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Miss Universe scandal (again)
By Francis Joseph

Planning and Development Minister Dr Keith Rowley has described as "scandalous", the Auditor General's report into the operations of the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA) where more than $8 million was overspent for refurbishing the Chaguaramas Hotel and Convention Centre in time for the 1999 Miss Universe Pageant.

The CDA took a loan for $12 million, but total expenditure on the project reached $20,458,961.54 with the loan still outstanding, and a threat to the Government to lose prime property - the Chaguaramas Hotel and Convention Centre.

Rowley said, "Here you have an expenditure of $12 million approved by Cabinet which denies it, overspent by $8 million, and the Auditor General goes in to see what happened there, and reports in a way which causes us to ask more questions than receive answers."

Dr Rowley called a news conference yesterday to respond to former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and former Ministers John Humphrey and Mervyn Assam following statements he made on Tuesday.

The Planning and Development Minister pointed out that the former Ministers wanted the nation to believe that he (Rowley) was lying and was talking nonsense.

But Rowley hit back saying that he was now part of the Government and the documents were there to prove what he was saying. Copies of the documents were distributed to the media.

Rowley said that the CDA, by a deed of mortgage dated February 23, 1999, took a $12 million loan from Republic Bank on the condition that the loan be repaid by December 30, 1999.

The then Minister of Finance Brian Kuei Tung issued a letter of comfort dated March 29, 1999 to the CDA. That loan, according to Minister Rowley has not been repaid, and the CDA now owes the bank more than $14.5 million, according to a January 9 letter from the bank.

Rowley quoted from the 'Letter of Comfort' dated March 29, 1999, from the then Minister of Finance Brian Kuei Tung who stated that he was aware that the $12 million loan was needed to refurbish the Chaguaramas Hotel and Convention Centre "and other infrastructural development and beautification work in the Chaguaramas area to be completed in time for the Miss Universe Pageant to be held at the heliport in Chaguaramas on May 26, 1999."

With the full knowledge that Government could lose the Chaguaramas Convention Centre, Rowley said a new CDA Board has been approved by Cabinet, and they will soon meet with the bank to advise that the Minister of Finance was interested in having the matter settled.

The "special" audit revealed certain discrepancies:

there was no evidence that a formal tendering process was utilised to recruit a firm of project managers;

a signed contract between the CDA and A De B Consultants Limited as Project Management Consultants was not seen;

monthly list of payments as well as quotations/tenders file were not maintained in chronological order to allow easy verification of payments;

payments totalling $520,832.77 were seen to be on the evidence of faxed invoices. The original invoices were not presented for audit.

the paid cheques in respect of payments for expenditure for Phase I of the project were not presented for audit. As such it could not be verified whether payments were made in strict accordance with the source documents;

the liability to contractors totalling $3,410,125. 63 as at February 29, 2000 were not verified because subsidiary records in the form of a ledger or register for creditors was not presented for audit;

a cash book which recorded cash transactions for Phase I was not produced for audit;

a general ledger in respect of Phase I was not produced for audit.

signed financial statements showing total receipts, payments, cash flows, debtors and creditors in respect of the renovations were not produced for audit;

of the total expenditure of $20,458,961.54 seen to be incurred an amount of $17,738,272.54 was verified. An amount of $2,720,689 was not verified because of the reasons stated above.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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