Monday, December 18, 2017

$119,000 for iPads, tablets for SWMCOL directors

More than $40,000 over regular purchase price...


UNDER FIRE: SWMCOL office in Port of Spain. –Photo: CURTIS CHASE

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The purchase of iPads and Samsung Galaxy Tablets for the nine directors of Solid Waste Management Company Limited (SWMCOL)–at a cost of $119,000 from a company owned by a director of another State enterprise that falls under the purview of the same line Ministry–has raised serious procurement questions.

An initial down payment of $43,000 was made to a company which is based in Point Fortin and owned by a director at Palo Seco Agricultural Enterprises Limited (PSAEL), and then a further $76,000 in September, according to a reliable source.

Checks reveal that the retail price for an iPad locally stood at $5,500 last September, while a Samsung Galaxy Tablet was sold for $2,950.

This means that the total cost for all the electronic devices would be approximately $76,050, which puts the cost paid by SWMCOL for its directors at approximately $43,000 over the regular purchase price.

According to the source, the SWMCOL board members meet only once or twice a month and so questioned the need for the purchase of such expensive equipment.

"As far as I see this purchase was for their own personal use and not to benefit the company," the source said.

In a letter addressed to Minister of Local Government Dr Suruj Rambachan, of which the Sunday Express obtained a copy, a SWMCOL employee raised the issue, along with several others, including hiring practices at the State enterprise, calling on the Minister to intervene.

"The company has also recently purchased iPads for its board of directors at twice the normal amount for such equipment. Again, no tendering procedure was undertaken," said the employee.

Several board members who were contacted by the Sunday Express for comment on the purchase of the iPads and Tablets denied that the $119,000 was inflated, but also asked that they not be quoted on the denial.

However, a source close to the board confirmed the purchase at the inflated cost, but said the cost of the iPads doubled because special software, specific to the functions carried out at SWMCOL, was installed on the units.

The source, who interacts with the board, added that there are several other issues at the State enterprise in relation to procurement practices that had been raised.

"The general manager of Integrated Waste complained to the CEO of SWMCOL, Shiva Hardit-Singh, that the contractors on the Beetham landfill, who operate the landfill equipment, had no contracts but every month they are paid millions.

"So he had asked the CEO to start awarding contracts since May this year and that is still sitting on the CEO's desk...he has not addressed it yet."

The source added that Hardit-Singh has only met the operations committee three times in the past 15 months, although the operations committee meets once a month and the CEO is supposed to attend every meeting.

The source added that the CEO, who is still on a six-month probation, is supposed to be appraised in December but to date the human resources committee, which was supposed to give him a list of deliverables upon his appointment so that his performance could be appraised, has yet to do so.

"So no one is even appraising him, so he doing what he want."

And there is another issue that has been raised concerning the purchase of the iPads and Tablets for the directors.

The source also questioned whether the directors are entitled to the purchase of the technology under the Ministry of Finance Performance Monitoring Manual, which outlines the procedure for such matters concerning State enterprises.

According to a Ministry of Finance official, the Ministry received no notice of any tendering process for the iPads from SWMCOL, but noted that it was more of an operational issue than that of a governance issue which the performance manual speaks to.

The Sunday Express was directed to speak with officials of SWMCOL's line Ministry, Local Government.

The Sunday Express made contact with the Ministry of Local Government's communications officer, Rae Ann Harper-Walters, who asked that the questions be sent via e-mail.

This was done and Harper-Walters responded to the e-mail, stating that she needed to get the comment from the Ministry's Permanent Secretary and would then respond to the questions.

That was more than three weeks ago, but up to yesterday there was no response from the Ministry.

The Sunday Express also attempted to get Local Government Minister Rambachan to state whether some action would be taken with regard to the issue.

In a telephone interview, Rambachan said he had no knowledge of any of the claims or of any letter relating to the SWMCOL allegations.

"I don't know anything about that. And I can only look at something if I have something official in my hand."

Contacted for a comment on the matter, SWMCOL chief executive officer Hardit-Singh said any enquiry on the issue should be e-mailed to the communications manager at the State enterprise, Alison Awai.

Responding to the allegations, Awai said her responses were advised by SWMCOL's acting CEO Keisha Rogers and chairman Suruj Baboolal.

"The procurement of this contract was awarded via the Selective Tendering process according to SWMCOL's Tender Rules and Procedures," she stated.

"Yes, the company followed the guidelines" of the State Performance Monitoring Manual which requires State enterprises to submit to the Minister of Finance within 14 days following the end of each month lists of all contracts which were awarded during the month, together with the value of each contract.

On whether the directors are allowed to purchase such devices to carry out their duties, Awai stated that "the acquisition is a matter of the company's corporate governance and objective as a 'go green initiative', thus connecting with the Line Ministry to provide information in a speedy and real time perspective".