Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles is concerned about the leaking of information to the Minority from the Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation on at least three instances of THA funds being wire transferred to unknown bank accounts.
Charles, speaking at Wednesday’s post Executive Council media briefing, also confirmed a third sum of $44,000 has gone missing from the Division, into an unknown bank account, claiming that he had already addressed matter.
He told reporters:
“Sometimes when I speak, you probably need to dig a little deeper into what I say… when I would have addressed this situation before, I would have mentioned it in passing and I would have indicated that this was also a matter that would have engaged the attention or was engaging the attention of the Fraud Squad.”
At the November 29 post Executive Council briefing, Charles, announcing that a complete audit of the Division of Tourism will be done as reports surfaced of two separate amounts of money, $8.8 million, and $1.6 million, to unknown bank accounts, said he had received a report on the $8.8 million payment, and has since requested additional information.
“That report included reference to another incident, that incident was also referred to the Fraud Squad,” he said. He did not give details of the incident.
The day before, on November 28, at the offices of the Tourism Division when Minority member Farley Augustine, at a press conference at James Park, Scarborough, earlier in the day reported, that $8.8 million intended for Virgin Atlantic’s flights arrangements on the UK/Tobago route, had been wired into an unknown account, and called on Charles and Tourism Secretary Nadine Stewart Phillips to make a public statement on the matter.
Augustine claimed the allegations of fraud involved an employee of the Tourism Division, who reportedly informed staff in the Accounts Department that he had received an email stating that the account number for Virgin Atlantic had been changed and that $8.8 million was to be wired to a new account number which he provided to staff.
“About a week ago, the Division received a call from Virgin Atlantic saying that they have not received the $8 million. When checks were made, the account in which the monies were placed, that account was wrong and the $8 million was already withdrawn and the account was closed,” said Augustine.
Augustine also reported at the November 28 press conference that in July last year, a payment of $1.6 million for an agent in Miami went into a bank account that did not belong to the agent.
At a a press conference on Tuesday, Augustine provided details of the missing $44,000 which was to be paid to a cruise ship agent in Miami.
On Wednesday, Charles, noting the information being reported on by Augustine, said this “raises the level of professionalism that exist within the Public Service and the need for people to be confidential.” He noted the Freedom of Information Act to access information, declaring that “it certainly is not an acceptable practice where persons who are expected to be professional, would leak information to persons without the requisite legitimacies and it is part of the pathology that affects the society of Trinidad and Tobago. It cannot be right, it is wrong and that is another thing that ought to be condemned.”
A subsequent press release from the Office of the Chief Secretary said the Fraud Squad was continuing into all incidents of incorrect disbursement of funds.
“Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles would like to assure the public that the Division and by extension the Tobago House of Assembly, is co-operating with the investigators, in an effort to facilitate a smooth and thorough process,” the release stated, adding that all persons in connection with the incidents of missing money have since been sent on administrative leave by the Division, in the case of the contract workers, and by the Public Service Commission with respect to two public officers.