Two months after raising questions about the financial operations of the Castries Constituency Council (CCC) to Local Government Minister Lennard Montoute via letter, a source within the National Workers Union (NWU) says those questions have yet to be answered and neither has the Minister responded to the NWU’s July 6 letter.
Efforts to contact the Minister regarding that letter have been unsuccessful, however, this reporter remains open and willing to dialogue with the Minister on the questions raised in the letter at any time convenient to him. We also reached out to the Office of the Mayor of Castries and was told that the office would be willing to discuss the CCC’s financial operations at a later date.
The questions posed to Minister Montoute came out of a meeting NWU representatives had with representatives from Local Government and the CCC in July of this year.
According to the NWU, the questions were “not only for the record but in the interest of good governance, transparency and accountability.”
The NWU reiterated in its letter to Montoute “that the time has come for the Government of Saint Lucia to immediately get up and in a very granular way, assess the financial operations of the CCC.”
Said the NWU to Montoute, “You would recall that at the meeting, (meaning the July meeting) the CCC explained that salaries and wages accounted for 49% of the total expenditure bill of the CCC. Clearly the majority of the expenditure; 51% is expended elsewhere and it stands to reason that such may be contributing to the financial woes of the CCC. The CCC provides an essential service and the core of its expenditure must be around the services it is enacted to provide.”
The letter continues, “In perusing the preliminary financial information provided at the meeting for the seven month period starting in March 2020, Government must show a keen interest in certain line items presented by the CCC. Among them:
(a) In seven months, the CCC has to spend $250,000.00 in legal fees and costs. What and why is Government money required to be spent under this?
(b) In seven months, the CCC is to spend $175, 000.00 on Contracts. What are the services being contracted and for who? Can the CCC itself not provide such services?
(c) Security, separate and apart from the City Police, for the seven month period, amounts to $222,000.00. What facilities does the CCC have that require such exorbitant funds to be spent on security?
(d) In seven months, $151,550.00 is being spent on “Councilors Expense”. How many Councilors sit on this Board? How often are Board meetings held and for what purposes? In addition, the Council suggested that a further $53,200.00 expense will be reduced due to “the suspension of travel plans for the Mayor and Councilors for the projected period”. Travel plans to where and for what?
(e) In seven months, $96, 625.00 is to be spent on “Staff Training”. The NWU represents a majority of CCC’s employees and is not aware of any training course(s) being executed or to be executed. The question therefore remains; training for who? In fact, the CCC quoted that in March 2020 alone, in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when commercial activity started to decline, $21,120.00 was spent on “Staff Training and Awards”. Again, the question must be asked; training for who and for what and who received awards?
(f) In seven months, $11,900.00 is labelled as “Staff Welfare”. What exactly is being expended and labelled “staff welfare”?
(g) In seven months, the CCC is spending $96,100.00 on “Community Outreach and Projects”, some $13,900.00 monthly. What constitutes “Community Outreach”? What is the nature of this expense and what is the return or benefit to the CCC for such “outreach”?
(h) A laundry allowance is a fixed payroll expense. Based on the financial information provided to the meeting, $7,120.00 is budgeted monthly. However, in the seven month period, each month sees a higher expended amount. In fact, in April 2020 alone, $16,020.00 was spent, essentially more than double the amount allotted. The question is why and for what purpose.
(i) The CCC is recommending that the purchase of protective equipment (PPE) should be reduced for the period to bare essentials. This recommendation is absurd given the fact that an essential service is being provided. Our industrial agreement, the Labour Act and ILO conventions recognize that protective equipment is a must even more so in the provision of sanitation services.
(j) For the seven month period, the CCC budgets (presumably based on the operational demands) to spend $12, 388.49 on overtime. Yet actual amounts spent monthly surpass $70,000.00. This, therefore, calls into question, a matter long raised by the NWU that of Management.
(k) To what degree has the costs of the recent renovations of the CCC premises and the institution of the City Police contributed to the financial abyss of the CCC?”
The NWU letter to Minister Montoute further stated, “Minister, the Council claimed both at the meeting and prior, that the Council’s management found a “padded” workforce which goes hand in glove with allegations of corruption. We have recommended and will continue to recommend that an in-depth analysis of the CCC’s departmental needs be conducted. This would allow all sides to scrutinize the current workforce per department, compare with demands, needs and operations of each department and one can assess whether departments are optimally staffed, understaffed or even overstaffed. A wage justification would therefore be possible. Loosely claiming that a “padded workforce” exists where there are claims being made that several persons were hired in recent times cannot suffice.”
The NWU stated to Minister Montoute that in light of the aforementioned recommendation, it recommends, as it did at the meeting, that the Government of Saint Lucia cannot continue to be soft and silent on allegations levelled at the CCC by the public and needs to critically and urgently look at the CCC’s financial operations. Further, an assessment needs to ascertain whether the financial resources provided to the largest municipality in Saint Lucia are sufficient to meet the needs of Council and or are being spent appropriately.
The NWU also told Minister Montoute that the Government of Saint Lucia should take over the payment of salaries and wages for the workers and allow the CCC to spend on operational related matters.
“Clearly the Government must step in to save the CCC probably even from itself,” were the NWU’s finishing words to Montoute in its letter.