TAIPEI, Taiwan: – The Leader of the Opposition in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is questioning an EC$4m (US$1.4m) Special Warrant approved by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves to fund the government’s constitution referendum campaign.
Arnhim Eustace said that the ruling party was benefitting from the public purse and that without “appropriate arrangements” the campaign “could lead and be conducive to fraud and corruption”.
Eustace, in his capacity as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, on Monday wrote to the Director of Audit in Kingstown regarding a Special Warrant applied for by Cabinet Secretary Bernard Morgan on August 12.
According to the letter, copied to the media, Gonsalves, in his capacity as Minister of Finance, approved the application, which was made under miscellaneous Account 38299 Office of the Prime Minister for the “Vote Yes Campaign”.
Eustace said that he had information that a government minister collected EC$1m (US$370, 000) of the funds for the “Vote Yes” programme on September 28.
“I am of the view that these arrangements are unusual and highly improper particularly in relation to the details of disbursement,” Eustace wrote.
Speaking on his New Democratic Party (NDP) programme on Nice Radio on Monday, Eustace said that Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party was benefitting from taxpayers’ money.
“It should not be so. The whole process that is being undertaken right now, to my mind, it is not legal. They can talk whatever they want about government. The fact is that the Unity Labour Party is doing this exercise. That is the fact. And the Unity Labour Party is therefore benefitting from taxpayers’ money,” he said.
The “Vote Yes Campaign” is being run by the government in an attempt to get a 67 percent majority when Vincentians vote on a proposed revised constitution on November 25.
The NDP is running a “Vote No” campaign.
Eustace said in the letter that he was “alarmed” at several aspects of the Special Warrant, adding that he expected that the Director of Audit would receive quarterly reports on the expenditure incurred and a final accounting later on.
He said there were no details on how the money was to be spent and that the Public Accounts Committee needed to know under whose authority persons are allowed to disburse or deposit funds.
“We need also to be informed as to whether this $4,000,000.00 can be considered to be unforeseen expenditure and that its postponement will cause injury to the public as per the Finance and Audit Act,” the letter said.
“I am aware that the Accountant General must authorise the opening of Government Accounts and in the interest of accountability and transparency, I wish to confirm that the Accountant General is in fact a signatory to the Accounts.
“At a time of national discussion on Constitutional Reform, I regard this process of financing the effort of the ULP for a “Vote Yes” campaign using $4 million dollars of taxpayers’ money as unconstitutional,” Eustace wrote.
Eustace said on his party’s radio programme that $4m was “not a little bit of money” to be spent before the referendum on November 25, adding, “We don’t know what items it is going to be spent on.”
“I don’t like those kinds of arrangements… some detail should be shown as to what exactly the money is going to be spent for. … So that one could monitor and know whether the funds are being used for the purpose for which they have been approved.
“‘This is a very unusual programme. I don’t like it,” the former Prime Minister and Minister of Finance said.
He said that unless there are “tight financial arrangements around it, it is easy to get into fraud and corruption.”
“I am not comfortable, either as a citizen or as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, until I know exactly what it is going to be spent for,” Eustace said.
He said he was “particularly annoyed” that the application was made August 12, “at a time when very little help was given to people to get their children ready for school and the schools themselves were not ready”.
“But you can find time to do a special warrant at that time for a yes vote campaign when people can’t make ends meet out there.
“This is a very serious matter. Nobody can justify spending $4m in a two-month period without giving some reasonable budget under which we are working, as to which items should be covered by the four million. You must know what it is for,” Eustace said.