AMID growing concerns of a State sector culture of waste and mismanagement, the chairman of iGovTT, Attiba Phillips, is under fire from his board of directors for unapproved spending in excess of $69,000.
Phillips, a non-executive chairman, has defended the spending as legitimate company expenses but his entire board has taken strong issue with it, condemning his spending of taxpayers’ money as an “abuse” and has called on line minister Dr Rupert Griffith to investigate whether any wrongdoing occurred.
Persons with knowledge of the situation told the Express that directors of the iGovTT board were sharply critical of the chairman’s questionable spending and in a September meeting with Science and Technology Minister Griffith at the Minister’s Waterfront office, expressed a lack of confidence in his ability and judgment to lead the board of the State-subsidised company.
Director on the board of iGovTT, Warren Sookdar, confirmed that the board received an audit that showed some problems. Speaking on behalf of the board, Sookdar said the audit identified many issues of spending for unapproved purposes and the board felt it necessary to brief the line minister on all of the matters.
Phillips, the son of former government minister Daphne Phillips, spent $23,835.50 in 40 taxi transactions stretching over a 19-month period, according to an income and expenditure audit of the company. This is in addition to his board transportation fee (travel allowance) of $1,000 a month.
The taxi charges were recorded in the books of iGovTT as board expenses without the approval and/or knowledge of the seven directors on the board, sources disclosed.
Reached for comment, Phillips defended spending beyond the chairman’s legal limit on travel. He said there were times during his chairmanship of the State-subsidised company when he was unable to get where he needed to go on company-related business. It was during those times, he told the Express, that the company provided a driver or taxi services. He declined to say who in the company’s management authorised taxi money from the State’s purse.
A review of taxi rides, however, showed trips to the airport, the Prime Minister’s private residence in Phillipine, the Rienzi Couva headquarters of the United National Congress (UNC) party, his Carenage residence, St Clair, Penal, Mid Centre Mall, iGovTT’s headquarters at Lord Harris Court on Pembroke Street and the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s, among other places.
His travel log also showed trips from his home, Chaud Restaurant on Dundonald Street, Port of Spain, the airport and Rienzi Complex, among other places.
At least seven of his rides exceeded $1,000 a piece. In one trip from Lord Harris Court to Penal, the cost to the State was $1,197—which included an hour-long wait by the taxi.
A 2012 February ride from his Carenage home to Siparia cost taxpayers $1,575. A return road trip from his home to Mid Centre Mall in Chaguanas rang up a taxi fare of $1,335. Another trip from his home to Diego Martin cost taxpayers another $1,222.
Phillips is also reported to have used the company’s Toyota Prado vehicles on two occasions without the board’s knowledge and/or approval. He has, however, denied this, saying he never took the company vehicles without the requisite approval.
There were spending issues related as well to his six-day stay in June of this year at the Hilton Trinidad. Insiders report Phillips and management personnel ringing up a hotel tab of some $77,000.
Asked about the Hilton stay, Phillips said there were serious deadline issues related to the delivery of the national ICT (National Information and Communications) plan and it was necessary for key company officials to hunker down for a few days to get the document out. He expressed surprise that the Hilton stay had become an issue.
He was surprised as well that his three-day stay at the Hyatt Regency hotel had raised eyebrows. Phillips rang up a tab of $5,396.10 for his Hyatt stay during iGovTT’s SmartTT conference. He said he had multiple roles and was a lead presenter on two conference days and “it just made sense” for him to stay on location.
There was also a reported misuse of the company’s credit card for a bit of fine dining at Chaud Restaurant in Port of Spain but Phillips said the bill of $417 was paid in full.
Minister Griffith has told the Express the matter of the chairman’s unapproved spending at iGovTT was raised with him and that it would be premature for him to say anything until he had all the facts before him.
Acting chief executive officer Kendall Tull declined comment when contacted.