The recent revelation that the Community-based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme Company (CEPEP) Limited sent home several managers earlier this year, paid them off with public funds and then had them sign non-disclosure agreements reeks of, at best, a lack of transparency.
This is not the first time that a government agency has used public funds to pay-off people and have them sign such non-disclosure agreements, all in an apparent effort to avoid the public learning of the circumstances which led to the action and of what taxpayers' money was being used for.
Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein inadvertently spilt the beans when he denied that he was behind the sending home of the employees, blaming it instead on the board of directors. He, however, confirmed that the former employees did not resign and were paid off after the board discussed the matter and made such a decision, one which his ministry ultimately agreed with.
CEPEP general manager Keith Eddy meanwhile said the decision to pay-off the managers was as a result of a board decision to restructure the company and he could not say more because of fear of breach of the non-disclosure agreement.
Reminded that the officials were paid with public funds, Eddy denied it was an attempt to hide the information. Effectively, however, what this means is that John Public has been denied the right to find out how much CEPEP would have spent on this exercise and whether, quite apart from Eddy's claims of restructuring of the entity, whether malfeasance in office or ineptitude may have been partly responsible for the decision as well.
This is unacceptable from an organisation many feel is one of the several entities which dole out public funds to individuals involved make-work programmes without any returns on the investment.
We remember too well the saga of former Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs Darryl Smith, whose staff member Carrie-Ann Moreau was paid a significant sum of taxpayers’ money and a similar non-disclosure agreement signed to ensure the information of what led to her departure was also kept from John Public before the media partially exposed some of the details. That the Prime Minister has so refused to make public the findings of a report into what occurred with this case is nothing short of a fiasco.
It is perhaps this precedent which now allows state enterprises like CEPEP, which has never made a profit and relies on annual appropriations, to feel it can disburse taxpayers' money without transparency and accountability.
The Minister of Finance, as Corporation Sole, must investigate this and make public the reasons for the sending home of almost the entire CEPEP management and the circumstances surrounding this latest non-disclosure agreement.
Nothing less will suffice.