Dennis: Delay in paying contractors destabilising Tobago economy

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

PNM Tobago leader Ancil Dennis –

PNM Tobago Council political leader Ancil Dennis has labelled THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine callous for his treatment of local contractors.

Dennis was speaking with Newsday on the $390 million owed to contractors by the assembly.

Augustine has blamed the previous PNM administration’s pre-election spending for the assembly’s debts. On July 22, he said contractors would begin to meet individually with an independent team to discuss the way forward to receive their money.

Dennis said: “This Chief Secretary promised to make payments to these contractors several months ago, and he made a firm commitment to them at a face-to-face meeting. He has now reneged on that commitment, citing ‘due diligence,’ as if he suddenly realised this, notwithstanding his initiation of an audit more than seven months ago.”

He said Augustine was being insensitive and had betrayed his responsibility as a Tobago leader. He argued that Augustine showed his true colours when he raged that he did not care about the Tobago contractors and their bank-related challenges.

“This mishmash of excuses and bombast is quite unfortunate and only serves to further damage indigenous Tobago businesses, while further destabilising the Tobago economy. It is ironic, even frightening, that while the Chief Secretary galleries and misleads, the PDP decision-makers are quietly giving contracts in the dead of night, as he likes to call it, to their friends from Trinidad.”

He said the previous PNM administration engaged in a programme of infrastructural works over a two-year period. This, he said, was aimed at achieving two very important objectives, among others: to quickly and effectively resolve long-standing infrastructural issues and make other critical interventions to protect both public and private infrastructure, as well as to stimulate the construction sector and provide employment opportunities and economic stimulation during the pandemic period, which had left many unemployed.

“A number of Tobago communities benefited by having flooding and other infrastructural issues resolved. The design-build-finance (DBF) procurement model was used, to allow the THA to get the work done without the need for upfront financing, but with a commitment to periodic payments over a reasonable period.

“This arrangement was honoured by the previous administration, but if the Chief Secretary is convinced that THA administrators, engineers, quantity surveyors, internal auditors and other public servants are either corrupt or incompetent to the extent that an external audit of these programs is required, then he is entitled to allay his concerns.”

He added: “However, his posture and the developments and conduct within his own administration suggest that this is more about political victimisation and arrogance than any genuine concern about corruption. The present reality is that while the audit drags on with callously unfulfilled promises of part payment, we are witnessing the destruction of Tobago businesses and, by extension, Tobagonians.”

Newsday understands that three contractors have met with the independent team “but no one has been paid.”