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More heat for EFCL board

The trinidad Guardian / Who is running the Education Facilities Company Ltd?

That was the question posed rhetorically by chairman of the Joint Select Committee on State Enterprises, David Small, yesterday, after it was revealed there was an inadequate system of monitoring for its projects, litigation for outstanding payments to contractors in the sum of more than $550 million and the publication of an advertisement without the approval of the board.

Small, an Independent Senator, raised the question as new EFCL chairman Ricardo Vasquez and other board members of the State-owned special purpose company, including general manager Denis Cox, stood before them in the J Hamilton Maurice Room at the International Waterfront Centre, Port-of-Spain.

However, former EFCL corporate secretary Annesa Rahim again did not appear. At the start of the meeting, Small said the JSC “wrote to her, delivered it (the letter) by hand (for her) to appear, because we believe there are certain matters happening in the EFCL that the corporate secretary would be key to. We made a specific request to have the corporate secretary, still on the payroll of EFCL, to attend this hearing.”

On this issue, Cox also told the JSC: “We made several attempts to contact the former corporate secretary, current senior legal officer, by telephone, by email, and we also delivered a letter by hand to her home and last afternoon we delivered a letter on behalf of the JSC, which was addressed directly to her and we received no response to this moment. “

Cox said Rahim should have been aware of the invitation to appear before the JSC. He confirmed she was still in possession of an EFCL telephone.

“This committee continues to be concerned. It seems that someone is scared of us (in the JSC). We will just like to get some traction with what has been happening with the company,” Small said.

Small said “if someone is on the payroll of the company, is in possession of a company-issued phone, is not answering calls, is not responding to emails, I would expect that the board will be taking the necessary action because that is untenable.”

He added: “There is no way that the Parliament can have one of its persons (employees) deliver a letter to your home, by hand, and for some reason you can’t attend or don’t want to. “

Later in the hearing, Small questioned Cox on the $550 million in litigation by contractors who were being owed for work allegedly done. Small said there exists a recipe for disaster at the EFCL, which was established to construct and repair Government schools.

Cox said many of the claims are being reviewed by the Office of the Attorney General and several others have been determined in the court and were given against the EFCL.

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance Lisa Phillips and acting Permanent Secretary in the Education Ministry Angela Sinaswee-Gervais said, initially, they were unaware of the claims. Small said he was shocked by that, but Sinaswee-Gervais later said she was aware of the figure but not the details.

In response to a question from JSC member Ancil Antoine, Cox admitted the company could be facing claims of more than $600 million from contractors for non-payment and possible suspension of contracts. He said contracts for 94 schools were being suspended. He said the school repair programmes would not be affected by this development, but the construction programme would be affected.

Small also criticised the EFCL for having no records of the past performance of contractors and weak monitoring of contractual obligations for contractors. Those were among the findings of a report conducted this year by Price Waterhouse Coopers.

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