The same man, Kenneth “Spanish” Rodriguez, who was referred to as a “known gang leader” in the Interim Report from the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on National Security is still receiving lucrative Government contracts from the current administration.
Rodriguez recently challenged the term “gangster” being associated with his name and the chairman of the East Port-of-Spain Development Company has also said that Rodriguez was never charged with gang-related offences.
In the JSC report, Minister of National Security Stuart Young criticised former Housing Development Corporation (HDC) managing director, now deputy political leader of the United National Congress (UNC) Jearlean John for allegedly awarding a State contract to Rodriguez for work on the Duncan Street police post.
John has since denied that claim, saying that the contract was never awarded to Rodriguez but was awarded to a construction company located in Chaguanas.
Chairman of the East Port-of-Spain Development Company, Newman George in an interview on Wednesday, confirmed that Rodriguez received at least two contracts through that State company.
“His company, RICO Development Company Ltd is currently completing a project in John Trace and has been retained for the latrine eradication programme,” George said.
The Latrine Eradication Programme seeks to construct toilet facilities in private homes in East Port-of-Spain and therefore remove the need for outhouses. George said that there are currently 39 contractors on that programme and some contractors get one or two toilets to construct while others may get as many as four contracts. Each contract is approximately $50,000.
“You have to understand that these areas are fairly difficult to work in unless you are from the area,” he said.
He said to ensure that gangsters and known criminals do not benefit from these State contracts, the East PoS Development Company does a stringent company search where any person convicted of a criminal offence is not employed.
He said that even though Rodriguez was arrested, he was never charged with any gang-related activities.
“His charges were small drug offences, there is no reason to omit him from the process,” George said.
“Under the procurement legislation, a drug offence is not sufficient to eliminate a contractor,” George said.
In the JSC report, Young said that the TTPS provided information to the Minister by way of a report that the John had been linked to “particular individuals, associated with a criminal faction in Trinidad and Tobago.”
According to the report, John was observed in attendance with “a person of interest dressed in a yellow t-shirt at political meetings, organised by the party”.
Young said that “the individual,” referring to Rodriguez, “is a person of interest to the police due to his affiliations and his alleged involvement in criminal activities.”
“It has also been reported to the Minister and depicted in photographic evidence that the DPL2 (Deputy Political leader 2), in the lead up to the local government elections engaged in walkabouts in the Maloney area accompanied by a person of interest to the police in particular for gang activities and as a gang leader, out of Beetham Gardens. He is described as a known gang leader in his community and certain allegations were made by the Police with respect to the relationship between himself and the DPL2,” Young said before the JSC.
“While the DPL2 was the managing director at the HDC, this person was awarded the contract to construct the Duncan Street police post.
Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith said if successive Governments really wanted to ensure criminal elements did not have access to State funds, they could pass the companies names and directors to the TTPS for “vetting” before awarding contracts.
“Any Government that really and truly does not want gangs to profit from State contracts should just ask us, we have the data,” he said.
He said right now, the “enemy is better funded than the State.”
At the JSC, Griffith said that the profit acquired from the State in these contracts, whether LifeSport, CEPEP, HDC, Colour Me Orange have been used to purchase more firearms, hiring more gang members and putting hits on other gang members to get their state contracts.
“This has gone on for the last 12 years and it is still ongoing. It is present in the regional corporations and in spite of the change in administrations, the pattern continues. The result is that the Police Service is demoralised because the Government, the Opposition, the State and politicians, want the police to reduce crime but criminals are given more funding than the TTPS to purchase more sophisticated weapons, hire more persons, get more profit, pay more persons in the community to tip them off so that if a raid is done, nothing is achieved. These individuals are even protected by the State,” he said.
Griffith likened the situation to a football game in which one side had more equipment, better training paid for the by financiers, yet the under-funded team was expected to perform better.
In a text response, Griffith slammed Communication Minister Donna Cox for questioning why the police were not doing more to win the fight against crime.
“The State is funding gangs but the Communication Minister sees me being on the wrong track. I have provided the only avenue to prevent gangs from getting tens of millions in Government contracts but the Communication Minister sees this as being on the wrong track. If finding the solution to cut the funding of gangs which would reduce crime is wrong in the eyes of the Communication Minister, who is the communication representative of the Government, then I don’t want to be right,” he said.
Guardian Media also reached out to Rodriguez on Tuesday and he promised to meet and discuss his new contracts. However, he did not respond to subsequent calls.
Rodriguez did call into a morning show on 104.7 earlier in the week and laid out his complaints against the being labelled a gangster for work under the UNC, while still getting contracts under the PNM.
“I built four toilets for this Government for $200,000. I do a roadway and box drain for a million something,” he said on the radio station.
“Right now I doing a retaining wall for a million something,” he said.
“Who is a gangster? Where your information for gangster business, you Mr Stuart Young, you political baby,” Rodriguez said.
Guardian Media messaged and called Young between Wednesday and Friday and even though he saw the Whatsapp messages, he did not respond.