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Ex-EFCL chairman’s no-show angers JSC

Published: 
Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Independent Senator David Small yesterday read the riot act to members of the Education Facilities Company Ltd (EFCL) who failed to show up for a Joint Select Committee (JSC) meeting in Parliament, accusing them of being disrespectful and threatening to have them summoned for the next sitting.

Small, who chaired the committee, said he was particularly concerned that former chairman Arnold Piggott’s no-show was published in the newspaper before the committee had been informed.

“That is not is how we do business. The committee is concerned and it is not something we would like to see again. We try to be courteous and respectful to everyone and we were hoping to get that back...respect is a two way street,” Small said as he reference an exclusive T&T Guardian report yesterday highlighting the fact that Piggott had written to the JSC indicating he would not appear after receiving legal advice.

The JSC had called EFCL and other government officials to explore the efficiency and effectiveness of the State-owned company, which is responsible for construction, maintenance, repair, outfitting and furnishing of schools and for the textbook rental programme.

During his contribution, EFCL chairman Ricardo Vasquez said they were possibly facing over $1 billion in debt due to various issues. He said some $750 million was owed to contractors and there were also a number of matters before the courts. He said in one instance a contractor in litigation with the EFCL had received some 58 contractors said to be amounting to some $900 million.

In noting the “large amount of legal matters,” Small said, “I have $150 million in arbitration claims...I have almost $100 million in which a default judgement was issued against the EFCL.”

Regarding how a default judgement generally arose, the JSC heard that in some cases, there was the resignation of the corporation’s secretary during the transition phase and information was sent but the EFCL was “not in a position to be given notice and respond to such situation and a judgement was given.”

Acting Permanent Secretary at the Finance Ministry, Suzette Lee Chee, revealed some concerns regarding the operations of the EFCL, following a letter she received from acting general manager Denis Cox. Cox’s letter, she said, outlined several issues, including interference in the day-to-day operations of the entity by board members.

“There were situations with the board encroaching on the responsibilities of the staff of the EFCL, where the board approved unqualified persons for appointments, improprieties in the procurement process and there were situations where board members were abusing the resources of the EFCL,” Lee Chee said.

Cox said from then to date however, the situation had improved.

Concerns were also raised that the firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers “seemed to be the preferred auditor of choice” as it had conducted six audits for the EFCL from September 2016 to March 2017 which amounted to $3.1 million. A seventh audit, which cost $45,000, is being questioned, as Cox said it was still to be determined who authorised the “ongoing investigation” by PWC.