THE TT Police Service Fraud Squad is probing the disappearance of $16 million from the East Port of Spain Development Company (EPOS) – a body set up to help economically-challenged areas such as Beetham Estate and Sea Lots. The operations of the company, chaired by Newman George, was yesterday examined by Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC), whose chairman Bridgid Annisette-George (George’s wife) recused herself leaving Dr Lackram Bodoe to chair the meeting.
PAAC member Clarence Rambharat asked how it was possible for $16 million to go missing in a company “as small and focused” as the EPOS.
EPOS managing director Dr Deborah Thomas-Austin said investigations showed the disappearance took place over a period of a few years, even as the EPOS had oversight challenges by having just one person in its Finance unit. She also blamed an intermittent cash flow to the EPOS from the government, but Rambharat instead blamed “a significant management issue.” Thomas-Austin said after irregularities were found in 2017, the EPOS had dismissed its former accountant whom she accused of a “stalling tactic” in him liaising with external auditors.
Saying the money had disappeared from 2012 to 2016, Rambharat said Thomas-Austin had joined the EPOS in 2006. “I don’t see the complexity in producing the accounts. What was your role for five years when the accountant was failing?” Thomas-Austin said the issue had often been brought to the board’s attention. She added, “It was a process of getting the board’s approval to hire additional staff to beyond just one person in the Finance unit.” PAAC member Wade Mark lamented the EPOS had not given its accounts for 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 to the PAAC. Thomas-Austin replied, “I can’t give you a date.” Mark said, “This is very, very serious. We can’t have outstanding accounts for all these years and you can’t give a date.”