The parliamentary representative for Soufriere and Fond St Jacques has taken the Soufriere Regional Development Foundation to task saying it has lost its credibility and its respect in the community.
Emma Hippolyte claims that the Foundation, which manages the Sulphur Springs, the Pitons and the harbour, was in a financial crisis prior to the July 26, 2021 general elections.
“The work force was demoralized and we found that the Foundation had over 200 staff members, a large portion of these members were appointed a few months before the last (general) election,” Hippolyte told a gathering of the Lower House of Assembly this week.
She said the business sector stopped their line of credit to the Foundation and that bills had gone through the roof and stood at $1.2 million as of July 2021 even to the point where basic services like telephone had to be disconnected.
“Payment to the national insurance to the tune of $87,000 had not been met. And what does that mean? Staff members and their leave claims were in jeopardy. PAYEE had not been remitted to the Government of Saint Lucia to the tune of some $38,000. We found non-payment of medical insurance premium to the tune of $123,318. Monies that were deducted from the employees were not paid to the insurance company and what does that mean? The claims from staff members were not being honoured by the insurance company,” Hippolyte said.
Hippolyte further stated that during the election campaign the people of Soufriere and Fond St Jacques were united in their cry for a review of the Soufriere Foundation.
“They gave me a commitment that if I believe I could make changes to that Foundation they will elect me as their parliamentary representative and they did. I want to report that I have taken this task very seriously and today I will impart report on what I have found thus far,’ Hippolyte said.
The Soufriere and Fond St Jacques parliamentary representative said that the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College (SALCC) had stopped issuing certificates to graduate students because of delinquency in payment of school fees by the foundation. Further, Saint Lucia Electricity Services was threatening to cut power because of long overdue power bills.
“In short prudent financial management was nonexistent. Management had used the workers gratuity fund, the fund from a high in 2016 when we left of $1.6 million we found in July 2021 a meagre $33,000. From $1.6 million in 2016 to $33,000. What does that mean? This means that should a staff member of the Foundation want to leave the Foundation the Foundation did not have the resources to pay them. Should the management of the Foundation in its efforts at restructuring decided to cut ties with some staff members who qualify for gratuity the foundation did not have the resources to pay this staff member,” Hippolyte said.
She said the newly installed Board of the Soufriere Foundation found that the Foundation had a VAT accumulated debt of $570,264.
“We found funding of questionable projects was the order of the day. For example, land clearance at Fond St Jacques cost over half a million dollars, renovation of the Soufriere Police Station $744,000. Total owing to government for the lease of the Sulphur Springs Park, $1.8 million. In addition, the foundation spent in excess of three million dollars on projects. The payment for most is yet to be verified,’ Hippolyte said.
She added, “Because of the financial situation you had staff members of the Foundation working one or two days a week, so you had a situation where nobody was happy because none of the staff could get a decent basic monthly salary.”
Hippolyte said that some of the steps taken by the new Board of the Foundation were to pay the insurer hereby honouring all workers medical claims, credit facilities at all businesses have been reestablished, the amounts to the NIC and PAYE have been paid, the gratuity bank account is now on an upward path and the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College has received most of its payments and now certificates are being issued.
“We were able this year to grant scholarships to the tune of some $47,000. We have been able to install a port health facility to ensure cruise ships that resume their visits. The services at the ports are in order. We have been able to install a tidal wave monitoring system on the jetty to ensure that our people have early warning of any tsunami. Our staff members, especially our security staff, have received firearm training. The foundation is in conversation with the government to regularize the Gros Piton trail, an issue that is causing much problems on the ground for us,” Hippolyte said.