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Tuesday 20 August 2019
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Penal/Debe CEO in hot seat over hiring law firm

JOINT Select Committee (JSC) chairman Dr Varma Deyalsingh renewed his call for a system to monitor regional corporation CEOs after Penal/Debe Regional Corporation CEO Motilal Ramsingh was severely criticised yesterday over hiring a law firm for the corporation which he has used in his personal capacity.

He was speaking at a JSC meeting with the Local Government Ministry and four regional corporations yesterday at the Parliament building, Port of Spain.

JSC member Jennifer Baptiste-Primus said Penal/Debe Regional Corporation, in information shared with the committee, referenced numerous lawsuits against the corporation, and she asked about the nature of the lawsuits, money owing and the law firms involved.

Ramsingh said there are five matters at the High Court in which people took action against the corporation for drainage and other infrastructure issues. He said some have been resolved. At the High Court level, he reported, the corporation retained the law firm Harrikissoon and Company. He added there were also four matters at the magistrates' court, all dealing with municipal matters such as blockage of drains and buildings, and there were also three pre-protocol letters and a development matter with a pre-protocol letter.

Baptiste-Primus asked: "And the law firm involved in all these matters?"

Ramsingh said TriLaw Chambers represented the corporation in the magistrates' court matters.

Baptiste-Primus asked how the corporation secures required legal services, whether through sole selection or inviting law firms to bid.

Ramsingh said: "We refer to persons who would have had experiences of this type of nature, of these matters, and we refer the matters to them for advice."

Baptiste-Primus again asked how the corporation secured the services of Harrikissoon and Company and TriLaw Chambers.

Ramsingh said it was because of the experience of the attorneys in other matters in some of the other corporations, adding, "We just referred it to them" via sole select.

Baptiste-Primus asked if the CEO was aware that when choosing the route of sole select there must be compelling and justifiable reasons.

"Madame Chair, Mr Chairman," Ramsingh said, "I think in the cases when we are issued the letters, the lawsuits, when we get them we have limited time to respond to these things."

Baptiste-Primus responded: "Mr CEO, based on the experience that I have, I want to caution you to be careful about the direction you are going in, because you might put yourself between a rock and a very hard place. Because there are procedures and regulations in place and the corporation cannot, or a CEO cannot, say, 'That action came up urgently, so because it was urgent, I didn't do X or Y.' That's how a breach develops."

She then asked if all the matters were so urgent that others could not be allowed to bid for the services.

Ramsingh said the matters before the High Court were not pre-protocol matters but matters filed against the corporation and there was a time frame to respond. They would usually be taken to the council, he said, with a recommendation for a suitable attorney to represent the interest of the council. He also reported TriLaw and Harrikissoon had represented the corporation for approximately a year, and he has been CEO of the corporation for just over a year.

Baptiste-Primus asked if at any point he had utilised Harrikissoon and Company in his personal capacity.

Ramsingh said: "Yes, I have, madame, Sir."

Baptiste-Primus asked Local Government Permanent Secretary Jennifer Daniel whether such an action was acceptable.

Daniel responded: "I will speak for myself, because as I have indicated...our CEOs are accounting officers, so they are accountable.

"So I will speak for myself as an accounting officer, and I will say that where I have, as in the circumstances we just heard of, I would ensure that I do not find myself in such a situation. Particularly in the context as painted, if there is no procurement process involved and if it is a sole select...it means that there may not have even been a tenders committee.

"So for myself, it would not happen and it is a difficult situation to contemplate."

Deyalsingh said at a previous meeting he had called for a system to be put in place to monitor CEOs, "And this is something I think we would have to look into."

Baptiste-Primus said the principle of accountability and transparency would reject any such action, "Because if a CEO has a lawyer in a private matter, how then can that CEO recommend and contract the services of that same law firm for the corporation? To my mind it's wrong."

Deyalsingh said there was light at the end of the tunnel, as soon procurement legislation will be in place.

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