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Beep! beep! Where are the jeeps?

March 03, 2002
By Raffique Shah

NEW Works and Transport Minister Arnold Piggott is being asked to probe the assignment of four Mitsubishi Pajero vehicles purchased by his ministry last September at a cost of $865,000.

The four-wheel-drive vehicles were bought for the Highways Division of the ministry, and approved for that purpose by Permanent Secretary Yolande Gooding. However, upon delivery, one vehicle was assigned to then minister Carlos John, another to parliamentary secretary Chandresh Sharma, and three to officials outside the Highways Division.

That, according to then Director of Highways Hilton Charles was contrary to the terms under which the vehicles were acquired.

Charles, who had to sign the invoice order, protested the fact that Gooding had not assigned any of the vehicles to the Highways Division. In a memorandum to Gooding dated October 1, 2001, which was copied to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Comptroller of Accounts among a number of top officials, Charles said: “After much deliberation and consultation, I have decided to sign the invoice order as having taken delivery of five Pajero vehicles. I did this very aware of the fact that not one of the vehicles was delivered to the Highways Division, for which the vehicles were bought.”

The memorandum, titled “Seizure of Vehicles belonging to the Highways Division”, continued: “Prior to resuming my substantive post as Director of Highways, the Highways Division, in an effort to improve our delivery of services even further, requested and received permission from yourself (the PS) to purchase five Pajero vehicles. The justification (inclusive of distribution) was fully endorsed by you, and a request was made to the Ministry of Finance for release of the funds in the sum of $865,000 from allocations to the Highways Division. The Ministry of Finance also agreed with the justification and duly released the requested funds.”

The vehicles, Charles added, were delivered on September 4. “At the time of writing, the vehicles have not been handed over to the Division. As far as I am aware, two of the vehicles were assigned one each to the Honourable Ministers as previously proposed by the Highways Division, and approved. I have no official word as to the whereabouts of the other three vehicles, except that you, Permanent Secretary Gooding, ordered that the vehicles be delivered elsewhere than to the Highways Division.”

Charles questioned the “intention of PS Gooding” and suggested that the main reason was that he had returned to head the division after an absence of five years.

He added: “In my 28 years with the Highways Division, we have faced many obstacles, both natural and man-made and came away victorious every time. I have full confidence that this time will be no different.”

Charles could not be reached for comment. He was said to be on vacation, and acting head of Highways Division Roger Israel was out of office. However, former parliamentary secretary Chandresh Sharma, who was the recipient of one of the vehicles, confirmed that three of the vehicles intended for the Highways Division were not assigned to officials there.

“Due process was observed in acquiring the vehicles and order was approved by the PS. Minister (Carlos) John and I received one each, which was to be driven by ministry drivers. They were not our personal vehicles. But vehicles assigned to Charles, to Roger Ganesh, the Chief Construction Engineer in the Division, and another officer, were not given to them.”

Sharma added that there appeared to have been some conflict between Charles and PS Gooding, hence the quarrel that followed. “The PS has the responsibility to assign such vehicles, and she did so. The problem is where the vehicles were intended to go, and who eventually got them.” Sharma said he did not know what happened after he demitted office last December.

One of the vehicles has since been returned to the Highways Division.

When Piggott spoke to the Sunday Express last night he said he was not aware of the case.

He said: “I would seek to investigate the matter right away. I am not aware of the vehicles nor the situation with their allocation. There may well be a number of issues to be investigated in the Ministry of Works, which I will deal with as they arise.”

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