Exactly four years ago, in September of 2009, some Dangriga-based contractors protested against the Social Investment Fund ( SIF) because they say the statutory body tasked with implementing social projects was not ensuring that local contractors obtain the infrastructure contracts in Dangriga.
A little over a year later, in January 2011, the Dangriga-based contractors had to protest again — this time because a Corozal-based contractor, Kenard Smart, had secured the SIF contract for the Gulisi preschool in Dangriga.
Smart, at the time, was only a few days removed from running as a UDP candidate in the standard-bearer convention for Corozal Bay. He would lose the convention, but win the SIF contract.
Now exactly two years later, Kenard Smart and SIF are in the news again. And while the aforementioned two protests by the Dangriga-based contractors didn’t gain much traction nationally, this time the nation has been promised that “heads will roll,” by no less than the Prime Minister himself.
That’s because the story involving the incomplete construction of the Dangriga Market stinks to the high heavens. On September 9, 2013, Smart and his construction company, K & G Construction, were informed by SIF in a letter that they had cancelled his $1.3 million contract to rehabilitate the Dangriga Market – some two months after the project should have been completed. The letter cancelling the contract was signed by project manager Ernest Raymond, and copied to Daniel Cano, the Executive Director of the Social Investment Fund.
But Smart had written a letter of his own, some seven months earlier. And while his letter could not prevent the cancellation of his contract, it certainly is causing some tremors today.
On February 21 of this year, he sent a letter to Contractor General Godwin Arzu alleging that over a three-year period, he had been “extorted” by at least four SIF staffers. In his letter, Smart alleged he had given checks to four SIF staffers. He provided copies of the checks in the names of the SIF employees and in one case, the cancelled stub signed by one of them when he purportedly cashed the check.
A few of the checks were for $500 and $1,000, and Smart claims in his letter that he made “several deposits of $3,000.00” into an account at the San Ignacio Branch of Scotia Bank for another staffer.
“I am sending you this letter with facts and some more evidence to show that between 2009 and 2013 that at least four of SIF staff (and a senior official) have extorted me or shake[n] me down,” wrote Smart to the Contractor General.
Smart said in his letter to the Contractor General that he had reported the matter to Daniel Cano, giving him the checks and stubs, but nothing came of it. Instead, Smart alleges that the SIF staffers “sabotaged” him and denied him several contracts he had supposedly won.
But he went further and dropped a bomb: Kenard Smart alleges to the Contractor General that he gave a senior SIF official $11,000 in cash. He documented in his letter where and how he delivered the money.
For his part, Cano told LOVE FM on Friday, September 13, “A number of allegations are being made, and those need to be investigated fully. On my personal basis, I am not speaking on behalf of SIF or anything, yes, I fully deny having received anything from Smart.”
But that Smart letter to the Contractor General may have triggered an investigation, because late this evening, a full 7 months after the letter was sent, SIF sent out a short release.
The entire release reads, “An emergency meeting was convened today in Belmopan by the Board of Directors of the Social Investment Fund (SIF). A final report was presented to the Board of Directors after an investigation was launched by the Contractor General at the request of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development amid allegations of corruption made earlier this year. The meeting is still in session and a statement will be issued tomorrow morning dealing with the outcome.”
Minister of State in the Ministry of Economic Development, Santi Castillo, told KREM News this morning that following an internal investigation, if any corruption is proven, “heads will roll.”
That statement was echoed by Prime Minister Dean Barrow later today to Channel 7 , saying that while the Contractor General’s report is not specifically about the Dangriga market, he “fully expects several heads to roll” following the SIF Board meeting today.
But all that talk of heads rolling is no consolation for two building contractors who had been recruited by Kenard Smart to complete the Dangriga Market project. According to Cano, Smart was having difficulties getting cash to complete the project — a project that was to be done by the end of July, and was reportedly only 44 percent complete after several stoppages.
In stepped contractors Lyndon Bailey and Emy Ramirez of Gush and Emy. They were reportedly approved by SIF as sub-contractors although the substantive contract remained with K & G Construction.
Bailey, the director of Tubal Trade Institute, told AMANDALA today that he is out of pocket $75,000, which he has used to purchase materials and pay labor. Bailey is demanding his money back and is looking at his legal options.
In the case of the other contractor, Emy Ramirez, she has reportedly invested over $500,000. Daniel Cano confirmed to Channel 5 late last week that SIF knows of the agreement between K & G Construction and Gush and Emy.
Cano said that while their substantive contract was with K & G Construction, SIF was “asked to assign the monies over to Mrs. Emy as they became due, and we were prepared to do so.”
But it appears there was a problem. According to Cano, “the truth is there has not been a whole lot of work that we’ve been able to pay for.”
And so both Bailey and Gush and Emy have been left holding the bag.
Emy Ramirez has retained the services of attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd. Late this evening Matura-Shepherd told KREM Radio that her client came onboard with the project after SIF had assured her that enough money remained in the project, enough for her to recoup her investment and make a small profit.
But Smart’s contract has been terminated since September 9, and according to Matura-Shepherd, SIF has not followed through with promises to make payments to Ramirez, despite several letters of demand. The matter is now headed for the courts.
In the meantime, Dangriga residents are without their renovated market, which is being financed through a loan from the World Bank. On Friday, they demonstrated outside the incomplete project. Their placards read, “Complete the market now,” “Employ Dangrigans, “We want to work,” and “Stop the corruption.”
And while tomorrow we will know whether heads will indeed roll, the Dangriga residents will not know for a while when work on their market project will resume, and worse, when it will be completed.
We are told that we should expect action on the fingered SIF staffers, particularly since SIF is funded through loans and grants from international lending institutions like the World Bank, Caribbean Development Bank and the European Union, and they will surely be watching how GOB responds.