Rumblings in Agri Society after damning audit report

Following the findings of a damning audit into the Agricultural Society (ASTT), moves are reportedly afoot boot have members of the executive booted out.

The August Ministry of Finance audit report recommended stopping monthly stipends to ASTT's management committee and a fraud squad forensic audit on overseas travel, illegal occupation of State lands, $1.6 million in rent arrears and hundreds of thousands of dollars in High Court judgments.

Newsday was reliably informed that following a directive from the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries, a meeting was held on Tuesday in order to tender the audit report. The meeting was held at the Valpark Chinese Restaurant at 9.10 am, but Newsday was told that an executive member refused to sign for receiving the audit report.

As a result, Newsday was told, the meeting had to be aborted. Another meeting of the executive, an ASTT member disclosed, is being planned to remove the member who refused to sign for the audit, "once and for all from the ASTT."

In the audit report, a copy of which was sent to Newsday, one of the burning issues is $1.6 million in rent owing to a landlord which taxpayers are being asked to pay. Unpaid High Court judgments against the ASTT is another red flag raised.

The report said that complaints to the ministry involve payment of excessive salaries and allowance from State funds. Failure to abide by advice and directions of the permanent secretary on State funding, was another. Other issues include breach of election rules and financial regulations.

The report said that successive governments have funded the ASTT from 2007 to 2018, to the tune of $32.8 million. The report stated that funds received by the ASTT from the State, continue to be deposited into the association's "regular" bank account and not a separate account as required by a Memorandum of Understanding.

It pointed out that a "separate" account would have rendered accountability easier for the ministry. One damning revelation made in the report, was that a certain member (name called), did not inform the ministry that a person had been at the leadership of the ASTT since 2008.

On the issue of State lands, the report said, 25 acres of land are being illegally occupied in Chatham by ASTT members. "It was further indicated that parcels were not only occupied but had wooden structures constructed and a senior member of the ASTT had built concrete structures on one of the parcels," the report stated.

In October 2014, an officer from the Fraud Squad wrote the agriculture ministry's permanent secretary to state that a report of fraud was being investigated involving the ASTT.

The report recommended that the ministry initiate action against any person found to be in illegal occupation of State lands, and that monthly stipend to the management committee cease immediately. Efforts to reach ASTT's Dhano Sookoo for a comment proved futile.


"Rumblings in Agri Society after damning audit report"

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