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In hot water

by Wade Gibbons

Director of the Coastal Zone Management Unit, Dr Leo Brewster, has been sent on leave by Government and advised to retain an attorney-at-law.

A senior Government official told Barbados TODAY that Brewster was officially relieved of his duties on August 1 and that six charges would be brought against him stemming from an internal audit into the CZMU conducted more than two years ago by the office of the Accountant General.

The Government official indicated that the CZMU’s deputy director, Dr Lorna Inniss, had assumed responsibility for the management of the unit.

Almost three years ago Brewster was summoned before the Accountant General and asked to explain, among other things, the awarding of contracts for work within his department without adherence to the Financial Management and Audit Act, or the Financial Rules, 1971.

It was alleged that Brewster and one of his senior officers, hydrographer Lester Toppin, formed a company called Innovations R Us Incorporated in September 2004, and two months later Brewster started awarding work at CZMU to his own company.

The audit revealed that between 2005 and 2007 CZMU paid over $300,000 to Innovations R Us for a variety of services ranging from clearing sites and regrading sand to professional fees that went as high as $53,000.

The Accountant General also reported that CZMU awarded a contract to Innovations R Us at Graeme Hall Swamp, where equipment was purchased by the private company for CZMU and used by the former to carry out the work. An invoice was later made out in the name of CZMU but attached to an invoice from Innovations R Us stating “fees”. The Accountant General’s Office could not locate the equipment up to the time of the audit.

The Accountant General also said the private company’s invoices showed it collected VAT from the CZMU but did not pay it into the VAT Department. As a result, it was noted that Innovations R Us was indebted to Government and this should have precluded CZMU from doing business with it.

Amounts in excess of $60,000 per annum were also paid by CZMU to people who were not VAT registrants. The Accountant General cited where CZMU paid a company over $178,000 without any work quotations. The CZMU also made full payment to Innovations R Us for a project in March 2007 that remained incomplete up to the time of the audit. In his report laid in Parliament the Accountant general charged that under Brewster’s management, CZMU made out cheque payments to post office boxes for people who had no physical addresses.

The investigation raised a red flag with respect to conflict of interest when travel claims were made to CZMU for a site visit to a project at Ginger Bay, St. Philip, although the claimant was also a director of Innovations R Us which had been awarded the work. Brewster gave a written response to the Accountant General, indicating that CZMU had ended its dealings with Innovations R Us, and that he and his colleague had terminated their association with the company.

Brewster also promised that the CZMU would “ensure suitable quotations are sought in the future” with respect to work allocations.

In February 2010 Commissioner of Police Darwin Dottin confirmed that the matter had been passed on to them. Brewster and workmate Lester Toppin removed themselves as directors of the company, Innovations R Us, in December 2007 but it continued to exist under new directorship.

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