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Sans Souci project halted: Criminals demanded $50,000 from contractor
Unable to give into a $50,000 demand from criminal elements, Eastern Engineering and Marketing Services gave up a contract for less than $1 million with the Programme for Upgrading Road Efficiency (PURE).
It was first time employees of the Sangre Grande firm, which was established in 1984, had to flee a job site due to threats, extortion and intimidatory tactics.
A director of the company told the T&T Guardian he feared for his life and for his family.
His revelations came days after Works Minister Rohan Sinanan admitted that rogue elements had been extorting money from contractors, stalling several road projects.
Sinanan said contractors who refuse to give into the demands of the criminals are being threatened, causing them to abandoned projects. Those who give into the demands pay a coward tax.
The 67-year-old contractor, who requested anonymity, said in November the company was awarded a four-month contract to construct curbs, slipper and box drains and cylinder crossings along Paria Main Road, Sans Souci. Work was expected to be completed this month.
However, days after the project started on January 16, three men, one of them armed with a gun, entered the job site demanding to know who was in charge of the project. When they got no reply,they left.
On January 24, four men showed up asking questions. The contractor said he identified himself as the project manager.
“One guy, who seemed to be the leader of the gang, kept saying no work could go on since they were in charge of the area. The men were coming up in my face and shouting at me to answer their questions like thugs.
“I asked them if they wanted work. They said no. Based on their body language they were instilling fear and using intimidatory tactics on us,” the contractor recalled.
He said the men threatened to set his $600,000 backhoe on fire.
“They kept boasting that they have big guns and drugs in Sans Souci. That is what got me frightened,” he said.
The contractor said he was warned not to return to the site.
“I reported to the Toco Police threats of violence, harassment, extortion and intimidation made against us,” he said.
The next day, the contractor and his workforce of 15 returned to the site but they got another visit on January 26 from a larger group of men.
He said the men told them they campaigned with a politician in the 2015 general election and were promised work.
“They said they had to get back the money they put out for the election. They say they know the Ministry of Works does pay late and they wanted $50,000 out of the contract before work could go on and they want the money up front.
How I got involved in this is anyone’s guess. I realise this was extortion,” he said.
Before the men left, they gave the contractor a telephone number.
“They told me to call the number that same night and if I don’t call don’t come back up there. I did not call because I know if I had surrendered to their demands I would have had to come up with the $50,000 which I had no intention of paying since this was illegal. I made another report to the police,” he said.
The contractor advised his workers to stay away from the site.
On January 28, he met with senior police officers at the Sangre Grande Police Station hoping to have the matter resolved.
“The police advised me to leave the job site since they could not provide my staff with protection to finish the project,” he said.
The contractor said he was forced to move his equipment out of the area.
“Work that was prepared for casting was left undone. We never went back. Up to this day I am still living in fear. Them fellas frightened me to no end. I am still uneasy not knowing what they could do,” he said.
“We had to give up the contractor through no fault of our own.”
While the contractor was asked to submit his bills to the ministry, he said he will still be on the losing end in obtaining health and safety approvals for his staff, signage, rental of equipment and mobilization fees.
Sinanan said he had a discussion with a group of men two Sundays ago at the office of Toco/Sangre Grande MP Glenda Jennings-Smith.
“We told them what we would and would not tolerate. They claimed they did not threaten anyone and wanted jobs.”
Asked why the police failed to protect the contractor, Sinanan said they intended to deal with that matter urgently.
“If what the contractor is saying is true that is ridiculous. That is what we pay the police for. I had a conversation with the Ministry of National Security and they agreed to deal with these criminal elements who are tormenting contractors in a serious way,” he said.