• 02 JUN 2016

Post Cabinet Briefing Summary – Thursday 2nd June, 2016

The Honourable Stuart Young, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister and the Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs, made a statement during the Post Cabinet Press Briefing today (Thursday 2nd June, 2016) at the Office of the Prime Minister, St. Clair, Port of Spain.

Speaking to the media, Minister Young made reference to the previous government’s attempt to improve their political foothold in Tobago following elections in 2013. In doing so, the former administration carried out a number of acts where were contrary to the existing legislation, the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Act. This act grants a great deal of autonomy to the THA to run the affairs of Tobago. In keeping with this agenda, the Ministry of Tobago Development and the Human Capital Development Facilitation Company Limited (a state enterprise) were established to suppress the THA.

Upon taking office, the present Government declared that it will not support the degradation of legislation, in particular the THA Act, nor will it support the duplication of the statutory functions, powers or autonomy of the THA. As a result, the Government mandated a review into this former ministry and the Human Capital Development Facilitation Company. A report (dated February 2016) was completed by Dr. Prince and Mrs. Ethel Hector-Berkley.

According to the report, the Ministry of Tobago Development attempted to implement eleven (11) major projects and programmes most of which:

i. fell short in attaining projected outcomes;

ii. were ill-conceived and save and exempt for un-realised political capital of the former Tobago West MP and Minister of Tobago Development, Dr Delmon Baker had negligible actual or potential socio-economic benefits to the people of Tobago

iii. had evidence of poor financial management ; and

iv. duplicated the responsibilities of the THA at law

The review of programmes recommended the discontinuation of seven (7) and the transfer of four (4) to the THA for consideration of completion. An analysis of the financial information revealed that one of the largest expenditure items of the former ministry was contract employment – approximately one hundred and ninety-four (194) contract positions were created and filled over the five (5) year period.

Furthermore, analysis of the recruitment and selection process undertaken presented considerable challenges consequent upon the absence or reluctance of the ministry to provide reliable information on the procedure.

Unearthed undocumented information suggests that the recruitment and selection of contract employees involved newspaper advertisements of no more than three (3) days followed by selection at the discretion of either the former Minister of Tobago Development Dr. Baker or the former Permanent Secretary and accounting officer of the ministry, Dr. Burris. The report recommends that both Dr. Baker and Dr. Burris be required to account for expenditure undertaken without the requisite approvals.

Additionally, six hundred and two (602) asset items of the ministry and the Human Capital Development Facilitation Company Limited were audited and placed in a register for future updating.

It was also revealed that the ministry’s asset base included thirteen (13) refrigerators, thirteen (13) television sets, a substantial number of unused computers, a fully outfitted gymnasium and facilities for a valet employed to superintend the sartorial image of the former Minister of Tobago Development, Dr. Baker.

The Office of the Prime Minister and the Central Administrative Services Tobago Division will now be rationalised to exclude functions scheduled to be delivered by THA at law and only include functions which the central government has a legal mandate to provide in Tobago or necessary to be provided by the central government.

Based on the report, the Human Capital Development Facilitation Company Limited appears to be no more than an expensive financial conduit surreptitiously intended to spend money on programmes intent on supporting the fledgling supporting capital on the former minister of Tobago. There is therefore now a cogent cause for winding up the company, terminating all employees on contract within the meaning of the law and disposing of all of the company’s assets.

The report also stated that Cabinet had approved funding for the then minister to provide discretionary funding to NGOs, FBOs and CBOs for the provision of safety nets for poor and vulnerable and to create infrastructure to support lifelong learning skills and buildings to the residents of Bethel which, coincidentally is a village of Dr Baker, through some forty-six (46) identified NGOS and CBOs.

Over the period June 2010 to September 2015, several of the aforementioned 194 contract employees were recruited in positions for which they had neither the requisite qualifications nor experience. The recruitment process was mainly at the discretion of the Minister and the Permanent Secretary.

One hundred and sixty-eight (168) of those employees had their contract terminated by January 2016. Approximately $16.1 million was spent.

As a result of the findings and review of the report, Cabinet has today taken a decision to bring an end to the Human Capital Development Facilitation Company Limited in accordance with the relevant law as a matter of urgent priority. This will be undertaken by the cooperation sole.

Staff of the former ministry who are public officers will be redeployed to the wider public service. The Office of the Prime Minister, through the Central Administration Services Tobago Division, will refrain from engaging in any project that duplicates any function of the THA or which is in contravention of the THA Act.

The surplus assets of the former ministry will be transferred to other government agencies and the report will be forwarded to Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs where it will be determined whether there have been breaches of fiduciary duty, any criminal actions that require criminal sanction and any other further civil actions to be taken.