At least three senior Government Ministers have taken the Political Leader of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), Senator Nazim Burke to task over his call for a thorough investigation into government-administered programmes, and for a full-scale audit into the Imani youth Programme.
During a recent post-Cabinet briefing, Works Minister Gregory Bowen announced that the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), the police force, and the Audit Department have been asked to investigate claims of wrong-doing in the debushing programme that is undertaken by his ministry.
Minister Bowen told the media there are reports that certain persons are getting contracts because of their closeness with certain officials.
He disclosed that not only his ministry has problems but there are also problems in the Housing programme, and at the Physical Planning Unit.
The senior government minister charged that if the general public came to them about alleged corruption, they have to take a stand.
According to Bowen, the investigations will do two things – indicate exactly what is happening, and secondly it will clear the names of those persons who are not into wrong-doing.
However, at the weekly NDC press briefing last week, the party’s Political Leader questioned whether the investigations were nothing but a red herring intended to divert attention from the real people who should be investigated.
“We must express our concern that this might be a witch-hunt against ordinary, low-level members of the New National Party syndicate who are regarded as no longer politically useful, and who are considered perhaps to be more of a political liability than an asset,” he said.
Sen. Burke’s statement was attacked during last week’s sitting of the House of Representatives at the Grenada Trade Centre in Grand Anse, St. George’s.
Housing Minister Delma Thomas informed the House that she heard Sen. Burke’s utterances in which he said “we want to deal with the small man and there are other persons who are involved.”
“So if you (Burke) can identify that there are other persons involved we are ready to have the police investigate every case, we want them to assist us with that investigation. We will not sweep it under the carpet,” she said.
While admitting to the House there were cases of alleged corruption involving persons employed to administer the low-income housing programme, Minister Thomas said her government cannot allow anyone to destroy the integrity of a very important programme.
“As a government we would not sit idly by, we would not sweep anything under the carpet, and, therefore, we will deal with our issues, and I can report that at present the police is investigating that allegation,” she remarked.
There are allegations that the Personal Assistant to a Senior government minister is under investigation in the Housing project.
Youth and Sports Minister Roland Bhola who also spoke out against Sen. Burke’s call for the Imani Programme to be audited said he has no difficulty in having it done.
However, he told Members of the House, that the NDC leader must ensure that he is certain about what he is speaking about.
Minister Bhola said allegation is made that young people who are on the Imani Programme are just sitting at home and receiving money based on their political affiliation.
“We must know the context in which we speak,” said Bhola who holds the key post of General Secretary in the ruling New National Party (NNP).
He told the Lower House that many of these young people who do receive a stipend at the end of the month in the Imani programme are engaged in classes throughout the week.
“I will like to encourage the Leader of the NDC, and any other persons who may have information of any wrong doing that from time memorial, the ministry has set up a hotline. The number is 410-6661.
Please, if you do have information, don’t make it a national crisis,” he said.
Works Minister Gregory Bowen who also took offense with Sen. Burke’s statement gave parliament the reasons for taking action against the alleged offenders.
Bowen said the government has always suspected something was wrong in the debushing programme with respect to the high bill for truckage.
“So when some of them are saying that we should be investigating other persons and other things, the public must know what has been happening and why we, as being in the supervisory position did not know,” he said.
Minister Bowen said two persons who came forward to make the accusations of corruption claimed that they had also reported it to the 2008-13 Tillman Thomas-led Congress government but it failed to address the issue as it was too close to the 2013 General Elections.
During the 1995-2008 rule of the NNP, there were frequent reports of wrong-doing within the Physical Planning Unit (PPU) of officers doing the architectural drawing for houses for homeowners for a fee and then passing it for themselves and even privately taking contracts to supervise the actual construction.