LABOUR Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus on Monday rejected claims from Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke that her ministry was to blame for the PSA not being audited since 2015.
Duke made the comments after High Court Judge Devindra Rampersad on Friday ordered the PSA executive to commission an audit of the union's finances by month-end. The order was granted to a group of PSA members who call themselves concerned public officers. The group had filed a claim in January complaining that proper procedures were not being followed by the Duke-led PSA executive for the approval of expenditure and conduct of the union's affairs.
In a telephone interview with Newsday on Sunday, Duke said the PSA had been ready and willing to audit its accounts and the lack of auditing since 2014 was not its fault.
"The books are there. The reason it's all at once (is because) there was a time the Ministry of Labour failed to send any single auditor."
Speaking after the Cabinet's finance and general purposes committee meeting, Baptiste-Primus described Duke's statements as "preposterous, self-serving and downright dishonest." In a subsequent statement, she said auditors were appointed to review the PSA's financial statements of 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 on March 19, 2016; February 10, 2017; January 29, 2018 and January 14, 2019 respectively.
She continued, "Contrary to your allegations, they show that the last audited statement submitted by the PSA was for the year 2014 and this was received by the ministry on August 13, 2019, five years late."
Baptiste-Primus also said Duke and his team met with ministry at its head office at the Port of Spain International Waterfront Centre on April 13, 2018 to discuss matters relative to the audited financial statements for the years 2014 to 2017.
She said Duke promised then "to have the PSA's books audited by the appointed auditors."
Baptiste-Primus said that did not happen. She added the ministry's auditors were ready to have the PSA's accounts audited in accordance with the Trade Union Act saying Duke needed to be "honest and truthful to himself and his membership." That would save the union from "the plethora of negative publicity and downright embarrassment which, through no fault of its members, the PSA is being subjected to."
When contacted, former labour minister Errol McLeod said, "Each union is expected, in accordance with the law, to do their own internal audits." He said the unions then submitted their audits to the Registry of Trade Unions, which falls under the ministry. Once that is done, an external auditor is appointed by the ministry to review the unions' audits and ensure everything is correct.
He did not recall whether any audits on the PSA were done during his tenure as minister.
In a video message on WhatsApp, Duke alleged a government official, a relative of that official and an attorney were involved in efforts to undermine the union.
Duke, who is also the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) political leader, wondered why was there all this effort to keep "fighting down this little black boy from Tobago." He claimed the PNM was doing that because it knew the Tobago West and Tobago East seats were "going, going, gone" from its control.
The seats are represented in Parliament by PNM MPs Shamfa Cudjoe and Ayanna Webster-Roy respectively.
Duke said all of the PSA's finances are in check. Duke also said no order has been imposed on the PSA by the court. He said a ruling on that matter will be delivered on Friday. Duke also claimed no other trade union has been audited since 2018.
"The fight is on. Watson Duke doesn't run from a fight. I seldom lose a fight." he declared.