Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Minister lays down the law

Claims of excessive travel by CEO of ODPM, purchases at agency...

Allegations of excessive foreign travel by the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) Dr Stephen Ramroop are now receiving the attention of the Ministry of National Security.

National Security Minister Gary Griffith yesterday told the Sunday Express he is clamping down on the frequency of overseas trips, not only by Ramroop, but all security heads under his portfolio.

He has also pro­mised to “look into allegations” of purchases at the ODPM, one of which was the acquisition of 12,500 body bags over the past two years. 

The latest recorded purchase was dated August 5, 2013, at a total cost of $449,938 for 2,500 body bags.

Griffith, in his capacity as line minister for the ODPM, could not say why so many body bags were bought, or why there was a need for 600 wheelchairs purchased by the agency in August last year. 

Griffith said he had no knowledge of how the ODPM spent its budge­tary allocation, but will move to determine the authenticity of the information before taking action.

Ramroop, a medical doctor by profession, left the country eight times last year, causing him to be warned on two occasions by the ministry.

Sources told the Sunday Express his travel bill for 2012 was close to $2 million.

So concerned was the permanent secretary at the ministry last year that a memo was issued to him on July 17, 2012, on the matter. 

And on July 23 last year, one month after assuming office at the Abercromby Street, Port of Spain, ministry, Jack Warner, in a letter to Ramroop, cautioned his division head about spen­ding and noted that already three requests for overseas tra­vel had come to him since he assumed office. Warner alluded to the earlier warning from the permanent secretary.

He expressed concern over the fact that “other officials were not being offered the opportunity to benefit” from skills offered at these overseas mee­tings, saying this “does not augur well for organisational development”.

Warner told Ramroop the travelling “tells me essentially that the organisation is being managed from overseas, and that there could be no effective transformation or development” of the ODPM “if such sustained absences of the chief executive officer were to continue”.

Notwithstanding this, Warner approved Ramroop’s trips to Barbados on July 24, and Panama City from July 31 to August 1, but he cautioned Ramroop to take serious note of his concerns and to “make adjustments”.

The Sunday Express has learnt Griffith has already turned down a request from Ramroop to travel since he assumed office. 

While Griffith refused to comment specifically on Ramroop’s situation, he has laid down the law with officials. 

Among those are the director of the National Security Ope­rations Centre and a retired lieutenant commander of the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, Garvin Heerah.

“I am ensuring that all heads of divisions are here and are spending more time on the ground. Right now it is a case of less travel and more implementation.

“I have also advised my heads that they need to ensure there is value in their overseas travels and that at the end of the day, it is not just a trip for the sake of a trip. I want my commanders on the ground as much as possible now.”

Several telephone calls and text messages to Ramroop’s phone remained unanswered yesterday.