on the go: Community Environment Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) employees at work on a jobsite in East Trinidad. —Photo: ROBERTO CODALLO

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CEPEP contractors pocketing $m

No employee tax contributions deposited since 2002

By Renuka Singh

Contractors with the Community Environment Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) have been pocketing millions of dollars in employees' tax contributions. The payments, which should have been made to the National Insurance Board (NIB), have not been deposited, some since the programme's inception in 2002.

And the CEPEP administration is calling in the Fraud Squad because it is felt NIB is not moving fast enough to recover the employees' money.

This fraudulent practice by the contractors is also one of the reasons behind the restructuring of the programme and termination of the 110 contracts.

Contacted for comment yesterday, Adesh Deonarine, CEPEP's chairman, confirmed his administration was concerned contractors were not meeting the requisite "statutory obligations"and was one of the reasons for the termination of several contracts.

"Yes, non-payments of statutory obligations is one of the reasons for ending contracts, but there are other reasons as well," he said.

Deonarine said contractors have lost their projects because of poor performance and expired contracts under the Trinidad and Tobago Solid Waste Management Company Ltd (Swmcol), which originally ran CEPEP.

CEPEP sources have described the programme as "in a mess" since contractors were allowed to do as they pleased, and which reportedly gave rise to ghost gangs and made several contractors "very rich".

According to CEPEP's regulations, each contractor can have as many as six contracts, each with ten people, but lack of regulations have seen some gangs growing to as much as 120 workers.

A contractor earns a manager's fee, between $25,000 to $30,000. He is expected to contribute 16 per cent of each employee's monthly salary to NIB. Workers earn between $85 and $108 per day.

"If this was not done, you could have people (contractors) earning close to $100,000, a month," said a source with an understanding of the programme.

Deonarine said there have been instances where contractors have continued operations with the same group of workers for over eight years. This, he noted, was in direct violation of the premise of CEPEP. He named one such company which he said owed as much as $500,000 in back payments.

Deonarine said it was unfortunate the workers were the ones to suffer in the long run. He said from the 110 CEPEP contracts available, 40 had already been terminated— which could mean as many as 2,000 workers were on the breadline. He said while he was willing to absorb some of the workers, he could not retain the contractors.

"I am not keeping any of the old contractors if they did not comply with the law," he said.

He said the workers should visit the NIB and their contractors to see whether they had national insurance coverage.

"Some of them would be surprised," he said.

Niala Persad, head of legal and corporate communications at NIB, confirmed yesterday the board has received reports of "alleged delinquency" by CEPEP contractors. She said the board only received reports of such delinquency in January this year.

"Those allegations are being actively investigated. The allegations are the focus of the authorised officers at this point," she said.

Persad she said she could not confirm the size of the debt, but once it was established, the NIB would use all available resources to recover the outstanding sums.

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