A car parts and maintenance racket has been discovered within the T&T Fire Service. A number of questionable transactions are listed in the departmental vote book for the maintenance of the Fire Service fleet. They include ordering parts for vehicles that had already been sold, costly paint jobs and oil changes, and the scope of works submitted by selected firms. It comes on the heels of the hefty $10,189,115 quotation submitted by Sammy’s Multilift Services Ltd last November to retrieve a firetruck that ran off the road in Blanchisseuse. Cabinet eventually signed off on the revised $6.8 million bill.
The T&T Guardian has obtained copies of the financial statements listing maintenance work on Fire Service vehicles for January-May this year. Among the items listed is a motor starter bought for $92,676. The starter, T&T Guardian learned, was purchased for a 50-seater Mercedes Benz bus that had been sold in a public auction at the Chaguanas Fire Station last October. Invoices have also been submitted for the supply of four batteries costed at $45,500 for a 1982 Dodge mobile canteen and a Rosebauer water tanker. However, the mobile canteen was auctioned off last year. A paint job on a Toyota pickup, fleet number 543, was recorded as costing $65,378. Such jobs are usually carried out by the Fire Service’s own engineering department.
Documents also showed that an invoice for $41,858 was submitted for oil, air and filter changes on the Toyota SUV—PCT 1633—being used by acting Chief Fire Officer Nayar Rampersad. A similar job was also done on a Volkswagen Touareg at a cost of $35,917. In March, documents showed that a voucher for $86,250 was submitted for a transmission for a Dennis water tanker, but the transmission was not received. Invoice 646152 showed that $88,527 was paid for the supply of parts and labour for an Isuzu D/Cab utility. The left front door, left rear door and left rear flare tender skirt were expected to be changed. Upon delivery, sources told T&T Guardian, concerns were raised over the repairs carried out on the vehicle.
Contacted yesterday, Rampersad said he intended to launch an investigation into the payments. “Based on the information provided, I am going to conduct enquiries into the matter with the procurement unit and the accounts department," he said. “Even though the matters are now coming up for payment, several transactions would have took place before my time. The Ministry of National Security has a responsibility to look into the matter and if a discrepancy is found , they have to send it back to the accounts department. "We do not print cheques at the Fire Services. The process involving the acquisition of goods and service are sent to the ministry for checking.”
On the issue of whether Brantec Ltd was a preferred contractor for the supply of tyres, Rampersad said, “They have a longstanding relationship with the Fire Services. There is a contracted supplier for tyres. However, I was informed by the engineering department that the tyres being offered by that supplier are not durable. When I was informed I wrote the permanent secretary asking for the tyres to be purchased on the open market.” In a January 18 memo that accountant I Kameel Hosein sent to Rampersad he said, “I wish to inform that an invoice order VV597500 dated August 27, 2012 was issued to Messrs Brantec Ltd for customs purposes to import certain sized tyres for use by the T&T Fire Services. “In this regard, we have entered into a binding agreement to purchase said tyres from that firm. “However, Messrs Brantec Ltd is not reflected as a contracted supplier. Notwithstanding that, and without prejudice, our commitment must first be to Messrs Brantec Ltd, as mentioned previously a binding agreement exists.”
Brantec Ltd is listed on the documents as the service provider for all four jobs. The head of Brantec Ltd, Caroline Baboolal, yesterday told T&T Guardian that she was unaware of the payments submitted on the invoices. Referring to the job carried out on PCT 1633, Baboolal said, “Oil, filter and air change could never be $41,000. It would cost around $6,500.” As to the $35,917 payment for oil and filter change, Baboolal said, “I will have to look at my invoices. It is not possible to charge $35,917 to change oil and filter.” On the transmission for the water tanker, Baboolal said, “I would have to look into that one. If Fire Services have a problem they should contact us, not call the T&T Guardian.”