Tobago contractors owed by the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) are expected to individually meet with an independent team from next week to discuss the way forward to receive their money.
Several contractors on the island are owed millions of dollars from the assembly. THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine has blamed the previous administration's pre-election spending for the debts.
At Friday’s post-Executive Council media briefing, Augustine said payments should begin soon.
“Early next week, the affected contractors would be written to, and they would be asked to come individually to the division where they would meet with an independent team. That independent team would do a rapid assessment to initiate payments. Definitely, the contractors would not be able to get all of their monies one time, but they would get some initial payments.”
Previously, Augustine said that the contractors would have started receiving their money by June 23, the day after the presentation of the THA budget estimates for fiscal 2022-2023.
“The sole reason for not being able to honour the promise immediately as within the month of June of paying the contractors was because due diligence needed to be followed. I am very, very certain in my mind that there would not be a single payment unless such due diligence was met.
"Having had a preliminary report from the forensic auditors (into the THA spending), I could tell you that that decision was the right decision and still is the right decision.”
Augustine said a preliminary report pointed to “some extremely troubling signs.”
He said the first report, which would be on the emergency road resurfacing programme, which was expected in September, should be ready before the end of August.
Over the past weeks, contractors have been voicing their concerns on the non-payments saying that the banks have been calling them daily threatening foreclosures.
But Augustine said, “Quite frankly, least of my care will be people and their engagements with the bank. My care will be the public’s purse, that’s what I’ve been placed in charge of. I don’t mean to sound callous and harsh but the reality is when an auditor general writes a report, they don’t call the name of any bank or any contractor – it would be the secretary who will be fingered in that report.
"You as the reporter will be more than happy to plaster my face and/or that members of my executive to say we made payments that were not in keeping with the exchequer and audits act, we made payments that clearly was in support of corruption that happened.”
He said notwithstanding the troubling signs, the assembly would find a way to make minimal payments to assist those who have challenges with their banks. He said after they meet with this independent team, they will be not just issued verbal promises but they would be given written commitments as to what they would receive up front while the auditing is completed.
“I am certain that those written commitments can be taken to their banks to alleviate the challenges there. When these contractors were getting – in the dead of night – these letters of awards without any tendering process, when somebody was calling them and saying do this for $15 million, do this for $9 million, I am certain that members of the media nor the public was told about it.
"I am certain that the contractors that were left out and never given a time of day were not even considered in the moment. With every business there is a risk and I’m saying that the risk that they took was to engage improperly with the THA and I’m saying notwithstanding that, I have a commitment that I wish to pay them something.”
He said that he was being extremely benevolent in a situation that really does not call for benevolence.
“Now, I am communicating with the public and I am communicating with the contractors; I don’t know that specifically I am in bed with individual contractors that require me to sit down and lime with individual contractors to communicate such. I came and through this avenue I have chosen to communicate with contractors and people in general.”
He could not say how much money contractors would get, as each had different volumes of work.
He said the people who voted for the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) voted for transparency and accountability.
“I have a very firm line when it comes to issues of corruption, and I would walk that line – period. So if you are affected because some corrupt deal happened in the past...
"I hear one contractor saying that we need to separate the sheep from the goat and this is exactly what this exercise is – a separation of sheep from goats.”
The audit reports, he said, would be made public.
“So we can look forward sometime in September to perhaps debating the first of these audit reports and looking at what happened and looking how to close those gaps.”
He also had this warning to even members of his own executive.
“This very hard-line stance I’m taking against corruption is not just for what happened in the past, but it must be for what will happen going forward. Let me be clear, if any member of my team gets involved in the kinds of activities that we have seen, your treatment would be just as harsh, and I want to make that abundantly clear.”