The Trinidad Guardian / A blame game has broken out at the Siparia Regional Corporation over an embarrassing situation in which they were levied on by former labourer Neru Joseph for failing to pay compensation for a 2011 occupational accident.

From the corporation’s failure to submit documents to the insurance company to compensate Joseph, then their failure to file a defence in the High Court after being sued, they were helpless as Joseph’s agent, aided by a High Court Marshal, seized five vehicles yesterday.

Around 8 am workers of Inland and Offshore Contractor Ltd (IOCL) loaded a UB water tender, a Hyundai three-tonne truck, an Isuzu dump truck and a Nissan Navarra onto heavy-duty trucks at the corporation’s compound on High Street, Siparia comp. Another three-tonne dump truck was expected to be brought from Cedros.

In 2011, Neru suffered spinal injuries after being struck with a plank while working on a drainage project in Santa Flora and was rendered disabled. After the corporation failed to provide compensation, he filed a lawsuit in the High Court in June 2015. The corporation did not file a defence loss by default in 2016. The matter was transferred to the Master’s Court and in April 2017, Master Patricia Sobion-Awai ordered the corporation to pay Joseph $650,000 in damages and $50,000 in cost. Sobion-Awai ordered that the sum be liquidated in five monthly instalments of $140,000 commencing from June 1, 2017. In default of the payment of any instalment, the balance would become due immediately.

While corporation’s chairman Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh said they had tried to negotiate a payment plan with Joseph’s attorneys, La Brea councillor Gerard Debesette said the UNC members of council voted against their motion to make a payment.

Debesette told the T&T Guardian yesterday that during a Finance and Planning Committee meeting in January, PNM council members raised a motion, where they proposed that a virement be used to pay damages, cost and legal fees of $795,000. A virement is done to redistribute funds already allocated for particular purposes. The Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government had advised that the corporation do the virement and they would be reimbursed by April.

“It was put to a vote and they voted against it. They have the majority so we were voted down. We turned and warned them that the gentleman would levy on the corporation and they said ‘let them levy.’ They were fully aware but now it has reached this embarrassing situation. We can attest to this because the minutes will show this,” Debesette said.

Of the 13 votes, five PNM voted for, six UNC voted against the motion. Corporation records reflect that councillor Doodnath Mayrhoo stated that “there were other payments that were outstanding for people who did work for the corporation that needed to be addressed also. He suggested that the corporation allow Mr Neru Joseph to levy and let the ministry find a way to get back the equipment.”

Ramadharsingh said that the matter should have been dealt with long ago, but parties involved at the corporation failed to the file the necessary documents to the insurance in the required time. Therefore, the insurance refused to pay. He said that when the current council took office, they all agreed that Joseph should be paid and was seeking to work out a payment plan. However, that plan differed from what was ordered by the court.

He said the corporation was suffering from insufficient funding from central government and could not afford to pay the total sum. He added that there were 23 long-standing projects which the corporation has to complete but has no funding to do so. He said an application for the funds will be made to the ministry.

“We’ve asked for a full investigation in this matter, that people be held culpable. Further, we are asking for direct answers as to why the matter was not reported to the insurance that the corporation has for liability. Further, we want to go after those persons who are culpable and also take on the insurance company that they were still culpable and liable to pay the money although the claim was sent in late” Ramadharsingh said.

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