OPPOSITION Senator Wade Mark today demanded that the Auditor-General conduct an immediate forensic audit into the operations of the Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP). Mark made this demand during a public hearing between members of the State Enterprises Joint Select Committee (JSC) and CEPEP officials at Tower D of the Port of Spain International Waterfront Centre.
He alleged that $1.5 million in expenditure between 2015 to 2018 was unaccounted for. Mark said the Parliament last received audited accounts from CEPEP in 2014. CEPEP chairman Ashton Ford said he welcomed any investigation into CEPEP. "We'll see who the real culprits are," Ford told JSC members. Ford explained that CEPEP would not be in the debacle it is in if his predecessors were doing their job.
He disclosed that an external auditor hired under the former People's Partnership government wanted him to violate established protocols from the Finance Ministry to become involved in CEPEP's audits. Ford said he refused to do so. He said the external auditor did not provide certain information which was required. Ford also said this auditor also disagreed with CEPEP's internal auditor and resigned last November.
CEPEP general manager Keith Eddy said a server crash in the 2012 to 2015 period, resulted in some financial data being lost. He explained that since 2016, the company has been able to retrieve some of that data electronically. Other data, Eddy continued, had to be found manually through contacting various banking institutions. CEPEP acting senior financial officers Keerean Clarke said the company's 2016 to 2018 financial data is current.
JSC chairman Anthony Vieira said the committee would consider Mark's suggestion for the Auditor-General to look at CEPEP. "All of us share in the consternation," Vieira said. He explained that CEPEP is subject to the audit requirements under the Companies Act. Vieira also said as a state enterprise, CEPEP must abide by the guidelines in the State Enterprise Performance Manual. In response to a question from Mark, Eddy said there was an unsigned document for a $1 million settlement to a former CEPEP official.
Social Development Minister Cherrie-Ann Crichlow-Cockburn questioned the validity of the document since it was unsigned. Vieira told Crichlow-Cockburn her point was valid but the committee would request and examine the document nonetheless.