Loads of dirt dug up from the site of the Caroni South Trunk Dualling Water Main Project have apparently been stockpiled in the backyard of the residence of Water Resources Minister Ganga Singh.
Singh has neither confirmed nor denied that the huge mound of dirt currently loaded in the backyard of his Home Farms, Las Lomas residence came from the site of the water project.
However, Singh has admitted that he paid contractor St Helena Enterprises $400 a load for 80 loads of dirt to landscape around his home.
Sunday Express investigations have revealed that St Helena Enterprises operates on the same compound as Sat Sais Co Ltd, one of the contractors of the $300 million Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) dualling pipe-laying project in St Helena.
The dirt mound at the back of Singh’s residence in Las Lomas is several feet high, towering over the back fence of the sprawling property.
When the Sunday Express visited the area last week, two tractors were seen levelling portions of the dirt at the back of the house.
The Sunday Express learned that dirt is usually sold between $400 to $500 and in some cases more (delivery included) per load.
A neighbour, who spoke to the Sunday Express under anonymity, said: “Truckloads of the dirt were dropped off very early in the morning. The property has a big space to the back. To get it level he (Singh) needs to back fill for support. He fixing up his house nice.”
Investigations revealed that over the last three months, several contractors, among them Sat Sais Company Ltd, have been contracted for various aspects of the work on the WASA project.
The project, which entails the installation of 40 kilometres of mains, is expected to boost the supply of water to an estimated 275,000 residents of south and central Trinidad.
The Sunday Express learned that the groundworks on the project commenced with the clearing and excavation of several acres of land in preparation for the laying of the pipe.
Ministry officials said the dirt excavated from state projects is usually dumped at the Beetham Landfill and other sites to assist with fire prevention.
When the Sunday Express visited the water project site last week, enquiring where the dirt was being dumped, a worker, who spoke under strict anonymity, said: “Most of the dirt was dropped off at a house. I cannot say where because I don’t want to lose my job. I have nothing more to say.”
Singh visits St Helena Enterprises
Around noon last Friday, the Sunday Express visited Singh at his Tower D office at the International Waterfront Centre in Port of Spain in an attempt to get a face-to-face interview on whether the dirt on his property came from the WASA project site.
Singh’s secretary Pamela Marajh, however, told the Sunday Express that the Minister had meetings scheduled for the entire day and could not be interviewed.
Marajh said Singh asked that the Sunday Express forward all questions via e-mail for a response.
Singh responded by text to some of the questions shortly after, in which he disclosed that the dirt had been purchased from St Helena Enterprises.
The Sunday Express decided to visit the company in St Helena to verify the purchase and to find out the source . When we arrived there, Singh was on the premises.
The Sunday Express attempted to get an interview with the owner of St Helena Enterprises, but was refused.
Singh, workers said, had arrived at the business place moments before the Sunday Express.
Enquiring whether the Sunday Express was at the right location, a man, who identified himself only as Roy, said: “Yes, St Helena Enterprises and Sat Sais are all on the same compound.”
A truck belonging to Sat Sais Company Ltd was parked at the entrance leading to St Helena Enterprises.
Asked if it was possible to speak to the owner of St Helena Enterprises, Roy said: “Park your van and follow me. You will have to wait because the Minister just arrived. Minister Ganga Singh came just before you. He did not come with his car. He came with a driver in that black car (pointing to a black Kia Optima that was parked at the entrance of St Helena Enterprises).”
Roy then told the receptionist to inform someone identified as Sunil Persad that the Sunday Express wanted to meet with him.
“The Express is here. She came to meet with Minister Ganga Singh and Mr Persad, so let them know she is here,” Roy said.
However, the receptionist returned and said: “Mr Persad said he had no appointment to meet with anyone from the Express and will be unable to see you.”
Before leaving the compound, the Sunday Express spoke to Singh’s driver, who was parked in the heavily-tinted car, licence PCU 6841, asking him to convey greetings to the Minister.
The driver replied: “Okay, I will when he comes.”
The Sunday Express left the premises of St Helena Enterprises around 4.25 p.m.
Singh contacted this reporter again at around 6.19 p.m. and communicated via the following text exchange:
Singh: Hi. Heard you were in my community.
Sunday Express: Hi.
Singh: Next time you must allow me to extend rural courtesies.
Sunday Express: I saw you go upstairs of St Helena Enterprises. My van was behind your car.
Singh: I was enjoying the (World Cup) game close by. You must be joking. I was at hrock (Hard Rock) on St Helena Main Road.
Sunday Express: Spoke with your driver, told him to tell you hi. At least he conveyed. When you are ready to talk call me. By the way please tell Sunil Persad that his handyman Roy is a very polite person. He extended all courtesies to me while you were upstairs.
Singh: You should quote him.
Sunday Express: As always I do. When you are ready to talk call me.
Questions for Singh
The following questions were sent to Singh via text message and e-mail.
His responses follow:
As discussed, the Sunday Express is seeking a response to the following questions for an article to be published on July 6, 2014.
1) Investigations and photographs obtained by the Sunday Express reveal that dirt from the Caroni South Trunk Main Dualling Project was dropped off at your home at Home Farms, Las Lomas. Please explain.
2) Please explain if the dirt was waste to be dumped after being excavated from the Caroni South Trunk Main Dualling Project.
3) Please explain if you paid for the dirt? If yes, at what cost per yard.
4) What usually happens to dirt from any government worksite?
5) Is it normal for such material to be sourced for private use by ministers or members of the public?
Minister Singh did not respond to all the questions sent by the Sunday Express.
He sent the following text message:
“St Helena Enterprises was contracted to provide top soil for the landscaping. Perhaps you should direct questions as to the source to them.”
Another text message sent from Singh read: “The top soil was 400 dollars per truckload. St Helena Enterprises was contracted to provide top soil for landscaping; not backfill. I don’t know the DNA of the top soil. Top soil ordered in mid-January. Initially 40 loads and subsequently another 40 loads.”
On October 14, 2004, Ganga Singh, who was then Opposition Chief Whip under the Basdeo Panday administration, had accused Diego Martin West MP Dr Keith Rowley of removing materials from the Scarborough Regional Hospital in Signal Hill and using them on a private housing development project in Mason Hall.
In two separate matters, Rowley was awarded damages relating to the issue.
The Integrity Commision in 2010 was ordered to pay Rowley $900,000 in legal costs in connection with its mishandling of the Landate probe.
Justice Maureen Rajnauth-Lee ruled that the commission was wrong to refer a report into the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions without allowing Rowley an opportunity to respond to the complaint.
In February 2014, Rowley was also awarded $.5 million in damages after he successfully challenged allegations made against him by former independent senator Michael Annisette in 2009 in relation to the Landate Project and the Urban Development Corporation of T&T (UDeCOTT).
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan has said the Landate matter is still open.