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#472746 - 09/18/13 10:55 AM 4 Social Investment Fund Staffers Sacked
Marty Offline

But Questions About Corruption Persist

Last Friday, the media blew the lid open on the allegations of rank corruption at the Social Investment Fund - and since then, the Government, the SIF Board of Director and the Contractor General's Office have been struggling to keep up with the pace of revelations and public outrage. This morning - after yesterday's emergency board meeting which went into the late evening - the axe came down on four employees, while the managing director Daniel Cano - was given the courtesy of resigning; if he didn't he would have been fired.

One of those employees who was fired is Mike Hernandez the former Public Relations Director at SIF. As you saw last night, he accepted a five hundred dollar cheque from contractor Kennard Smart - who then turned around and accused Hernandez and other SIF Officers of corruption.

Today Hernandez told us that how it all went down just isn't fair:..

Mike Hernandez Jr. Terminated from SIF
"This morning we were served with letters of dismissal the four of us from the Social Investment Fund. Namely myself, Mr. Pineda, Mr. Enrique Romero and Mr. Leonel Jimenez. The director was given the option to resign and I think he has resign effectively either yesterday or today. I am not too quite sure."

"I have to state that I am very disappointed in the manner in which it was done. It was done very unprofessionally and very disrespectful. The normal course of things should have been they should have called us in and say to us that this is what the board has decided and out of courtesy this is what is going to happen. This thing went public, they sent a press release and we found out through the press release. That is very unprofessional and very bad on the part of the chairlady of the board of directors of SIF."

"Be reminded that SIF is an institution that is one of the best institutions throughout the entire Caribbean region. In regards to the allegation made against myself, I can tell you that I have never request anything from Mr. Smart. This cheque in question was given to me explicitly as a gift in 2009 and I took it because it was Christmas time - a time when you share and give and it was a time when we exchange gifts. I never knew then that this gentleman had ulterior motives."

"Bear in mind that I was not a member of any committee that evaluated and recommended contracts or any committees that recommended tender of contracts. For someone to make serious allegation of me that I have been extorting is rather ridiculous. That's a service that I could not offer to anyone. I believe the real reason why Mr. Smart has made those allegations is to create distractions for his none performance work. He lost the contract in San Ignacio/Santa Elena and now he lost the contract in Dangriga."

Indeed, Kennard Smart's company "K and G Construction" lost two SIF contracts - but it had already executed five others: the Trial Farm Drainage Project phases one and two for a total of 920,000 dollars, the Gulisi Primary School for 370 thousand dollars, a project in san Felipe for 271 thousand dollars, a mental health facility project for half a million dollars, and Saint Viator for twenty thousand dollars.

How he qualified for those contracts is a question we put to Minister of State with responsibility for SIF Santino Castillo - and we'll have that for you shortly.

But first to a phone interview with Yvonne Hyde CEO in the Ministry of Economic Development and Chair of the SIF Board of Directors. She sent out a release today saying, quote, "After reviewing the Contractor General's report, the board determined that four members of staff were complicit in activities which merited termination." But that doesn't say they acted corruptly or accepted inducements. She left the country today, but before she did KREM Radio got a chance to interview her on the question of corruption. Here's what she said:..

Reporter
"People believe that since February to now it's a very long time and the report should have been concluded way before and they feel like he has been sitting on the report."

Yvonne Hyde, Chairman - SIF Board of Directors
"I don't think he was sitting on the report. He was doing series of interview and there were some odd circumstances I would imagine which prevented him from finishing off the report."

Reporter
"The extortion allegations: will a criminal case be launched?"

Yvonne Hyde, Chairman - SIF Board of Directors
"I am sorry. Looked, the board was dealing with a report which indicated that there were receipt of money on the part of certain staff from private parties. That was what the report was on. I am not aware of any monies being siphon off anywhere."

Reporter
"The Prime Minister had sent some information to Channel 7 indicating that the Contractor General was investigating reports of corruption act SIF."

Yvonne Hyde, Chairman - SIF Board of Directors
"That is correct, but the corruption was in connection like I just said with allegation made earlier this year which had to be proven in terms of evidence supplied, interviews heard and analysis of the documentation. The allegation were that certain staff members of SIF received monies from private parties. I don't know about anything else that they are taking about. I am sorry, I don't know about that."

Reporter
"Does that amount to extortion though?"

Yvonne Hyde, Chairman - SIF Board of Directors
"As far as I am concerned, that is what I am saying."

But the Contractor General Godwin Arzu said much more in his report. He turned us down when we asked for an interview today and said he couldn't share the report until it is tabled in the house. The only thing he did tell us was that what appears to be an inordinate lapse between February - when Smart first wrote to him - and September - when he finally submitted his report - was time spent thoroughly investigating the claims, searching exhaustively for proof and getting responses from the accused persons - because all those SIF Staffers who acknowledged that they received money from Kennard Smart say they had a legitimate, non-corrupt reason for it. As you heard, Mike Hernandez says his was a Christmas Gift, another said he got a loan from Smart, and one other SIF technical officer said he was simply conveying the money on Smart's behalf, to one of the contractor's lady friends - which would make that transaction the definition of a sweetheart deal!

Indeed, the entire web of apparent institutional corruption raises so many questions and we put those to Minister of State with responsibility for SIF Santino Castillo in an interview conducted three hours ago at his Belmopan Office. He says the allegations first came to Cabinet's attention in July, but he did not know the extent of it - until he watched the news!

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, at what point did you become aware of these allegations of extortion and corruption at SIF and what did you do when you became aware of it?"

Hon. Santino Castillo - Minister of State with Responsibility for Economic Development
"That is funny Jules because I was out the country and just came back in on Saturday the 14th and I read it online. I read Channel 5 and 7's report on it online and I immediately emailed the CEO Ms. Yvonne Hyde of the Ministry and she updated me immediately on what was happening. I arrived on Saturday and was kept fully abreast and then we move to immediate action to have the board have an emergency meeting yesterday with recommendations from the Contractor General who was at the meeting on how to move forward."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, there had to be some type fundamental breakdown in communication because this was reported to the Contractor General in February. You have been at the highest level of a private business - you know that any allegation like this surfaces with the sort of evidence that Mr. Smart brought forward - it's actionable and you have to act immediately otherwise you will continue to hemorrhage public funds."

Hon. Santino Castillo
"Right. What I can tell you about that Jules, in fact one of the things that Mr. Cano did and one of the reasons he was asked for his resignation is because he did not choose to bring forth the information to either myself or the CEO."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, I understand that all these persons had in fact excuses like Mr. Mike Hernandez when the Contractor General questioned them."

Hon. Santino Castillo
"That is so."

Jules Vasquez
"What did you think of their explanations?"

Hon. Santino Castillo
"The explanations as far as I am concern don't cut it at all. You are talking about one of them saying $5,000 was a loan. There was another $3,000 for insurance that his wife sold and he is no longer with his wife. Those were the sort of explanations which they had. If this was the private sector - it's no non-sense and heads would have had to roll from where I sit. However we put it in the board of directors - let them make the decisions."

Isani Cayetano, reporter
"What becomes of the monies that Gush and Emy as well as Lyndon Bailey had invested in this particular project in Dangriga?"

Hon. Santino Castillo
"Unfortunately for them our contract is with Mr. Smart, K and G Construction - we have no contract with Gush and Emy and with Lyndon Bailey. They were sub-contracted by Mr. Smart and up to date we have paid Mr. Smart a total of a little under $600,000 in payments for the Dangriga project of which he has not been forthcoming with his part of the deal which in effect - which is why eventually it came to this point. Why we got involved is because the contract automatically cancelled itself because the contract reads that after 100 days of delay - it's automatically cancelled."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, Mr. Smart has received 5 contracts from SIF and anyone who knows how these things work or who's heard about how these things work knows that this particular contract and all the shaking down that he complained about - is probably not his first rodeo. It probably happened on the other contracts as well. That's not an unfair speculation if you see people receiving money in cheques."

Hon. Santino Castillo
"Not unfair at all."

Jules Vasquez
"Are you concern as any member of the public would be that there is a culture of corruption at SIF and there has been institutionalized in there for some time."

Hon. Santino Castillo
"Quite honestly Jules that is something that we are going to look at. We are going to implement new procedures. All that you say is very valid. I won't say that there isn't. I won't say that there is. I am hoping that we've weeded out those that are involved, but clearly we will have to focus on also taking into consideration that you have international funding agencies that are looking at us and how we will react such as the CDB, The World Bank, The European Union - these are all people that give us grants and loans at very low rates of interests. They will want to see how we will react and if we are "powder-puff" this thing which is why this didn't go to Cabinet at all. This was a decision that we accepted. We have a professional board of directors and their decision is what took place immediately and we acted on it at 8 o' clock this morning."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, it seems that the action were taken largely base on the complaints that Mr. Smart made in his February email to the Contractor General where he named certain amounts. All those people have been terminated. But one this he said in there is that he gave Mr. Cano ten thousand dollars in a black plastic bag."

Hon. Santino Castillo
"He actually said that he gave him a thousand first in his office cash followed by ten thousand for a total of eleven thousand. Of course Mr., Cano disputes those allegations and there is no proof that he did so which is in fact why of all of them Mr. Cano was the only we asked of his resignation because we do not have proof. It is his word against Mr. Smart."

Jules Vasquez
"In the context on everything that was happening at SIF and the fact that these allegations had been brought to Mr. Cano's attention from 2010."

Hon. Santino Castillo
"That is way in fact Jules before I even got to SIF, so you are perfectly right, people can speculate."

Jules Vasquez
"Again, it appears that someone was sleeping at the wheel in so far as the culture of corruption appear to exist at SIF and nobody was in any urgency to shut it down. The Contractor General received it in February, the CEO received it sometime after that, I don't know the date. She is out of the country and you just heard about it on September 14th. I am saying as the media, the minute we saw this we were like the place has to close down. I am saying that wouldn't the funding agency reasonably say you guys aren't serious."

Hon. Santino Castillo
"Very true Jules. I guess based on our actions they will say that we were serious because as soon as we got involved we didn't "pussyfoot" around with it at all. We acted immediately. We could have procrastinated, but we didn't. The board meeting was held yesterday evening and we ask Mr. Cano for his resignation yesterday evening and everyone was dismissed at SIF this morning at 8 o' clock."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, recently in a speech you call Mr. Mike Hernandez your good friend."

Hon. Santino Castillo
"He is my good friend. Unfortunately that's what hurts a lot about this. Since I've been at the Ministry Mike has been the public relations manager and truthfully Mike pleads his case to me and says it was simply a gift given to him by Smart saying for all the good work you've done, here is Christmas gift and I took Mike's word for what it was."

Jules Vasquez
"Under the Prevention for Corruption in Public Life law, these things are offences."

Hon. Santino Castillo
"They are."

Jules Vasquez
"Accepted that what would be called an advantage. Mr. Smart basically actions would what we called a bribe. These are actionable criminal offences. Will your office be taking that up or will you pursue that with the DPP?"

Hon. Santino Castillo
"The truth of the matter is that - that is the next point. We've reached the first point and Cabinet today was very involved with other discussions but that is a discussion that will still come up in Cabinet; how to move forward with this case."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, Isn't this an inevitable consequence of rewarding UDP friends? Mr. Smart is a former convention candidate for the UDP. Obviously, once he's gotten 5 contracts and if you extrapolate not unreasonably that this sort of system existed in all those contracts - well then its clear that it was a friends and family system and this is what happens when a UDP Government hires its friends."

Hon. Santino Castillo
"Jules, it would be very hard for me to dispute that allegation."

Jules Vasquez
"The public confidence is clearly shaken because something like this was happening almost in a matter of fact way. Obviously it was happening and then when Mr., Smart ran into trouble is when he rang the alarm. I am saying that isn't a fair assumption that this what I've heard in the UDP circle called "biting." This "biting" on contracts is happening in every sphere of the Government's activity. Isn't that a fair assumption that anyone in the public might make?"

Hon. Santino Castillo
"I don't think so Jules. Honestly in this case I have to defend because this "biting" was happening by a few select people within the organization and truthfully Jules when you look at the figures, I mean, even those that sold their soul in the biggest scheme of things it wasn't a great loss to SIF financially what they took. Our loss basically was with Mr. Smart not producing and providing the work that he should have produce at the time he should have produce it."

"These guys were hustling; one got $500, one got a two thousand cheque - one thousand dollars twice, one got $5,000, one got $3,000 and these are cheques that Mr. Smart produced. Other than that he had no more allegations for giving these people any more cheques or any more cash other than the $11,000 he is alleged to have given Mr. Cano."

"The "biting" that occurred as I said, lets called them the "gang of five" and it is not something that I think is happening in all of the ministries with all contracts. I just couldn't believe that is possible."

Jules Vasquez
"Yes, but If I had told you this last year, you might have not believe it either even with your friend Mike Hernandez. I am saying that obviously in the state of things right now in our country, the unbelievable is believable."

Hon. Santino Castillo
"That is true Jules. It's also very believable that by the time you go home tonight and the clips comes out and we have light all the way to Belize." (Smiling)

But it's no laughing matter for the people of Dangriga Town. Lost in the all the wheeling and dealing, allegations and recriminations is the Dangriga Municipal Project - which was supposed to have seen a new market opened at the end of July. From March of 2013, the project has been delayed. Now it's been terminated, his underwriters Emy Ramirez and Lyndon Bailey say government owes them five hundred thousand dollars and the project is at a standstill. Castillo told us they will have to address it urgently:

Nellie Trench is acting Executive Director at SIF. The contractor general has urged the board to dig deeper. In his report, a part of which 7news has obtained, he says quote, "they must examine the evaluation process for the awarding of the Dangriga Market Rehabilitation & Extension Project with a view to establishing whether or not the contract was awarded impartially." End quote. Information to us suggests that Smart was awarded the contract based on insider information form SIF - on the understanding that once he got the contract, he would provide requisite kickbacks. Only, it appears, the insider miscalculated and he underbid, and thus was unable to keep paying the kickbacks while also keeping up to date on the project. His story is that when he stopped paying, the SIF payments started slowing down - and that's what ran the project into the ground.

It is a mess in every sense of the word, and we'll keep following every lead on this story - including this strange little document, an allegedly fake invoice from K and G construction which investor Emy Ramirez says Executive Director Cano tried to pass off on her. More on that tomorrow.

Channel 7


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#472845 - 09/19/13 11:05 AM Re: 4 Social Investment Fund Staffers Sacked [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Ramirez And Bailey Say SIF Told Their Bankers To Proceed After Corruption Was Known

The scandal at the Social Investment Fund is still simmering this evening as there are many loose ends in a tale of what appears to be corruption run amok in an institution that was widely perceived to be above board.

Our coverage tonight begins with the two local investors who found out the hard way that "what appears to be and what is" at SIF are two very different things. Last night Emy Ramirez and Lyndon Bailey listened as Minister with responsibility for SIF, Santiago Castillo Jr said that Government had no money to refund them. That's after they gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in bridge financing to Kennard Smart's company so that he could try and finish the Dangriga Market.

Today we got their reaction to that announcement, along with commentary from Ramirez's attorney Audrey Matura Shepherd:..

Audrey Matura Shepherd, Attorney For Emy Ramirez, Investor
"I'll tell you what happened was that they had to accept that there has been wrong doing at SIF and that wrong doing at SIF has had vast financial implications on my client."

"Of course we are a bit elated that finally the officials are taking heed that something has been wrong at SIF for a while. We would hope however that these people aren't just used as a scapegoat to try and pretend that everything is solved because everything is not solved."

Jules Vasquez reporting
The main unsolved issue is the fact that these investors, Emy Ramirez and Lyndon Bailey put five hundred thousand dollars into the project - which Government says they can't expect to get back from SIF:

Hon. Santino Castillo - Minister of State with Responsibility for Economic Development
"Unfortunately for them our contract is with Mr. Smart, K and G Construction. We have no contract with Gush and Emy and with Lyndon Bailey."

Audrey Matura Shepherd
"For the Government or anyone to say that clearly it's their view. We would be able to prove otherwise in court. I will not discuss the extent of that. We have enough information to show that when my client chooses to invest in this project, it could not have been done without assurances from SIF."

"SIF wrote a letter to the bank and assured the bank that there is money there to the tune of $780,000 and that she would be receiving a substantial payment, thus the bank kept on providing the facility. That can't be taken likely."

Matura-Shepherd says that SIF Officials failed to disclose to her clients what they knew very well when they came on board three months ago, that allegations of serious corruption ahd already been made:

Audrey Matura Shepherd
"Now they have dismissed people from SIF and they had asked the Director to resign. You have to understand that while all of this was happening with SIF. SIF knew, SIF officials knew what was going on. Apparently their red flag was long before my client came on board."

But they say that this document shows SIF was trying to engage them by arranging a payment. But this purported K and G invoice for eighty three thousand dollars came from Daniel Cano's hand to Emy Ramirez who signed that she received it and then had a change of heart:

Emy Ramirez
"Mr. Cano presented me with this paper and said to sign this. Mr. Bailey, my husband and somebody else was there (he encourage to sign because we needed the money). I did put my name on it but then I ask him 'to be reviewed' and he said to be reviewed. So, I put Emy Gilharry Ramirez and I put to be reviewed. But when I realized and I looked at it it had submitted by Emy Gilharry Ramirez and it had K and G logo on it and I never prepared anything, so I felt that it was something not right because it's purporting that I had prepared this document. So, I put a NO and a X."

Audrey Matura Shepherd
"You have to ask how come Mr. Cano was able to get a letterhead of K and G and how could they now on their own go about and prepare a payment as though K and G in collaboration with client prepare that document. That in itself is an impropriety because my client can assure that she never prepare that document and up to today Mr. Smart has never admitted that he prepared that document, so how could Mr. Cano used an official letterhead and prepare a document and presented it to my client."

"It is up to the SIF officials to investigate what Mr. Cano was doing and how much he was working along with K and G or if Mr. K and G even knew that his letterhead was being used and that a payment was being foist on my client."

But at least one of the investors says he knew something was up:..

Lyndon Bailey
"First he had told me this, that he have a lot of information with cheques and so forth but I didn't see it at that time, but this guy was a desperate person when he approached me. I know he would have leak out his whole guts to get my money to put into that project. I think the same thing that he has done to me he have to Mrs. Emy."

Daniel Ortiz
"Why did you guys got on board knowing there is an appearance of something wrong?"

Lyndon Bailey
"We didn't know before."

Audrey Matura Shepherd
"When my client entered into this agreement as she had instructed me she never knew about any impropriety and she would have never felt there was any impropriety because remember she got letters of assurances, she got emails, communication with SIF officials namely Mr. Raymond and Mr. Cano that made her feel very confident that everything was overboard. None of them alluded to their being monies not being able to reflect what's on the ground. None of them alluded to their being any problem with Mr. Smart. None of that happen."

And while that is cloudy, Bailey says, by virtue of right, there should be clear skies ahead:

Lyndon Bailey
"The truth will come out and I have no doubt that we will come out victorious because we are telling the truth. We were innocent people dragged into a muddy area."


Why Contractor General Said Cano Had To Go

And the man in the middle of that muddy area was Executive Director Daniel Cano. At Monday's emergency meeting of the SIF Board of Directors, he was given the option to resign - and he did, packing up that very night. But, his conduct in the office remains very much in question. Centrally, Kennard Smart has accused him of accepting an eleven thousand dollar cash bribe, which we stress that Cano has denied receiving, and the contractor general says in his report, quote, "there is an absence of clear, compelling and conclusive evidence which supports or corroborates the solicitation or receipt on (CANO'S) part of any monies from K & G Construction Limited or the Contractor in person." So that remains as only an unsupported allegation, but one made by a source who proved credible in his other charges.

But according to the contractor General, Cano has other failings. In his report - which 7news has obtained a part of, the Contractor General says, quote, "in his capacity as Executive Director of SIF, the manner in which he dealt with revelations of alleged bribes, extorted sums or gifts of money purportedly paid to himself and other SIF employees by the Contractor, is less than desirable." End quote.

Indeed, in his complaint to the Contractor General, Smart says he reported the allegations of corruption to Cano, quote, "giving him checks and stubs for him to settle the matter with his officers; instead he called them in, showed them the evidence and used it at his discretion to control them" end quote. Smart alleges that Cano ultimately lost the stubs.

But what the contractor General seized upon in his report was that Cano was working as an engineer for private home owners as a side job, even on a house where the same Kennard Smart's company K and G was the private contractor! The contractor general says that Cano voluntarily admitted to this. It's an issue because, SIF staff rules state that, quote, ``staff members shall not engaged in any form of outside paid employment without the written permission of the Executive Director."

And what about the Executive Director himself? Well, in his report, the Contractor General says, quote, "it would also have been salutary if the Executive Director had held himself up to the same standard by seeking the (authorization of the) Board of Directors.

Tomorrow, we'll have more on the story - but before we close off tonight, we wish to acknowledge a visual error in last night's news: we showed the sign of the Statistical Institute of Belize - the S-I-B, which happens to be in the same office building and uses the same entrance as S-I-F, the Social Investment Fund. We apologize for the mix-up as the two are unrelated.

Channel 7


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#472955 - 09/20/13 11:46 AM Re: 4 Social Investment Fund Staffers Sacked [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Embattled Former SIF Exec Director Declares Innocence, Admits “Errors”

And while that corruption scandal is just starting to break - the other one at SIF is in what you might call "free-burn", a revelations continue to surface about what appears to have been a culture of corruption at SIF. Today former executive director Daniel Cano held a most unusual press conference; he did it at LOVE FM, where the 50 minute session was also broadcast live. He opened by saying, quote, "I am here because I have nothing to hide." And indeed, he took any and all questions - after an emotional opening:..

Daniel Cano, Former Executive Director - SIF
"Mr. Smart, you have made many, many false accusations about me which has hurt me, which has hurt my family and that place that I have work and that I have loved for 14 years. I categorically deny these allegations and I demand that you retract each and every one of your false statements and you apologize for the damage you have done to me, to my good name, to my career that I have work so hard to build and for the pain you have caused my family."

"My statement now is to strongly reaffirm that I had no involvement in any acts of bribery, corruption, extortion or any such acts. To provide some facts around my resignation and my work at SIF and to clarify some of the unfair speculation that has aired over the past week. My resignation from the post of Executive Director of the Social Investment Fund was requested and I agreed to submit it on the basis on the findings of the Contractor Generals' report where my management of the allegations was found to be less than desirable. My resignation was not on the grounds of any involvement with bribery, corruption or extortion."

Jules Vasquez
"I have to ask you straight up about the specific allegation made by Mr. Smart in an email that he wrote to the Contractor General which contains statements that he supported with documentary evidence. In that particular March email he implicated certain staff members who received cheques and he had proof of those cheques. In that same email he said that he gave you $11,000; $10,000 cash in a plastic bag at a specific street and $1,000 in cash at your office. Are those allegations true?"

Daniel Cano, Former Executive Director - SIF
"The allegations made against me are not true. Yes he might be able to describe in great detail what he did, what he says he did, but that doesn't make it true. And just because you have evidence of some other payments to mixed in along with the allegations against me, that doesn't make it true."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, at what point were you aware of the complaints that he made that persons in your office were "shaking him down" and what actions did you take at that time?"

Daniel Cano, Former Executive Director - SIF
"In terms of the "shake down" - I would say if I can recall - it perhaps was earlier this year. He was having difficulty with the Santa Elena Library and our officers were strict."

Jules Vasquez
"That "shake down" is not strictness. He says he gave you cheque stubs, which indicate that he had made and I guess, had to make payments to officers at SIF. When you received those what actions did you take?"

Daniel Cano
"I never received any cheque stubs. He said he gave me cheque stubs way back in 2010 or 2009, I don't know when he said. I never received any. I can tell you that on April 3rd of this year he found me. He was not even home. I don't even know how he found me, but he found me on the side of a street and attempted to give me a package which he said here are the stubs. This was now after he has written emails, after the allegations have been made to the Contractor General and now he is trying to hand me something which he say are stubs. I did not look in the package. I did not even take the package. I don't know what was in that package. I have an opinion about what he might have been trying to do which I am not going to share because that's speculation, but he never gave me any stubs and he attempted to give me something this year."

Love FM Reporter
"At no time did you have any meeting with Mr. Smart to discuss these allegations?"

Daniel Cano
"He had implied to me way back in 2010 that he had some officers under his payroll if you will and he gave me specific names and its the same four officers and he told me that he had evidence. I ask him for the evidence - I didn't want to approach the officers without any evidence. He never produced any, but I still met with the officers and it doesn't only me that met with the officers. There were other members of management that met with the officers. We questioned them about this and some of them admitted that they had taken payment from him and they provided various reasons; some of them were gifts. Some of them were just thankfulness for their work that they had done."

"The amounts that have been provided conflict with what the Contractor General actually found out later on in most of the cases."

Jules Vasquez
"The conflicts were lesser or greater."

Daniel Cano
"When they were told to me they were lesser."

Jules Vasquez
"You know that this is unacceptable. You have a policy for gifts at SIF. Gifts have to declared and shared."

Daniel Cano
"After that we established a policy because of this incident. That was one of the measure we took."

"I will say that we met with the officers, we cautioned them strongly. We told them if anything like this ever happens again we will go to the board."

Love FM Reporter
"That warning was issued?"

Daniel Cano
"Right, and I concede. Looking back in retrospect - hindsight is 20/20 - that was a mistake I made. That was one of the main management decisions that I made wrongly. I will justify it and I will take responsibility for it, but I will say that it was a decision made of the information that I had at the time."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, Mr. Smart had been a problematic contractor for some time at the Gullissi Primary School in Dangriga - problems have arisen with him, yet he continued to receive contracts. Is that because he was a UDP friend? Was there any sort of executive influence to say he is the guy to go with or might it have been because he had help on the inside? Did Mr. Smart have insider information based on the corrupt influence that he enjoyed by offering people what is called is the corruption of public life "an advantage" which is a bribe?"

Daniel Cano
"To my knowledge, no, but I don't know every single dealings that happen between every single employee and contractor. To my knowledge, no."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, at what point did Mr. Smart who he is, a UDP. I can say that because he offered himself in a convention. At what point did he start appearing as a contractor that was on SIF's radar? I can't imagine that it happened during the PUP's administration."

Daniel Cano
"His first contract would have been perhaps late 2008."

Jules Vasquez
"So, then in his accent or his emergence as a contractor of choice or a contractor that could be chosen - he got about 6-7 contracts, did that have anything to do with executive influence from the UDP who was in government then? Might the minister with responsibility at the time Erwin Contreras have said look favorably on Mr. Smart. I know that Mr. Contreras also use to send hams to SIF office at Christmas time as just a kindness."

Daniel Cano
"I cannot recall Mr. Contreras ever saying look favorably at Mr. Smart. Even if any other minister had said look favorably at Mr. Smart - the procedures still had to be followed. We can't go outside the procedures. Once we go outside the procedures and it goes to the Contractor General they will send it back, it goes to the bank they will send it back. It will not go."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, in your opinion should you all have been accepting Christmas gifts from a hardware company? Or Christmas hams from the relevant minister?"

Daniel Cano
"I really can't give an opinion on that. It's a practice that had been there years before when we instituted the gift policy, we decided that this is being declared and it not something being hidden, so it's not something that we feel that had to be discontinued at that point."

Love FM Reporter
"Was there ever an opportunity when the minister would make a request that ultimately that contractor would not be awarded the contract?"

Daniel Cano
"There were many instances like that yes. I will say yes that there were request and that is the job of a minister; to lobby for his constituents. It is our job to follow the rules. Ministers can ask for whatever they want, but we have to follow the rules."

Jules Vasquez
"Were the rules scrupulously followed without regard to the minister's influence?"

Daniel Cano
"The rules had to be followed. There was no other way."

Cano also addressed the issue that we raised last night; the allegation that he had basically doctored a receipt from K & G Construction to pay Emy Ramirez a payment she was insistent on getting. Cano explained that he was only trying to help:..

Daniel Cano
"The invoice referred to yesterday arose when the financers had inform SIF that they were in dire needs of a payment due to the large amount of funds they had put into the project. An invoice was presented by Mr. Smart with many errors that could not be paid. In his claim for payment were items he had not completed. There were items that were paid for before and items that he had just not done."

"This invoice could not be process and he could not be found to resubmit it. Mrs. Ramirez was authorized by Mr. Smart to sign claims for payment on his company behalf and authorize to collect monies on his company's behalf. In SIF efforts to process a payment I ask Mrs. Ramirez to sign an invoice which was adjusted the amount the consultant certified could be paid. She even asks that the invoice could further be redone to provide a breakdown of the amount being paid. This was done. She then signed and then changed her mind about submitting the invoice. This is perfectly within her right and that at no time was she pressured to sign. She was only asked to sign because she was authorized to do so and in the interest of processing what was certified at the time."

Jules Vasquez
"You said you adjusted it internally? Adjusting at some point becomes forgery."

Daniel Cano
"The amount that Mr. Smart has claimed as I said was riddled with errors and the claim was just so unrealistic and false. We processed a payment in accordance with the procedures up to the point of where we came to this invoice. Mr. Smart was nowhere to be found. Mrs. Ramirez was authorized to sign the invoice. The amount was changed to what the consultants certify and she was asked to sign as she was authorized to do and she did even sign. She actually signs, in fact she had us redo the invoice to show further detail and we did it at her request."

Jules Vasquez
"Yes but you are redoing the invoice in a company's name."

Daniel Cano
"She is authorizing us."

Jules Vasquez
"Was SIF authorized? Were you authorized to use the letterhead of a private company?"

Daniel Cano
"I will concede. Again, another instance of in acting with good intentions, in good faith in trying to expedite this payment in the interest of the project - yes an error was committed."

The press conference finished close to our deadline this evening, on a busy news night - and there were many more revelations coming out of it - and we'll have more from the event tomorrow.

Channel 7


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#473057 - 09/21/13 11:14 AM Re: 4 Social Investment Fund Staffers Sacked [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Cano Took All Questions

Yesterday embattled former Executive Director of the Social Investment Fund Daniel Cano grabbed the national spotlight, when he hosted an hour-long press conference - where he took all questions from the media. He held the event to clear his name, which had been tarnished by the allegation that he took an eleven thousand dollar cash bribe from contractor Kennard Smart.

And, from the feedback we've gotten, Cano did what he had set out to do: those we've spoken were convinced by the quite appealing logic that someone who took a bribe would not have an hour long - no holds barred press conference. Tonight we look deeper into his disclosures, which he made freely, because as he said, he has nothing to hide:..

Daniel Cano, Former Executive Director - SIF
"I am here because I have nothing to hide. I have performed my duties at SIF to the best of my professional abilities and with always the best intentions."

Jules Vasquez reporting
But in the battlefield called SIF the best intentions weren't good enough - and Cano admits that he fell short of maintaining the highest standards:

Daniel Cano
"This is true, I was involve in the said instance of work outside of SIF where a family friend of mine for many years had ask that I check on his the construction of his home from time to time and I did receive compensation from him for this."

"Taking outside work is not a normal practice for me and this finding that I did this has been out of proportion."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, you and Mr. Smart worked on the same private project. The Contractor General found out that Mr. Smart was the contractor for this home, Mr. Cal's home and you were retained as the supervising engineer. What were your interactions with Mr. Smart there?"

Daniel Cano
"In terms of my interactions with Mr. Smart on the private project, it was very limited."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, while knowing the rules of declarations that employees who take side work had to make a declaration to you. Why did you not make a declaration to the board of directors?"

Daniel Cano
"In retrospect I should have."

And while that was a violation of the rules, it was not corrupt:

Daniel Cano
"My statement now is to strongly reaffirm that I had no involvement in any acts of bribery, corruption, extortion or any such acts. The allege corruption was outside my control. I could only have minimized the repercussions but not suppress it. These allegations would have still been exposed to the public in any scenario."

But it's not the exposure - it's the damage to the institution, which started off with helping along questionable contractors like Kennard Smart - who, the contractor general suggests may have had insider to qualify for the Dangriga Market:

Jules Vasquez
"Might he have had insider information to know how much to bid on projects and exactly how much he would need to put down to bid? Because I understand that his bids would match the final requirement extremely close."

Daniel Cano
"Mr. Smart would bid usually the engineer's estimate."

Jules Vasquez
"Did Mr. Smart had insider information based on the corrupt influence that he enjoyed by offering people what is call in the corruption in public life an "advantage" which is a bribe?"

Daniel Cano
"To my knowledge, no, but I don't know every single dealings that happen between every single employee and contractor."

The Contractor General says the SIF Board should make, quote, "A detailed examination of the evaluation process for the awarding of the Dangriga Market…Project with a view to establishing whether or not the contract was awarded impartially".

But even with all the questions about this one project, Cano denies that there was a culture of corruption at SIF:

Daniel Cano
"There has never been anything like this where a contractor has come out and alleges this level of extortion and corruption. Never before, never. In the hundreds of projects SIF has done this is the first time."

But it's not the first time Kennard Smart has been behind in trouble on a contract:

Daniel Cano
"I will say that SIF bent backwards sometimes in trying to complete a project, not so much for Mr. Smart's benefit. If there is a school there, the school year is coming and we need to push, make a payment every week to have this contractor limp across the finish line, we did that in the interest of getting the project completed."

"To our detriment perhaps we have allowed weak contractors to continued finishing projects and continue qualifying. Now in retrospect, this is something that maybe SIF would have to re-examine - how far do we want to keep holding people's hands especially if they are so weak that they will jeopardize the institution."

And as long as Smart kept finishing projects, even if he, quote "limped across the finish line" he continued to qualify for contracts - possibly aided by insider information:

Reporter, Love FM
"If you have been having an issue with him, why would you give him another project to work on?"

Daniel Cano
"As I said the qualification criteria is objective. It does not speak to "do you have an issue." It speaks to "did he finish" and in cases where we were facilitating small payments every week we helped him to finish. He finished, he qualified."

And Smart even attracted investors, who, Cano says, were not unaware of Smart's difficulties:

Daniel Cano
"How was the financer's money being used? The financers themselves told SIF that some of the labour monies they provided to the contractor were unaccounted for and that within what they listed as expenses were payments to the banks to release the contractor form the bank. These are not funds that went into the market site. Whose responsibility was it to safeguard the financer's investments and to use the monies properly on site?"

"According to one of the financers they had put in over $400,000 by mid-August of this year. However, the work completed on site as measured by the consultant and SIF did not even value a quarter of this. Where did the rest of the money go?"

Which is the question most pressingly being asked by the residents of Dangriga and the market vendors who continue to lose money.

Cano - who is a UWI trained Engineer - worked at SIF for 14 years, and held the Director's post from 2010 to 2013. He told us that he resigned in the middle of a two year contract, and he did not get any gratuity.

Channel 7


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