Saturday, November 23, 2013

Enough evidence to charge Joan Yuille- Williams: Anand Ramlogan (Express report)

Anand Ramlogan: "...the evidence shows that many of the beneficiaries were directly affiliated and
linked to the former PNM administration in a way that is vulgar, scandalous and outrageous."
This report is reproduced from the EXPRESS NEWSPAPER with minor edits

Anand Ramlogan said on Friday a forensic report into the Community Development Scholarship Fund (2003-2007) contains enough evidence to charge former PNM community development and culture minister Joan Yuille- Williams and the administrators of the Scholarship Fund with misconduct and misbehaviour in public office and conspiracy to defraud.

The Attorney General said his conclusion is based on advice that the government has eceived on the matter. He said Cabinet has agreed to refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Commissioner of Police and the Integrity Commission. PriceWaterhouse prepared the report, which Ramlogan laid in the Parliament Friday.

The Fund was established under the Manning PNM government under the management of the Ministry of Community Development.

"Based on the findings of the Forensic Report, counsel has advised that there is sufficient evidence against the minister to warrant charges of misconduct/misbehaviour in public office and for conspiracy to defraud,” Ramlogan said. 

"The People’s Partnership Government must therefore take the necessary steps to ensure that there is some accountability for the wastage of taxpayers funds. The Report will be submitted to the Director of Public Prosecution for urgent action to be taken against the former minister and the administrators of the CDSP for breaches of the Integrity in Public Life Act and for offences of misbehaviour in public office and conspiracy to defraud,” he added.

The AG added the Cabinet agreed to refer the Report to the Integrity Commission and the Commissioner of Police “for immediate action”. 

The AG said the report found many irregularities in the operation of the Fund and added that it has been recommended that investigations be conducted into what he said were "questionable payments where employees of the ministry collected cheques on behalf of certain recipients”.
Ramlogan added, "Furthermore, there appears to be a breach and/or breaches of the Integrity in Public Life Act with regard to the award of scholarships to relatives of the selections committee. In this regard, a recommendation has been made that a complaint ought to be made to the Integrity Commission,” he said.
The Attorney General outlined certain anomolies which the Forensic Audit found to be contrary to the guidelines set out by the Committee: 
  1. 225 persons with no application on file received funding amounting to approximately $11 million ($10.997,552) in aggregate over the review period
  2. 1,295 applications on file submitted (68 per cent of the total applications) contained no documentation that provided any evidence of financial need or socio-economic circumstances, such as a Means Test Questionnarie or otherwise
  3. 420 of the applicants that provided no evidence of financial need in the applications file received funding amounting to $20.1 million in aggregate over the review period 
  4. Here are some of the other findings:
  5. The authority for approving awards rested solely with the minister and that no approval for disbursements from Cabinet was required
  6. The application process was unstructured, inefficient, did not facilitate timely review and objective and transparent evaluation. Applicant submissions were primarily in the form of typed and handwritten letters to the minister as no standard application form or specific list of required documents existed
  7. The processes which led to the award of scholarships were not based on objective, measurable, unambiguous criteria
  8. The Community Development Scholarship Programme was not administered in a manner customary for programmes of this nature to ensure that the programme was open to all nationals
  9. Ministry employees collected cheques on behalf of recipients/beneficiaries. The Attorney General said ministry employees applied for awards on their own behalf or on behalf of their relatives
  10. Although Cabinet by Minute No. 421-2002/03/14 stipulated that recipients be required to enter into agreements with the Government to serve within their respective communities for a designated period of time, this condition for funding was not implemented
Ramlogan said the disbursement of funds had a "distinct political complex and undercurrent. There is clear evidence that taxpayers monies were used in a secretive manner to fund this secret scholarship programme and the evidence shows that many of the beneficiaries were directly affiliated and linked to the former PNM administration in a way that is vulgar, scandalous and outrageous.
“The ulterior political motive was clear. Indeed, some of the recipients of these so-called scholarships are today appointed as aldermen, councillors and some of them even serve in the media," he noted.
  • PNM alderman, Laurel Lezama Lee Sing, received some $203,000 during the period 2003 to 2007. She is a former PNM Senator
  • Rondell Donawa, Councillor on the San Fernando Corporation, received $111,000 
The Attorney General also said persons received awards who were already in receipt of Government scholarship funds and even non-citizens benefitted from the Fund. He added that there was no monitoring procedure to determine if the recipients completed their course of studies.

"Under this regime any government ministers and public officials who conduct affairs in secret, who attempt to bypass proper procedures, who use their public office for improper personal or political motives and who utilise public funds without any controls or oversight will be held to account,” he said.

Asked for a comment, former prime minister Patrick Manning, who led the government under which the Fund was created and managed, said: “I am in no position to deal with the newspapers at this time”.

PoS South MP, Marlene McDonald, who had succeeded Joan Yuille-Williams as community development minister, dodged the media as they waited to interview her, following Ramlogan’s statement.

Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert also declined comment, saying he was not the subject of the Attorney General’s statement. Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley is out of the country.

In a statement last October, Yuille-Williams denied the Fund was not transparent or discriminatory and stressed it was designed to help the needy.


Integrity to probe PNM’s schol awards AG: Taxpayers $$ used in secretive manner


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Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
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