Agriculture Minister, Senator Clarence Rambharat, has confirmed that he was the one to request that the Finance Ministry carry out the audit of the Agriculture Society of Trinidad and Tobago (ASTT), because there is cause for concern.
Minister Rambharat says he was led to do so after numerous reports and allegations were made about irregularities under the tenure of current ASTT president, Dhano Sookoo's.
He notes that even his predecessor ministers had been dealing allegations of irregularities at the ASTT.
He says since November 2015, he has been referring various matters to his ministry's permanent secretaries for investigation, and most recently, he made the request for an audit to the finance ministry.
“I could tell you from interacting with members of the public, and with current ASTT board members—people who sit in meetings with Ms Sookoo—that there is cause for concern,” he told us. “As the minister, I am accountable to the taxpayers of this country, and I must ensure I could account and do what has to be done.”
The agriculture minister says Ms Sookoo has three or four weeks in which to respond to the audit report.
"The reason she's been given the Report is so she can record any comments, concerns or feedback,” he explains. “Ms Sookoo—in her capacity as president of the Society—and the board members, all have an opportunity to respond in writing. And once that response is submitted, the permanent secretary will take things from there.”
Dhano Sookoo says it is the ministry which needs to be investigated, and that she had, on several occasions, red-flagged several areas of concern to the minister.
Minister Rambharat says he cannot recall any correspondence from the ASTT president, in that regard. However, he says if she did send such missives, he would have passed them on to the permanent secretary for further action, since the PS is the ministry's accounting officer.
Story by JESSIE-MAY VENTOUR