The Ministry of National Security has racked up a whopping $15 million car rental bill for vehicles used during covert operations over the past year.
But Permanent Secretary in the Ministry Jennifer Boucaud-Blake, who entered into the monthly $1.3 million rental/lease agreement on behalf of the Ministry with three vehicle rental companies is insisting that she received authorisation to do so.
However, Sunday Express investigations reveal that Cabinet did not approve any agreement and approval is now being sought for the hefty bill.
The Sunday Express learned that it was only last Thursday a note was taken to Cabinet by newly-appointed National Security Minister Gary Griffith seeking approval but the matter was referred to the National Security Council for a decision.
The month-to-month rental/lease agreement is with Newman Hardware and Transport Ltd, KB Professional Services Ltd and Miscellaneous Marketing Ltd.
The companies supply unmarked vehicles to the T&T Police Service (TTPS) for covert operations.
Miscellaneous Marketing Ltd is the same car company that supplied eight vehicles to the alleged new Flying Squad to start work last year.
At the time interim political leader of the Independent Liberal Party Jack Warner held the portfolio of Minister of National Security.
Warner, who is also the Chaguanas West MP, resigned from Government in April.
He did not respond to text messages on the matter last week.
The rental/lease arrangement investigations revealed continued under former National Security Minister Emmanuel George and is ongoing.
As to who exactly authorised the rental/lease agreement, Boucaud-Blake—who is set to retire from the public service next week—would not say when the Sunday Express contacted her last Friday.
“That was a decision that was taken at a level which authorised the transaction until such time.
There is no incident where it went over the limit for any one provider.
Collectively it would have been over $1 million but in terms of each provider it was within the limit.”
Told that the total $1.3 million monthly sum for the rental/lease arrangement exceeded the $1 million expenditure limit of a permanent secretary, Boucaud-Blake said: “There is no incident where the permanent secretary would do that without the proper authorisation in the national interest.
“If you need further clarification it would be more prudent to speak to someone at the ministerial level.
“That is an internal procedural matter at the Ministry of National Security and I would prefer to have it handled internally.
“Probably, you can speak with the minister. He may be able to answer your questions.”
Under the Central Tenders Board Regulations a permanent secretary cannot exceed expenditure of $1 million.
The regulations also state that a permanent secretary cannot split the cost of a bill to remain within the limit.
Section 71:91 of the regulations states: “A permanent secretary, the chief administrator of the Tobago House of Assembly or an officer of a statutory body (other than a Municipal Council) appointed for that purpose by such statutory body may act for the board where the total value of the articles to be supplied or the works and services to be undertaken does not exceed in the case of
(a) A permanent secretary or the chief administrator of the Tobago House of Assembly one million dollars; or
(b) An officer appointed under this subregulation, twenty-five thousand dollars,
But he shall not for the purpose of giving himself authority to act under this regulation subdivide the quantity of articles to be supplied or works and services to be undertaken into two or more portions so that the value of each portion places such portion within his jurisdiction.
In June, Boucaud-Blake had initially attempted to distance herself from the controversial $10 million bill for the removal of a fire tender that ran off the road in Blanchisseuse.
However, a November 22, 2012 memo sent to Boucaud-Blake by former acting chief fire officer Carl Williams showed that she signed and instructed the deputy permanent secretary Sandra Lynch to “process” the staggering bill.
Cabinet eventually agreed to pay the revised sum of $6.8 million to Sammy’s Multilift Services.
When the Sunday Express contacted Minister Griffith last Friday about who authorised the rental/lease agreement, he said:
“I cannot divulge any information relating to the matter. What I would say is that we have a situation with the rental of vehicles but matters as such which are to be discussed with the National Security Council and Cabinet I cannot discuss.”
Investigations further indicated that an audit dated March 8, 2010 conducted on the management and maintenance of vehicles in the TTPS frowned upon the abuse of the car rental system.
The audit conducted during 2006 to 2008 covering 14 police stations also noted a breach of the TTPS standing orders and lack of proper accounting and procurement methods.
According to the audit, information relating to the rental/lease of vehicles was extracted from the recurrent expenditure records maintained by the Police Service Accounting Unit (PSAU).
The findings of the audit noted that cost for the rental/ lease of vehicles continues to increase significantly on an annual basis.
This was represented in the expenditure spent from 2006 to 2008.
A breakdown of the cost over the three-year period is as follows:
• 2006-$5.07 million
• 2007-$8.12 million
• 2008-$8.96 million
It was also found while three units were responsible for maintaining the rental agreements and weekly status reports for the leasing and renting of vehicles, information was based on records maintained only by divisional squads responsible for crime and operations.
The other police units described the arrangement for the rental/ lease of vehicles as a “confidential facility” used to enable covert operations and as such, information was not made available.
However, officials dismissed the explanation given by the police officers as contents of the audit stated: “There is a Police Service expectation that vehicles should not be kept for periods exceeding three months, with the exception of vehicle rentals in Tobago.
Despite this, we found that 16 vehicles were rented for a period of 14 continuous months.
There was no evidence to show that the TTPS evaluated the cost and service delivery benefits derived from leasing and renting of vehicles.”
The audit recommended that the Police Service implement a coherent policy to evaluate the cost and service delivery benefits derived from leasing and renting vehicles on a continuous long-term basis as against purchasing vehicles.
It was further recommended that arrangements with suppliers should bring cost benefit to the TTPS and rates should be negotiated to achieve favourable terms.