Augustine: THA audit finds $100M in fraud, corruption

Au­gus­tine said de­spite all the threats made and ac­cu­sa­tions la­belled against him, he is stand­ing strong

Chester Sam­bra­no

Pre­lim­i­nary find­ings in the much-an­tic­i­pat­ed au­dit re­port in­to the To­ba­go House of As­sem­bly (THA) tell a sto­ry of fraud, cor­rup­tion and nepo­tism val­ued at over $100 mil­lion, Chief Sec­re­tary Far­ley Au­gus­tine said on Thurs­day.

As he stood in the As­sem­bly, Au­gus­tine ex­plained that the re­port, com­piled by the in­de­pen­dent au­di­tor Caribbean In­sti­tute of Foren­sic Au­dit­ing (CIFA), was 90 pages long.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tions looked at de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes un­der­tak­en by the then-Peo­ple’s Na­tion­al Move­ment (PNM) THA Ex­ec­u­tive be­tween Oc­to­ber 1, 2019 and No­vem­ber 30, 2021.

Road restora­tion, road resur­fac­ing, emer­gency restora­tion works, emer­gency in­fra­struc­ture re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and agri­cul­ture ac­cess road pro­grammes were scru­ti­nised.

The Road Resur­fac­ing Pro­gramme will be the first one to be high­light­ed, as the oth­ers are still on­go­ing and should be com­plet­ed by De­cem­ber, Au­gus­tine said.

Based on the foren­sic ex­am­i­na­tion, the works were val­ued at $206,468,925 for 80 roads to be resur­faced. It iden­ti­fied on­ly three con­trac­tors ap­proved by the Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil.

But Au­gus­tine said the re­port start­ed to iden­ti­fy prob­lems.

The find­ings seem to sug­gest that there was no com­pet­i­tive ten­der­ing process for 80 road projects val­ued at 206 mil­lion dol­lars. It al­so sug­gests that con­trac­tors were hand-picked and the 206 mil­lion in road resur­fac­ing works were shared among them on the ap­proval of the last Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil,” he ex­plained.

An­oth­er is­sue that arose was the in­fla­tion of es­ti­mates to com­plete the work. The in­ves­ti­ga­tor com­mis­sioned the ser­vices of an in­de­pen­dent cost ex­pert and it was found that the Di­vi­sion of In­fra­struc­ture, Quar­ries and the En­vi­ron­ment’s (DIQE) in­ter­nal en­gi­neer’s es­ti­mate was $148.14 more than the go­ing rate per square me­tre.

Au­gus­tine said when every­thing was to­talled, “that re­sults in a dif­fer­ence or a re­duc­tion of the es­ti­mat­ed to­tal costs of ap­prox­i­mate­ly 32.1 mil­lion dol­lars.”

The au­di­tors then looked at the en­gi­neer’s es­ti­mate for ma­te­ri­als, “and found that in­fla­tion in the amount of ma­te­ri­als re­quired comes up to 79.8 mil­lion dol­lars.”

Au­gus­tine said the au­di­tors al­so ran­dom­ly se­lect­ed 21 out of the 80 roads to be ex­am­ined.

There was no ev­i­dence of any work at all be­ing com­menced or hav­ing be­gun or start­ed, or in progress or in train on 11 of the 21 roads projects se­lect­ed for mea­sure­ment,” he said.

He said notwith­stand­ing this, those 11 roads have cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of com­ple­tion or form part of claims made by con­trac­tors, even in the courts. He said four of the 11 road projects have been paid for in full, amount­ing to $15.5 mil­lion.

“Fif­teen point five mil­lion dol­lars paid out and the road en (sic) do yet,” he added.

Au­gus­tine said this is why his ad­min­is­tra­tion will on­ly pay a small part of what is owed to con­trac­tors and wait on the au­dit re­ports to de­ter­mine how much more will be paid.

“How much of this over­age in pay­ment went back to fund PNM failed po­lit­i­cal cam­paign?… Madam Pre­sid­ing Of­fi­cer, it is un­be­liev­able, un­be­liev­able that not on­ly have the THA paid for works not done, the THA paid for works that were un­der­done, the THA signed con­tracts that were su­per in­flat­ed,” he said.

Au­gus­tine said there were three un­named steps to be tak­en and when they are com­plet­ed, the ev­i­dence will be pro­vid­ed to law en­force­ment agen­cies to in­ves­ti­gate.

“Num­ber two, madam Pre­sid­ing Of­fi­cer, I will be nam­ing and sham­ing all of the con­trac­tors in­volved in this thing.”

He al­so com­mit­ted to set­ting up a To­ba­go’s whis­tle-blow­er sys­tem run by a core coun­cil with the rel­e­vant ex­per­tise.

“I wish to al­so take this op­por­tu­ni­ty to in­vite the Mi­nor­i­ty Leader, at some time of his choos­ing, to join me in build­ing out this pro­pos­al for the THA’s very own whis­tle-blow­er leg­is­la­tion,” he added.

He said it is im­por­tant that whis­tle-blow­ers are pro­tect­ed. He point­ed to the fact that sev­er­al at­tempts were made to pre­vent him from bring­ing the re­port to the house.

He said up to Wednes­day night, a pre-ac­tion pro­to­col let­ter was sent to him from one of the three con­trac­tors in the road resur­fac­ing pro­gramme.

“Well, I cast it in­to the le­gal dust­bin be­cause that pre-ac­tion pro­to­col let­ter did not worth the email it was sent on,” Au­gus­tine said.

He al­so went on to re­veal de­tails of a What­sApp con­ver­sa­tion in Au­gust he had with some­one pur­port­ing to be a col­league of Pro­gres­sive De­mo­c­ra­t­ic Pa­tri­ots leader Wat­son Duke.

He said the woman sent him a screen­shot of a con­ver­sa­tion she had with one of the con­trac­tors in ques­tion seek­ing to find out about pay­ments owed. Au­gus­tine said he as­sured her some pay­ments will be made.

The re­sponse, which was a strange one, came and it says thank God be­cause he has busi­ness set up in my con­stituen­cy in Trinidad and he has in­flu­ence over some com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers and it is at that junc­ture I stopped talk­ing,” he said.

He said it ap­peared the re­quest for the pay­ment of the mon­ey for the con­trac­tor was meant for po­lit­i­cal gain in Trinidad.

“Madam Pre­sid­ing Of­fi­cer, this Chief Sec­re­tary is not part of that,” he as­sured.

He said one day ago, an in­di­vid­ual re­port­ed to him that one of the con­trac­tors of­fered him $7 mil­lion to use his in­flu­ence so that he (the con­trac­tor) could get paid.

“It would ap­pear madam Pre­sid­ing Of­fi­cer, as if with in­fla­tion and time, 30 pieces of sil­ver now stands at $7 mil­lion TT dol­lars,” he said.

He said this in­for­ma­tion will be sent to the po­lice.

Au­gus­tine said de­spite all the threats made and ac­cu­sa­tions la­belled against him, he is stand­ing strong.

Au­gus­tine end­ed his state­ment with a mes­sage for for­mer deputy Duke.

“Broth­er Duke, I know there will come a day when I would have to res­cue you be­cause Port-of-Spain does not love you as much as To­ba­go loves you,” Au­gus­tine said.