Gov't stops stipend for Agri Society members

NO TO HOUSING: Environmental activist Wayne Kublalsingh, right, meets with Shiraz Khan, left, Dhano Sookoo, of the Agricultural Society, 2nd from left, and Evan Ramkhalawan yesterday at the OWTU headquarters in 
San Fernando.
NO TO HOUSING: Environmental activist Wayne Kublalsingh, right, meets with Shiraz Khan, left, Dhano Sookoo, of the Agricultural Society, 2nd from left, and Evan Ramkhalawan yesterday at the OWTU headquarters in San Fernando.

GOVERNMENT has acted on the findings of its recent audit report and immediately stopped stipend payments to the management committee of the Agricultural Society (ASTT).

ASTT's president Dhano Sookoo will no longer receive a $8,250 monthly stipend. Nor her daughter, Devica Ria Sookoo, receive $4,500. The society's vice president Hallim Mohammed, will not be paid his $6,562 monthly stipend.

Cabinet gave this directive to the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries to immediately cease the payments to 23 other members of the ASTT's management committee.

Newsday obtained the Cabinet note, dated last week Thursday, directed to the ministry, to stop the monthly stipend to all 26 committee members.

The ASTT executive comprises Sookoo as president, Halim as vice president and Omar Mohammed as secretary, with 23 other members representing sugar, cocoa and other sectors in agriculture.

The December 19 Cabinet directive follows an August Ministry of Finance audit report, which recommended stopping stipends to the committee and a Fraud Squad forensic audit of overseas travel and illegal occupation of state lands.

The $1.6 million in rent arrears and hundreds of thousands of dollars in High Court judgments were another audit report concern.

The report said successive governments had funded the society from 2007-2018, to the tune of $32.8 million.

The Cabinet note says, "Please be advised that Cabinet by minute No 2069 dated October 9, 2019, instructed the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries, to immediately cease payments of monthly stipend to members of the committee of management of the Agricultural Society of TT."

Justifying the directive, the note said, "The decision is consistent with Minute No 1951 of July 31, 1997 wherein the Cabinet noted that no fees were recommended in instances where government neither appoint the majority of directors no directs the activities of any agency. Your urgent attention to this matter would be appreciated."

The ASTT's elections are due in January.

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