Thursday, February 22, 2018

Faking all the way to the bank

Express editorial logo308

Mark Fraser

 It is beginning to look as though the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration will be noted primarily for the number of persons with bogus academic qualifications appointed on its watch.

Starting with Reshmi Ramnarine, whose padded CV still didn’t qualify her to head a national security agency, several other individuals have been appointed to positions for which they were unqualified or claimed qualifications which they didn’t have. In every case, these persons were exposed by the media; in no case has anyone been charged with attempting to defraud the State.

The latest such allegation centres around a former chief executive officer of the National Quarries Company, Sandra Fernandez, who had been appointed to the post based on her supposedly having a bachelor’s degree in business management. In the first place, it is curious that, in these days of expanded higher education, anyone should be appointed as CEO of any large company based on a first degree; indeed, National Quarries specifically requires that its CEO hold a post-graduate degree. In the second place, it turns out that Ms Fernandez does not even have this first-level qualification.

Last October, Ms Fernandez was asked by the company to produce certificates supporting the qualifications claimed on her CV. She reportedly failed to do so, and has since been suspended. Here, however, is where the management of State-owned National Quarries is rubbing salt into citizens’ outraged wounds. Rather than dismissing her summarily, the members of National Quarries’s board are reportedly considering paying Ms Fernandez the balance of her two-year contract—a sum which may be as much as $800,000.

Questioned about this by the Sunday Express, National Quarries chairman Keshwar Maharaj said that, “Legally the lady has a contract, so industrial relations addressed that legal issue with people who have contracts.” If that is the advice Mr Maharaj received, then maybe he should examine the qualifications of the company’s Industrial Relations personnel too. It cannot be that a person hired under false pretences can then be compensated for having successfully fooled the managers—some of them, presumably, in Industrial Relations—who hired her without proper checks.

Mr Maharaj’s response echoes that of Transport Minister Stephen Cadiz who, when it was revealed last September that the recently appointed general manager of the Airports Authority had a fake master’s certificate, responded that “embarrassment” was punishment enough. But, contrary to the strangely tolerant attitude of these officials, the fact remains that the laws of Trinidad and Tobago have been broken and State monies paid out to individuals who, unless they can prove otherwise, obtained their positions through deception.

All this constitutes a prima facie case for fraud charges. It seems, however, that there is one law for ordinary citizens and no law for political cronies.