Corruption and his inability to have it dealt with, is what led former People’s National Movement (PNM) minister and MP Arnold Piggott to quit last year as chairman of the Education Facilities Company Limited (EFCL).
Piggott found himself in the hot seat before Parliament’s Joint Select Committee (JSC) yesterday, three weeks after he refused to submit to questioning by the committee chaired by Independent Senator David Small.
Piggott said he resigned against the backdrop of corruption and mismanagement and was uncomfortable with the return of EFCL CEO Louis Frederick, whom he told the committee, was susceptible to political influence.
In remarks on the efficiency of the EFCL in carrying out its remit of repairing and maintaining government schools, Piggott responded to allegations from committee member and Opposition Senator Wade Mark that he resigned under pressure from the PNM hierarchy, saying his decision to quit came in light of allegations of bid-rigging for school repairs and gross mismanagement on the part of EFCL officials.
Piggott alleged that during his 17-month-long stint at the EFCL, employees with political connections sought to undermine operations of the company. “It appears that at least two people in the organisation had the ear of politicians and felt empowered to deal with matters based on that empowerment.
“One was the HR manager Gyllis Noel and the other was Louis Frederick. Being told not to take any action against an employee or contract worker, where you are clear the board has lost confidence in that worker, amounts to interference. I told them, when I was asked to reinstate Louis Frederick after he walked off the job, that had he returned the board will be handicapped. He did return after I was requested to re-engage him. Perhaps that should have been my last call,” Piggott said.
Responding to questions from JSC member and Opposition MP Fazal Karim, Piggott said that during his tenure there were four irregularities on the issuance of contracts. Recalling the issuance of a $4.495 million bid received, he said the details surrounding the contract were cause for an investigation which resulted in the resignation of a quantity surveyor.
“The details of that bid were caused to be recorded on an EFCL template. The quantity surveyor I was told was caused to be typing the information into the computer while the then executive manager was dictating the information from that bid...and that is grossly irregular. We caused a PWC (PriceWaterhouseCoopers) investigation to be prepared which showed clear breaches in the tender rules.”
Piggott added that when he assumed the role of chairman in May 2016, he encountered evidence of serious mismanagement during the previous People’s Partnership administration, citing the discovery of a “mill room” at the Ministry of Finance, which was designated for the production of cheques and false invoices under the supervision of senior EFCL executives.
Speaking on these revelations, committee chairman Small said he was gravely concerned over the state of affairs at the EFCL and added the committee is awaiting the findings of the audit to recommend what should be done to prevent future abuse.
“We’re talking about a billion-dollar company where it’s clear on the basis of the information presented this morning, the tendering process was compromised. The committee is very concerned and what has emerged is a pattern of malfeasance in public office,” Small declared. EFCL general manager Dennis Cox said the current board has taken steps to mitigate against corruption, including restructuring the board and bridging the gap between management and contractors.
Former chairman of the Education Facilities Company Ltd (EFCL) Arnold Piggott earlier today denied allegations by Senator Wade Mark that he was influenced by the People's National Movement (PNM) to resign from his position.
In his closing remarks at the Joint Select Committee on the efficiency of the EFCL in repairing and maintaining government schools, Piggott said his decision to resign came in light of a number of questions about contracts for school repairs and gross mismanagement by company officials.