since then, Government has borrowed billions, with an increasing foreign debt component. A recent publication to which I referred to previously, and which has not been disputed by the Minister of Finance suggested that the Government had accessed almost $10 billion in loans and grants, including drawdowns from the HSF for COVID related spending. This does not include monies allocated from the 2021 budget for COVID relief.”

He said as the Mid-Year Review approaches, the minister must outline how much was paid in rental assistance.

“We also want to see a clear plan to incentivise business and to restart the economy forced into bankruptcy and closure as a result of government policy. Micro, small and medium businesses have been forced into bankruptcy. We hope to see an injection into the agriculture sector—incentivise agriculture and create market security for farmers as well as the fostering of new business initiatives with foreign exchange earning potential,” Tancoo said. He also said a “true statement of the current status of the Consolidated Fund” was also needed.

Meanwhile, Oropouche MP Dr Roodal Moonilal called for a full public inquiry into the deaths of 564 citizens who died as a result of COVID 19.

“We must know where they died, in what circumstances, was their death preventable, what was the quality of medical care received, was there sufficient working equipment and medication available to each deceased?” Moonilal questioned.

He added, “This Government can stand accused of negligence and manslaughter if it is found that death was preventable. The RHAs and CEO must be brought before a JSC of Parliament and subjected to stiff questions on matters related to health management, transfer of critical and experienced staff and the provision of resources. If this is not done by this Government, another government can do it!”

He also questioned whether the 200 supervisory, managerial and executive staff from CEPEP were also receiving a stipend?

“Will the Board of Directors still receive full fees while the lowest-paid worker must live on a stipend.” Moonilal also expressed gratitude to the United States for agreeing to supply vaccines to T&T.

On Saturday, the chairman of NAMDEVCO, Wayne Inniss denied, that they were taking produce only from selected farmers for the $10 million food hampers that are being distributed to 25,000 families for May to July. The hamper distribution is expected to continue until September.