Investigations into the former Director of Sport, Christopher Jones, have unearthed evidence which shows that the barbershop equipment was fraudulently obtained.
This is according to Crime Chief Wendell Blanhum. When contacted for an update on the probe, he told INews that Jones would have made false representation to the Social Protection Ministry in order to be eligible for the Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development (SLED) programme.
At that time, former Chief Whip of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), Amna Ally was overseeing that Ministry – a party to which Jones is an Executive Member.
Blanhum said that the investigation is still active but it is expected to be completed soon. Once the police file is completed, it will be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for legal advice.
On August 20, 2020, Police visited Jones’ Lot 609 Conciliation Street, Tucville, Georgetown home to conduct a search for State assets.
It was reported that a report was made against Jones, alleging that he was in possession of State assets valuing over $4 million. Upon receiving the report, a team of police officers commenced an investigation by going to the residence of Jones, where he was contacted and told of the purpose of their visit.
According to the police, upon arrival at the residence, the ranks observed items at the home fitting the description of the items reported to be State assets. The police further stated that contact was made with Jones, who was told of the allegation but refused the lawmen permission to search his property, claiming that they were not in possession of a search warrant.
By then, several officials, including Executives of both the Peoples National Congress Reform (PNCR) and the Alliance for Change (AFC), turned up at the property as Police stood guard. The ranks, nevertheless, conducted their operation and removed the items.
According to audit documents in the public domain, the regional administration received an Inter/Intra Departmental Warrant (IDW) 6/2019 dated June 19, 2019, from the Social Protection Ministry valuing $4.985 million for the procurement of equipment for a barbershop under Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development (SLED).
The SLED programme works by distributing interest-free cash grants to registered groups and associations needing the economic boost to improve their enterprises.
According to the audit report, a financial return presented revealed that the full amount was expended as of December 31, 2019. An audit examination of the relevant records revealed that two payment vouchers to the value of $4.084 million and $900,999 were issued for the purchase of the equipment.
Audit documents further discovered that approval was not granted from the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) for the procurement of a Condensing Unit valuing $1.528 million. However, audit checks revealed that the item was still purchased and supplied.
Additionally, audit investigations revealed that the cheque was paid to the supplier on October 2, 2019, but the time of reporting in August 2020, items to the value of $900,999 were not supplied.
Meanwhile, the audit report stated that a physical inspection of the assets purchased revealed that items valuing $4.084 million were still not put into use, since these items were stored in a room at the residence of the beneficiary, Christopher Jones.
Further, the audit report stated that details of a letter from the Permanent Secretary of the Social Protection Ministry, dated May 22, 2019, states that the items were to be procured for the beneficiary who “operates” a barbershop.
However, at the time of the physical verification, it was discovered that the beneficiary does not operate a barbershop, since the construction of the said barbershop has not yet commenced. As such, Jones was arrested.
He was subsequently released on $100,000 station bail. He then took to his social media and claimed that he had applied for assistance under the SLED programme under the then Social Protection Ministry, and the application was approved.
However, questions have since been raised regarding the process that was used to determine that Jones, a senior Government official at the time, was qualified for such assistance.