By: Staff Reporter, SKNVibes.com
Documents revealed financial discrepancies
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts - THE Minister with Responsibility for the Transport Sector, Wendy Phipps, has begun cleaning up boards where there were financial discrepancies and conflicts of interest. Word broke on Thursday (May 26) that several board members of the St. Christopher Air and Sea Ports Authority (SCASPA) and the Unban Development Corporation (UDC) were terminated, including their Chairmen. A letter sent to the UDC Director, Stephen Duggins, informing him of his removal from the position with immediate effects.
Several persons had suggested that his removal was for political reasons, and that it was a vendetta against the positions taken by the former government ministers. The Government, in a media statement Fridayt evening, announced that three members from each of the Boards were terminated.
On the following morning (May 28), Minister Phipps, in a press briefing, provided context and details surrounding members of the two boards. Phipps announced that upon taking office as the new Minister with Responsibility for the Transport Sector, she had been engaged in a series of meetings with members of the two entities and had examined a number of documents.
She also stated that during those meetings, startling findings were revealed, including financial irregularities and the hiring of a large number of persons. Speaking to the findings at SCASPA, Minister Phipps disclosed that 62 persons were hired between January and May of this year. She noted that those persons were being paid more than some of the existing staff members. “My concern was further heightened by the fact that a number of persons who were newly hired were being paid significantly more than other employees who had been hired between four to 10 years prior to virtually the same job,” she revealed. She explained that what exacerbated the situation is that in spite of the written and oral directives to place a freeze on hiring, the board continued to do so.
Phipps noted that five persons were hired and paid at the higher scale. “The net effect of this situation is that these 67 new hires create an extra payroll burden to SCASPA of almost $2 million per year,” she added.
She stated that the new hires come at a time when the company is illiquid and does not have the financial space to accommodate any new employees.
The Minister also stated that the Ministry of Finance had confirmed that between September 2020-December 2021, it had provided financial assistance of over $17 million to SCASPA. The issue of conflict of interest was also raised at the statutory agency.
Minister Phipps charged that based on her research and investigation, a number of persons would have benefited from the sale of goods and services to SCASPA. Over at the UDC, the Minister charged that based on the minutes, there were corporate credit cards issued to the Chairman of the Board to the tune of EC$26,000 and the Chief Executive Officer to the tune of EC$48,750, all of which had limits.
According to Phipps, it is unclear what levels of control have been exercised over the expenditures covered by the credit. The Minister however noted that the limits on the cards are more than those of the Ministry of Finance’s Financial Secretary. “The credit limit of the Financial Secretary reconfirmed as recently as yesterday is a mere $10,000.” Addressing the issue of conflicts of interest, Phipps charged that independent and credible verified information showed that “one Director of the Corporation had been asked to resign as a result of him writing a cheque to himself”. The Minister further revealed that the said Director was charged with spearheading a project to construct a security guard hut at the marina. The construction of the facility faced much scrutiny after it was pegged at more than $200,000. And Minister Phipps pointed out that “based on the minutes, the original estimate was pegged at $227,000, which was subsequently reduced to $150,000…“A number of other areas of concern have also surfaced in my review of the minutes of the Board meeting of the UDC,” noted Phipps. She announced that at UDC, documents for the listing of projects and financial obligations were examined and the financial records had shown large payouts for projects in 2021.
One of the stand out projects was the furnishing of a booth for the former Deputy Prime Minister at the Caribbean Premier League in which tens of thousands were expended. “There appears to have been provisions of support for the former Deputy Prime Minister, Honourable Shawn Richards, in the amount of $100,000 for the outfitting of his private box at the CPL. This line item is listed as ‘support for minister and staff incentive’”, she explained. The Minister state that the Government is concerned that pertinent documents relating to the finances to the agency might not still be available.
Meanwhile, the Minister appointed three new Directors to serve on each of the Boards to go along with those who remain.