Yesterday, Thursday July 27, 2023, a judgement was delivered preventing State-owned Education Facilities Company Limited (EFCL) from dealing an underhanded and fatal blow to a number of small and medium sized businesses who are owed millions from since the PNM came into Office in 2015.
In 2018, EFCL settled a lawsuit by a contractor for over $3.2 million for repairs done to two schools completed more than a year before, which the company gave a commitment in Court to pay in instalments. The contractor, frustrated by the lengthy and costly process of receiving their outstanding payments, accepted the terms of settlement. However, there were multiple claims outstanding totalling hundreds of millions of dollars owed to contractors and employees. The petition to wind-up EFCL was filed in the High Court in February last year, and within weeks after, contractors sought to band together to file a class action suit against EFCL for monies owed. EFCL’s total debt reported by media is approximately $900 MILLION.
Oropouche West MP Dave Tancoo describes the move by the Government to wind up a State-owned Company while owing multiple contractors hundreds of millions of dollars as the wilful bastardization of our business sector in Trinidad & Tobago. Tancoo says that it is beyond disgraceful that Finance Minister Colm Imbert as Corporation Sole would approve such a move by a State Enterprise, which entirely undermines the principles of fiscal prudence and good governance.
Tancoo described Justice Gobin’s assertion that the Government had underfunded the Company and had deliberately shifted income-earning potential to MTS as a “shocking indictment against Minister Imbert.” and a “dastardly act” of depriving contractors and employees of just dues. Justice Gobin described this as “the most disturbing aspect of the petition”.
In delivering her judgement yesterday (see attached) Madam Justice Carol Gobin stated that, “This was a chokehold followed by a winding-up petition, the purpose of which was to have the court certify the death.” Noting the complainants’ objection that allowing EFCL to wind up would be an abuse and would deprive them of their property, Madam Justice stated that, “A company which is wholly owned by the corporation sole is unlike the ordinary private commercial company…. Unlike shareholders in private corporations, the corporation sole is accountable to the Parliament and to the citizens of this country, first under the Constitution of our Republic.” Justice Gobin described Government’s action as “impermissible” in seeking to allow a winding up, in the absence of accountability by a corporation sole or state enterprise.
MP Tancoo says that despite the ultimate beneficiary of these works and services being the people of Trinidad and Tobago, it is a crying shame and downright disappointment that this PNM Government has deliberately starved EFCL of funding knowing that contractors were owed hundreds of millions of dollars over such a prolonged period. He further noted that in addition to owing contractors these huge sums, the company also owed its 41 employees over $2.7 million in salaries and wages.
To add insult to injury, Tancoo says the Minister of Finance then approves the application to the Court to wind up the State-owned company, which was coincidentally formed in 2005 under a PNM administration that Imbert was also part of. Following last year’s announcement to wind-up, organizations such as the Joint Consultative Council (JCC) also expressed serious concern over the treatment of these contractors and suppliers by the Government.
In light of this ruling, Tancoo says it is an abuse of our tax dollars that the Government continues to promptly pay billions to their PNM friends family and financiers in rent while the small business sector is suffering at the hands of the Rowley Government’s incompetence and malice.
MP Tancoo is calling on Minister of Finance, Colm Imbert in his capacity as Corporation Sole to break his silence on this grievous issue clarifying his position in the matter, failing which the Minister should do the right thing and tender his resignation forthwith. According to Tancoo, what makes this worse are reports that the Government intends to appeal this matter spending millions more in legal fees; a cost ultimately borne by taxpayers. Minister Imbert must be held accountable for this sordid and expensive abuse of office and personal attack on contractors and employees of the EFCL.