TAIPEI, Taiwan: – The Leader of the Opposition in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is raising questions about US$1m (EC$2.7m) in cash that the state bank reportedly refused to accept from a depositor.
Arnhim Eustace told reporters on Wednesday that he had been informed that the money was brought into the country and an attempt was made to deposit it at the National Commercial Bank (NCB).
The leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) said that he had been told that the bank refused to accept the money and requested that the person attempting to make the deposit return and collect the cash.
He said that he needed “early confirmation” from Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.
Eustace is asking Gonsalves to state the veracity of the information. If the information is correct, the former prime minister wants to know from whom the money was received and for what purpose.
He wants Gonsalves to say who attempted to deposit the money at the NCB and why the bank rejected the deposit.
Eustace also wants to know where the money is located and who transported it to any other location.
He is also trying to find out if the Financial Intelligence Unit has investigated the alleged incident.
‘irregular and financially imprudent acts’
Eustace’s announcement came even as he said he was bombarded over the past few weeks with what he described as “a series of irregular and financially imprudent acts” by the Unity Labour Party government.
“Some of these activities are conducive to fraud and represent nothing short of financial impropriety,” he said.
He said that he had already called to citizens’ attention the circumstances surrounding “the now infamous” EC$4m (US$1.5m) Special Warrant used to fund the “Vote Yes” campaign for next Wednesday’s constitution referendum.
“… [T]he government has proceeded to utilize taxpayer’s money in a most unsavoury manner,” the former minister of finance in an NDP administration said.
Eustace mentioned a letter he had sent to Director of Audit Leon Snagg saying that the special warrant provided so little information “that it would therefore be difficult to audit”.
“The Director of Audit, in his reply, confirmed that view and indicated that because of the said lack of information, he could not answer any of my questions,” Eustace said.
He circulated to the media a “self explanatory” memorandum from the Accountant General Ingrid Fitzpatrick to then Cabinet Secretary Bernard Morgan, dated October 5th, 2009.
In the memorandum, Fitzpatrick registered with Morgan her “dissatisfaction with the operation” of the account for the “Yes Campaign for SVG Constitution 2009”.
She said that request for payments were submitted with only a certified listing by the Director of Operations, Sen. Julian Francis.
“In fact, I am quite uneasy with some of the payments and I am very concerned with whether or not these are proper charges to the consolidated fund,” she said, adding that invoices were submitted after she refused to sign the cheques.
The Accountant General said that the Cabinet Secretary seemed to have relinquished his responsibility as the accounting officer.
“[H]owever I must remind you that the funds allocated to the account is under your charge and I am concerned that the expenditure to date were certified by the Director of Operations instead of you or your designate,” she wrote.
“This memo confirms my concerns that our financial rules were under threat from possible fraud,” Eustace said at the press conference.
“From this you will see that my initial concerns are being borne out,” Eustace added, saying that the following questions arise:
“Why should the Director of Operations of the Vote Yes campaign, who is a government minister, be certifying expenditures under the YES VOTE Programme without the appropriate documentation, namely Invoices?
“Why didn’t the Cabinet Secretary, who is in fact the authorized accounting officer sign and provide the invoices as is required by law? and why were no invoices attached?”
Eustace further said that the Accountant General had acted in accordance with the law and should be congratulated.
“These recent events have shown that my misgivings at the outset when the [EC$4m] special warrant was approved were justified,” he added.