Bus parts go missing
‘Pandora’s box’ opened at PTSC...
THE DISCOVERY of the stolen PTSC bus TR 4 in Rio Claro almost a year after it had gone missing opened the lid to further illicit activities at the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC).
The racket was busted following a two-month- long investigation by Caribbean Communications Network (TV6 and the Express).
High-ranking PTSC officials said an audit had not been done for quite some time, making it easy for these buses to vanish without anyone noticing.
In July this year, a 33-seater bus which disappeared from the San Fernando compound reappeared a week later on the PTSC compound in Sangre Grande.
Senior PTSC sources say the strategy is to hide the bus in plain sight, then quietly move it to the desired location.
This is how they believe TR 4 was stolen.
PTSC general manager Ronald Forde declined to speak face-to-face when contacted three weeks ago.
Forde said there was heat on him and the board following another exclusive story written about Ishwar Jadoonanan (PTSC deputy general manager at the centre of a $.7m backpay probe) by the Express in late September, and was hesitant to speak about a number of illicit activities at PTSC.
But following the discovery of the TR 4 bus by CCN on September 27 last month, he broke his silence in a telephone interview.
“This has now become a police matter as you know. But I have asked for an entire audit of the fleet which I hope will be done in a timely manner so we can identify all the assets in terms of the bus run-out...what was approved and what still remains,” explained Forde.
Minister of Transport Stephen Cadiz in a brief telephone interview on September 29 said he would be ordering an audit of the buses at PTSC.
However, alongside the bus racket another scheme was uncovered by CCN at the PTSC’s San Fernando compound where mechanical parts have disappeared, allegedly with the knowledge of certain PTSC staff.
It started with the bus E-077 when a new starter was ordered for it in July 2012.
This was done via means which bypassed the normal procedure.
PTSC sources revealed a senior employee placed the order at the Port of Spain office, when it should have come through the San Fernando branch.
This led to suspicion.
PTSC electrician Ian Ramkissoon, who was working at the San Fernando compound for over four years, said, “I was assigned to E-077 and I went down to check the bus because it was down for engine repairs and I went by the mechanic and they had already finished fixing the bus and it started up after that, so I knew it didn’t need a new starter.”
Richard Hinai, who also works as an electrician on the same compound, claimed that the senior employee asked him to lie outright if anyone asked about the new starter.
“I was working 1 p.m. - 9 p.m. that week, I think that was a Wednesday. He called me on my phone and said he wanted to talk to me personally. So when I came in, he pulled me aside and said if they ask about a starter, tell them I put it on a bus,” he said.
The new starter vanished a day after it arrived.
Several employees revealed that a number of mechanical parts had gone missing from the San Fernando stores department within the last two years.
“A lot of batteries have been missing from the compound, new batteries and recently one for the RTS buses and I had to replace that myself. But nothing comes out of these things, it just blows over,” said Ramkissoon.
Initially, our e-mailed questions were forwarded by Forde to PTSC’s manager of Legal Services, Marissa Ramsoondar, who confirmed there was an internal investigation into the missing starter and other parts.
Ramsoondar indicated that an employee was being represented by the Public Services Association (PSA) in the hearing. However in a letter obtained by the Express, prepared by PTSC security manager Michael Jackson, the PSA was accused of trying to stall the eventual hearing for over the last year and a half.
Was the theft of mechanical parts linked to the bigger racket of derelict buses vanishing? This question was posed to Forde.
Forde said, “I will not want to connect the two at the moment, because we have to do intensive checks.”
However, a PTSC official close to the investigation said there was “a strong inclination to believe that both are connected”.
And the corporation is aware that certain employees may be enabling the disappearance of parts paid for with taxpayers’ money.
In a letter obtained by CCN, Workshop manager at the South office, Donat Lawes, wrote to the head office in July this year stating: “There are members of the San Fernando Engineering Department who are very intimidated and threatened by supervisors who are involved in non-ethical behaviour and questionable activities.”
Allegations were made by mechanic Ashram Maharaj in a letter he wrote to PTSC superiors that he was ordered to fix a privately operated bus in Tableland by Drolly Francis, an assistant engineer.
He claims he was promised compensation for three days and extra cash. CCN spoke to Maharaj briefly on the telephone after obtaining these documents and he confirmed much of what was contained in the letters.
Maharaj’s time cards (which we obtained) were clocked in at the office, even though he was off the compound working on a private job, allegedly at his supervisor’s request.
In a sworn affidavit also obtained by us, Maharaj said he was being pressured by his foreman to back down on his earlier statements.
CCN approached Francis several weeks ago at the San Fernando compound to obtain answers pertinent to Maharaj’s claims.
Francis however evaded all our questions, hiding in his vehicle for over 15 minutes before hastily reversing out of the compound and leaving.
PTSC said it was probing these recent allegations with respect to Francis and would not comment further.