Express Business Filler #1

THE Vehicle Management Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (VMCOTT) is owing millions of dollars to the National Insurance Board (NIB) and Board of Inland Revenue (BIR) which represent statutory deductions which have not been paid for years.

This was one of the revelations made during a Public Accounts (Enterprises) Committee meeting held on Wednesday to examine the Corporation’s financial statements for the years 2012 and 2013.

Committee chairman Wade Mark is now questioning whether VMCOTT broke the law in making the deductions from their employees’ salaries but failing to remit the payments to the relevant agencies. Further, he said, employees may face challenges when they attempt to claim pension benefits after their retirement due to non-payment by VMCOTT.

Speaking during the meeting, VMCOTT chief executive officer Natasha Prince said the Corporation is presently owing $1.2 million in unpaid NIS contributions, $1.1 million in unpaid income tax contributions and over $45,000 in unpaid health surcharge deductions.

She said while the deductions were being made from employees’ salaries, it was being used to fund VMCOTT’s operations to keep the company afloat.

“It was also used to pay off suppliers who wanted to take litigation against the company...to enter payment plans to try and absorb that debt to pay them off.”

Mark said this was a very serious matter.

“You have employees who would be retiring...and if you have an employee...if somebody reaches the statutory retirement age and they have to leave VMCOTT and their monies have been deducted because their salary pay slips would reveal monies going to income tax and Board of Inland Revenue office, monies are going to the agency responsible for collecting health surcharge and the agencies responsible for receiving NIS which is the NIB. When that person retires, what would be their situation in terms of accessing their monthly pensions?” he questioned.

“This is an emergency. People are retiring. They have paid their NIS, their health surcharge, their income tax and PAYE. What is the Ministry of Finance doing to make sure that this entity really honours their commitment to the NIB as well as to the Board of Inland Revenue? Isn’t this a breach of the law to deduct monies from workers’ salaries and wages and not have those monies sent to the relevant agencies?”

Prince noted that VMCOTT began to make the payments in 2018 for the previous years, while payments for 2019 onward are still outstanding. She however said VMCOTT had two employees who have since retired and did not face any problems accessing their benefits.

“We know that this is serious and in the long-term will affect their payments. Therefore, we are working on whatever cash that we have on hand to try and clear it up,” she said.

Prince said VMCOTT is experiencing cash flow challenges that is hampering it from clearing its debts.

“We have a lot of suppliers who we are owing a huge amount of money to for goods and services that they have provided to us,” she said.

PTSC owes $6.4 million

Additionally, VMCOTT is owed money by several of its clients including the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) and the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC).

Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Works and Transport Dhanmattee Ramdath said PTSC is indebted to VMCOTT in the sum of $6.4 million while the TTPS owes an unspecified amount of money.

Prince said the TTPS was VMCOTT’s main client as the company repairs and maintains TTPS vehicles. She said the TTPS’ failure to pay on time crippled the company’s ability to pay its creditors.

Police Commissioner Gary Griffith, in a letter to the Parliament earlier this month, noted the issue and said in order for the TTPS to pay any invoices from VMCOTT, the company must provide proper documentation.

Mark said VMCOTT had asked the TTPS to pay invoices dating as far back as 2001 but had not provided any substantiating documentation.

Ramdath noted that Griffith has since appointed a committee to look into what is owed and work on clearing the debt and VMCOTT has been recovering the debt slowly but surely.

She added that the Ministry has been injecting some $10 million per year into VMCOTT to help the company meet its operating costs.

Questioned whether the company is still viable as it continues to operate at a loss, Ramdath said she believed VMCOTT can be turned around once it works on rebranding and exploring new ventures.

“We have attempted to restructure and reduce the operating costs so they can meet their statutory obligations at this time,” she added.

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