Chairman of National Quarries (NQ) Mitra Ramkhelawan has suspended the company’s chief executive, Sandra Fernandez.
Fernandez, who reported an alleged cover-up at the cash-strapped State company to the Fraud Squad on Port of Spain on Thursday, received a letter of suspension yesterday.
The Express understands the letter, which was written by the company’s secretary, Wilma Owen, and signed by Ramkhelawan, was delivered to her home in East Trinidad.
A copy was also sent to Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine yesterday.
Ramnarine confirmed, in a telephone interview yesterday, he had received a copy of the letter and said it was signed by NQ’s chairman.
He said the reason Ramkhelawan gave for the suspension was that Fernandez’s qualifications for the position were being questioned.
Fernandez, who was identified for the position of chief executive by Ramkhelawan, has been NQ’s chief executive for the past two years.
NQ’s board of directors are Satee Chillar, Shivanand Dubay, Gregory Nurse, Neil Joe Sirpu, Nassa Hosein, Perry Polar, Alban Scott and Varsha Sieurajsingh.
Several of them, if not all, were in the dark over the suspension yesterday.
Contacted by the Express, several of them were unaware of any suspension.
The Express was told if the chairman wanted to suspend the CEO, a decision would have had to be ratified by the board of directors. “Although he is the chairman, he is not an executive chairman where he would have more control. He would need to make his case before the board,” one source explained.
“As far as I am aware, the CEO has not been suspended. There is no reason for it. I will have to look into it,” Dubay told the Express yesterday.
Asked whether it had to do with Fernandez’s decision to refer a matter to the Fraud Squad, Dubay declined to go into details until he was fully apprised of the matter by NQ’s chairman.
Others declined to comment on the record until after an emergency board meeting, which was scheduled for 5 p.m. yesterday.
On Thursday, Fernandez reported that senior officials at the company have been covering up their tracks by forging letters, which they submitted to the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Finance, in an attempt to cover up the acquisition of two pieces of equipment for $2 million.
Fernandez was allegedly asked to sign off on backdated letters, which sought to spin how the company acquired and utilised a second, unaccounted-for piece of equipment.
The Express has reported that NQ paid $2 million for an excavator and a bulldozer (called a dozer), even though it got only one. The excavator went to NQ, but the bulldozer went to a work site at Gopaul & Company.
In an interview with the Express on September 17 at NQ’s offices in Arouca, Ramkhelawan had justified the selection of Fernandez as the company’s chief executive.
Fernandez worked at Caura Hospital before her present job.
She admitted she was on vacation from duties at the hospital when she began work at NQ as a “CEO consultant”.
“What is happening is I was on vacation, and you’re on vacation you can consult. Nothing is wrong with consultation. If you are on vacation, nothing is wrong with that,” she said.
Ramkhelawan said her qualification for the job was her accounting background.
“She’s made more money than any CEO in the history of this company. The qualification is the bottom line, not idiots with PhDs who can’t do one thing. It’s the bottom line. Can you get the job done? Can you turn around the company? That is the qualification,” he said.
He said its union, the Union of Commercial and Industrial Workers, hamstrings the company.
“Trade unions are in the group of disgusting human beings in Trinidad and Tobago. We have put them in court. They struck illegally,” he said.
Ramkhelawan said at least 80 per cent of the employees at NQ were good people.
“The 20 per cent are lousy, low-grade, low-down people who are very unproductive and they are the ones in the unions,” he said,
Express: “Aren’t you concerned that statements like those can impact on morale?”
Express: “Aren’t you?”
Ramkhelawan: “No. Why? The truth? Why we must couch our words?”
“Unions are always upset. There are four classes of people who wreck this country. There are calypsonians—not Kitchener, Rose and Sparrow. You know the ones I am speaking about. Corrupt politicians before and after Johnny O’Halloran. Reckless newspaper reporters who would do anything for front page; and trade unions,” he said.
Several sources at NQ have voiced complaints to the Express that Ramkhelawan acted as an executive chairman, and not as a chairman of a board of directors.
In the September 17 interview, Ramkhelawan justified why he worked at the company every day, when a chairman’s job focused on governance issues at the company.
Ramkhelawan explained: “The company is bankrupt. The debt-to-equity ratio is two-to-one, it is fraught with corruption. Harvard University says the nonexecutive chairman should spend not less than 100 days. This company is fraught with numerous problems.”
He said as a chairman, he suffers the indignity of having at his disposal the “oldest, lousiest vehicle he has ever used”.
The Nissan Pathfinder, he said, has “tyres (that) are smooth like glass.”
“Normally in my area, I bend my head while I am in it. It’s a bit disgraceful,” he said.