Former Housing Minister Irfaan Ali, who indirectly supervised the operations of the Scrap Metal Unit under the previous Administration has rubbished a recent report in the Kaieteur News on a forensic audit of the body which was recently carried out, saying that the article is “riddled with sensational lies”.
The newspaper published in its Thursday edition, an article captioned “Scrap Metal Unit audit…Inspectors, others paid over $43M to do little; CH&PA’s Finance Director, Taslim Baksh, collected two salaries”.
The recently released forensic audit report into the scrap metal trade was prepared by Ram and McRae and stated that it was suspicious that no Cabinet approval was given for the purchase of a 4×4 pickup for the Scrap Metal Unit.
However, in a prepared statement, Ali pointed out that the Board of Directors of the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CHPA) approved the purchase, noting that there was no requirement for Cabinet to grant approval.
Another observation was that there were containers packed in an unlicenced yard, but Ali explained that that was only one instance and in that case, immediate action was taken against the scrap metal dealer to prevent further operations in the unlicenced yard.
Ali added that it is impractical to observe the movements of scrap metal from collection yards to licenced ones since there were more than 20 licensed scrap metal yards that would have required the full-time employment of over 20 scrap metal inspectors.
On the matter of the CHPA Finance Director receiving two salaries, Ali posited that he was actually paid a monthly stipend, as is rightfully highlighted in the report.
According to the audit report, the sum of $3.1 million was paid to the administrator for the period 2011 to May 2015, which works out to approximately $58,000 per month.
With regards to the spending on “Mashramani stuff”, Ali explained once again that branded pens, shirts, hats, etc were ordered from time to time from Impressions for distribution at events such as Mashramani and GUYEXPO.
He explained that these items were branded with the Scrap Metal Unit logo and the aim was to bring awareness to the work of the Scrap Metal Unit.
The former Minister noted that a copy of Ministerial and Head of Presidential Secretariat approval was sent to Ram and McRae Chartered Accountants via letter dated August 19, 2015, and some of the branded items such as T-shirts, hats and pens are still on hand and were presented to the forensic auditor during the physical assets verification exercise.
He expressed that it should be noted that the sum of $1.2 million was expended on branded items for Mashramani and $1.4 million on branded items for GUYEXPO 2014. The audit report has incorrectly classified the entire $2.6 million as ‘Mashramani stuff’.
Ali made previous attempts to clarify the manipulation of data being released from the report when it was leaked to the media prior to its official release.
He had explained that the Unit was transferred for better management given that both sectors had one Minister, and the Scrap Metal Unit and the Enforcement Unit of the CHPA were both viewed as having the capacity that can be interdependent in order to police the system.
“You may recall that at one time there was tremendous vandalism of property, even phone lines and so on as it related to the scrap metal trade, so an enforcement arm became necessary for the Scrap Metal Unit,” Ali pointed out, noting that instead of establishing another enforcement arm, a decision was made to bring it over to the Housing Ministry for more integration.
Furthermore, the then head of the Scrap Metal Trade Unit had argued that the findings in the report are not justified.