Saturday, January 20, 2018

Campaign $$ from contractors

WASA official raked in funds for UNC by-election bid

The director of Corporate Services at the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), Doodnath Bhola, solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars from contractors to assist with campaign financing in a failed attempt to secure victory for the United National Congress (UNC) in the Chaguanas West by-election.

Bhola is also chairman of Government Information Services Ltd (GISL). 

Instructions detailing how the money was to be collected from the contractors all who are carrying out works on WASA’s pipe laying projects around the country were sent to 15 people, who are alleged to be senior WASA officials, in the form of two text messages from the cellular phone used by Bhola, the same telephone number on which the Sunday Express contacted him two Fridays ago.  

 Bhola is responsible for procurement and purchasing services at the State enterprise.  

The text messages obtained by the Sunday Express were sent on July 1 and 22, 2013, just days before the July 29 Chaguanas West by-election which was won by Jack Warner, interim political leader of the Independent Liberal Party (ILP).

The July 1 text message sent from Bhola’s telephone number to the telephones of nine of the 15 senior WASA officials at 8.20 a.m. read: “I took 100k to the Boss this week for the campaign and he was real happy. This was from Brian Ali from INCORP. If you can do the same with assistance of (sic) people you know and trust the boss and party will be real glad.                                                      

 “Bick organized something also. Let me know and I could make the arrangements. We have to do it next week.                

 When I resume duties on Tuesday I hope I can take you to the boss with resources for the campaign. You must give the name of the donor and Cell No for acknowledgement.”    

The nine to whom the message was sent were Wendell, Ronald, Peter, Steve, Anand, Gerard, Ram, Ken and Ricky. Bhola was on leave from WASA from July 18 to 22 and resumed duties on July 23 as stated in the text message.  

Company searches show Ali is the managing director of Incorp Investment Ltd in Sangre Grande. 

Websites also list Ali as the managing director of Aaron’s Barbecue Hut located along the Eastern Main Road in Sangre Grande. 

Ali could not be contacted for comment. 

Sunday Express investigations further revealed that three weeks later on July 22 at 7.46 a.m., just six days before the July 29 by-election, another text message was sent from the same telephone number to 12 contacts listed as Mervyn, Dial, Steve, Ram, David, Ken, Peter, Wendell, Gerard, Ronald, Rick and Harrylal. 

The message read: “Last call. Financial support for UNC campaign in Chaguanas (sic) West. So far Ronald has arranged contributions from Delta Construction, Monar and ABRI Contractors, I had arranged with INCORP, and Harrylal is taking down contributions from RJS and Veemul this evening to the boss. I will be arranging with NEDCOM  and  Moosais today. What are you doing if you have not done anything as yet D Bhola.”

Three hours later that same day at 10.45 a.m. another text message was issued from the same telephone number, this time to Ken which read:  “Thanks Ken for getting Bens Transport to contribute.”

Dinash Ragoo is listed as the owner of that company.  

When the Sunday Express contacted Bhola questioning in what capacity he collected funding to assist with campaign financing for the Chaguanas by-election he replied via text message: “I want to thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to explain my text messages on July 1 and July 22. I will be more than willing to respond. 

However, I don’t remember clearly the details of the text messages.  It will be greatly appreciated if you can forward those text messages to me so I know exactly what I am explaining.”

Bhola however changed his tune when the Sunday Express sent the text messages, and instead suggested that he would let the Information Technology (IT) department investigate them.

Bhola wrote: “I am shocked by what is alleged to have come from my phone.  In addition most of the persons mentioned in the text don’t know about it. I wish to deny any of this happened and have requested our IT department to investigate these texts (sic) to determine what really happened. I will share with you the findings when they come at hand.”

Sunday Express investigations revealed that it was two Wednesdays ago that WASA’s management held an emergency meeting with several senior officials after word got out that the Sunday Express was in possession of information relating to the solicitation of funds.

Several attempts to get comments from chairman Indar Maharaj were unsuccessful as he did not respond to telephone calls or voice messages on the matter.

Line minister Ganga Singh also did not respond to text messages when questioned if he was aware that monies were collected from WASA contractors to assist with campaign financing for the Chaguanas by-election.

And when the Sunday Express approached Singh at the launch of the National Beverage Containers Cleanup at the Hyatt Regency (Trinidad) Hotel in Port of Spain last Monday asking him to comment on the issue, he said: “I cannot respond. I do not know the integrity of those text messages. That is my response.”

Leader of the Congress of the People (COP), Prakash Ramadhar,  who has been lobbying for the implementation of campaign finance reform also did not respond to text messages on the matter.