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The curious case of the false CVs

By BY Denyse Renne denyse.renne@trinidadexpress.com

It was a year in which fraudulent credentials came to the forefront at State enterprises.

The problem seemed contagious as it affected even a member of the commission of enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the 1990 attempted coup.

The commissioner in question admitted during a news conference that the discrepancies on his curriculum vitae (CV) were “errors”.  

Even the deputy chairman on the board of the Airports Authority of T&T (AATT) and the AATT’s general manager resigned after it was discovered their credentials were fake.

National Quarries chief executive officer was also suspended pending the outcome of a tribunal after it was discovered she was not academically qualified as stated on her CV.

Despite these revelations, only one police investigation has commenced, while the State remains mum on whether it will be seeking civil action against those who collected salaries based on their false credentials.

Today, the Sunday Express highlights these senior officials and their questionable academic qualifications.


Dr Hafizool Ali Mohammed 

— Member: commission of enquiry into the 1990 attempted coup


In September 2010, Dr Mohammed was appointed to sit on the commission of enquiry into the 1990 attempted coup. The enquiry was chaired by Sir David Simmons and included Sir Richard Cheltenham, Dr Eastlyn McKenzie and Diana Mahabir-Wyatt.

By January 2013, reports emerged that there were discrepancies in his CV.

Mohammed’s academic qualifications came under question after it was discovered he obtained his doctor of science degree from Atlantic International University (AIU)—a university described by various websites as a diploma mill. 

Following the expose, Mohammed admitted his CV is inaccurate but refused to step down as a commissioner, since he could explain the errors.

He told a media briefing at his attorney’s office days after his CV was made public: “I have about 40 resumes floating because I am linked to many organisations. I have had many people worked on my CVs. I can assure you that perhaps none of my CVs are 100 per cent accurate, they are at best 85 to 95 per cent. A challenge is explaining what the military terminology means.”

 Mohammed was asked to explain what he meant by his CV not being accurate. 

He said, “You have CVs sometimes in which you are asked to translate military terminology into English and sometimes you just make a mistake. Some of these mistakes are not necessarily major, but there is an issue of translation. When you have in particular a military CV, in the military world it is well understood. 

“However, if the CV is seen by someone not in military they may perceive something that is different. We try very hard to translate it into civilian language and sometimes we still do not get it right and that is the gist of it. The CVs are not meant to cheat or portray a false story, but sometimes they are not got right because they are not well translated and mistakes are made.” 

 Among the explanations given was that for the acronym “MS”. On Mohammed’s CV, he claimed he received a MS, from the US Army Command & General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth. Mohammed said many individuals took the MS to mean Master of Science, when in fact it meant military study.

 His CV also boasted references which were questionable. Checks revealed there was a non-existent Turkish president, Ahmet Haluk Ozbuddun listed on his CV.  

Mohammed described Ozbuddun as a “personal friend”. 

“He was not only a personal friend but I also worked with him for many years, beginning in 1974 in Turkey up until he returned to the United States,” he said.

 

“The only mistake I made with Ozbuddun is my recollection of 1974. I thought he said he acted as the Turkey president. I really thought he said that. It was an error on my part where his title was concerned. It was mistake, I am sure it is not the only one. It is a long time and I may have some of the titles mistaken.”

 

Mohammed also listed former president Sir Ellis Clarke as a reference. Asked how this was possible, since Clarke is dead, Mohammed said he asked Clarke “before he died”, to be a referee.

 

Kurt Ajodha 

— deputy chairman of the AATT board


Deputy chairman of the Airports Authority  Kurt Ajodha tendered his resignation to Transport Minister Chandresh Sharma in June. 

Ajodha’s academic qualifications were queried by Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert during debate in Parliament. The former deputy received a stipend of $7,000 a month for sitting on the AATT board.

It was during his contribution in Parliament that Imbert disclosed Ajodha did not possess the qualifications stated on his CV. 

Apart from being a deputy chairman, Ajodha also headed the tenders committee of the AATT. This committee dealt with the awarding of contracts which were issued for tenders.

Ajodha, sources say, had submitted his CV to the Boards Committee headed by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. 

Other members of the Boards Committee include Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar, Sport Minister Anil Roberts and Housing Minister Roodal Moonilal. 

Sources said any time a board selection has to be made, the line minister is also asked to attend the selection meeting.

During his contribution to the debate, Imbert claimed Ajodha’s CV showed he earned a BSc in civil engineering from The University of the West Indies (UWI), a bachelor’s in architecture from the New York Institute of Technology and a project management professional qualification from the Project Management Institute. 

“Mr Speaker, I am told The University of the West Indies has no record of this fellow ever acquiring a bachelor’s degree in engineering. 

This is the deputy chairman of the Airports Authority, chairman of the tenders committee. I am told that the New York Institute of Technology, School of Architecture has no record of this gentleman attending or acquiring a bachelor’s in architecture. Similarly with the project management professional, Mr Speaker,” Imbert had said. Imbert said he also checked the list of engineers registered with the Board of Engineering in T&T “and there isn’t a single Ajodha on this list”.

Ajodha was appointed in January 2012 and resigned in June 2013. He received a stipend of $7,000 per month. In total, during his tenure, Ajodha received $126,000.

 

Dayanand Birju 

— general manager AATT


Former acting general manager of Airports Operations at the AATT Dayanand Birju tendered a falsified certificate from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, in the United States.

The certificate, stated he was awarded a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1988. It was part of his CV which led to him obtaining a managerial position at the AATT.

Birju’s basic monthly salary at the AATT in the post of general manager was $41,500. He received an acting allowance of $16,000, entertainment allowance of $2,000 and housing allowance of $4,000. Collectively, he received $63,500 per month. He was appointed to act in this position on January 16, 2012.

When he was offered the position of deputy general manager, Airports Operations on August 10, 2010, Birju’s basic monthly salary was $24,000. This figure did not include allowances.

A copy of his contract obtained by the Sunday Express showed perks such as travelling, entertainment, telephone and housing allowances. The allowances were $3,000, $500, $350 and $1,500, respectively, per month.

Birju also qualified for a motor vehicle loan up to $140,000 to be repaid within three years. 

On January 16, 2012, the AATT board appointed Birju to act as general manager for six months. 

The document tendered by Birju was laced with discrepancies. Sunday Express investigations had revealed that the document named “Peter McFarlene” as the

 

 

university president.

But registry officials at the university had told the Sunday Express they knew no one by that name who served as president of the university.

During its investigation, the Sunday Express spoke with David Cesario, registrar of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, who said after inspecting the certificate, “I have reviewed it and it is not authentic.”

Cesario confirmed that Birju did attend the university “from fall 1983 through fall 1987”, but did not graduate.

Cesario was further asked if “Thomas Alan Caretherson” and “Veronica Miles” had served at the institution in the capacity of chancellor, Boston Campus, and chief, board of trustees, respectively, at any time, as stated on the certificate. He said no. Both these names were also on the document tendered by Birju.

 

Birju tendered his resignation to chairman of the AATT Trevor Benjamin on September 19. The resignation was with immediate effect. 

Following his resignation, police have launched an investigation into the matter. This investigation came despite there not being a formal complaint by members of the AATT board.

Numerous telephone calls to Benjamin and his deputy, Carol Cuffy-Dowlat, by the Sunday Express had resulted in the duo saying the matter was still being discussed at the board level.

Even Transport Minister Stephen Cadiz  in previous interviews stated that Birju and his relatives were embarrassed enough over the expose.

“I am not sure what we will do, whether we will report and let the police deal with it or consider that Mr Birju has sent a message, that if found out, you (the public) will be very embarrassed,” Cadiz had told the Express on September 27.

He added: “I have not yet decided (if to lodge a police report). (But) Mr Birju’s credentials were proven not to be genuine.”

The Transport Minister said in such cases where individuals were exposed, they were thrust into the spotlight.

“Mr Birju, he became a public figure over­night with these certificates,” Cadiz said.

Saying the police involvement could only add greater embarrassment to Birju and his family, Cadiz said such activity was not just limited to his ministry but many organisations “and also in the private sector”.

“I am not sure what we will do, whether we will report and let the police deal with it or consider that Mr Birju has sent a message, that if found out, you will be very embarrassed.”

But Birju received a job based on a document that was not authentic; shouldn’t the message be if you commit a crime, then you face the justice system, the Sunday Express had asked.

“Yes, and I’m not saying it’s not an option for the AATT, but to say it’s a directive I will give to the board, I cannot say that,” Cadiz said.

Will the AATT be seeking a refund or initiate civil proceedings against Birju, as well as former deputy chairman of the AATT Kurt Ajodha, in a bid to recover the money paid to them?

“I am not by any means a lawyer, and I don’t know what will happen in a case like this,” Cadiz said.

 

Sandra Fernandez — CEO National Quarries

 

As chief executive officer (CEO) of National Quarries NQ, Sandra Fernandez received a salary of $48,000 per month. She had been appointed as CEO in 2010.

Fernandez is currently on suspension from NQ and receives her salary and perks while on suspension.

She will face a tribunal on January 20.

The tribunal will address concerns raised about Fernandez allegedly not providing documentation to substantiate that she is academically qualified for the post.

On her CV, Fernandez stated she has a bachelor’s degree in business management from the School of Business and Computer Science (SBCS).

However, correspondences from SBCS to officials at NQ showed no such programme is offered at the institution and Fernandez is not a graduate of the school.

 

The disciplinary tribunal was established to determine whether Fernandez’s suspension was done within the parameters of company policy. 

The tribunal is being chaired by Lesmore Fredericks and assisted by attorney Nalinee Sharma.

Fernandez has retained the services of senior counsel Sophia Chote and KR Lalla and Company while NQ is being represented by Vanessa Thomas-Williams.

The tribunal started on October 21 and hearings are to be held at NQ’s head office in Arouca.

Following its initial meeting, the session was adjourned to December 6, at the request of Chote, who said she needed time to familiarise herself with documents such as witness statements. 

Fernandez was suspended by former chairman Mitra Ramkhelawan following claims she could not produce academic qualifications which were listed on her resume. 

According to the job specifications of CEO, a post-graduate degree is a requirement.

In several exchanges between herself and the human resource department, it was discovered upon inspecting her file, that the certificates listed were not there.

Documentation shows that on October 9, Fernandez was sent a letter requesting copies of her certificates.

On October 10, Fernandez was again issued a letter by NQ corporate secretary Wilma Owen asking for the certificates. Several letters and e-mails were sent.

A decision was then taken by the board, following consultation with NQ industrial relations attorney Vanessa Thomas-Williams, that Fernandez be suspended for 14 days “or until such time that she produces her certificates”.

To date, Fernandez is yet to produce the certificates.

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