KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves on Monday defended Tourism Authority CEO Glen Beache against opposition calls for his resignation and further said that Tourism Minister Saboto Caesar is “boss” of that ministry.
Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace in July called for Beache to resign. Eustace said there was a conflict of interest in Beache’s company sharing directors with a Trinidad firm that markets St. Vincent and the Grenadines .
Beache, a former tourism minister, announced at a press conference that he subsequently closed the company and. He also responded to Eustace’s questions about EC$75,000 the Tourism Authority paid to a video production firm in Barbados, saying that the money was for a Skinny Fabulous music video.
Vincentians only learnt that $40,000 and not $75,000 was paid for the video after the company said it was only paid $40,000.
Tourism Minister Saboto Caesar told Parliament last week that Beache never said EC$75,000 was paid for the video. However, one day later, a local newspaper published a story in which Beache said he had made a mistake in saying that $75,000 was paid for the video.
“…This has nothing to do with any 35 [thousand dollars],” Gonsalves told reporters on Monday. “… This has to do with the fact that Arnhim Eustace want to impugn the integrity of Glen Beache that somehow there is some missing money when in fact there is none,” the Finance Minister added.
“Resign for what? Because he mistakenly said, according to you, in repeating Eustace, that it is 75 [thousand dollars] and it turn out to be 40[thousand dollars]? What he must resign over?” Gonsalves said in response to questions from journalist William “Kojah” Anthony.
Gonsalves said there was no corruption involved and the most one can say is that the situation raises “the presumption of a conflict of interest but when you get to know the facts, the presumption is rebutted.”
“I am trying to find what this call [is] about,” Gonsalves further said, adding that members of opposition New Democratic Party continue to enjoy lands that were bought for EC$1 per square foot.
“The declaration that you are clean doesn’t mean that you have come to the table of equity with clean hands. And really, we have to be careful that every young professional that comes along on the flimsiest of allegation we try to destroy them,” Gonsalves added as he cited Catholic teachings.
Gonsalves described as “a separate question” concerns that the situation with Beache could affect Tourism Minister Caesar.
“Saboto is the boss because he is the minister. And under the [Tourism Authority] Act, there are certain powers, which are given to Saboto – to the Minister. And over the minister, there is somebody else, who has prime in front of it — in front of minister, which means he is the first minister, who is over Saboto,” Gonsalves further said.
Gonsalves further noted that Caesar told Parliament that he has documents to prove that EC$40,000 was paid for the video. The Prime Minister questioned whether Eustace had any evidence that the sum was in fact EC$75,000.
“You can’t say it on the basis of sophistry or some airy-fairy allegation because it is people’s reputation you are dealing with. Every time a young person is coming to be appointed, to exist, you have Mr. Eustace trying to pull them down …” Gonsalves said.
He further noted that although Eustace receives state funds to pay a research officer, he has not hired one to replace Patel Matthews who was elected to Parliament last December.
“… I expect that he will spend the money for the purpose for which parliament intends it. And, of course, if he doesn’t do it, the Director of Audit can be asked to audit the account because it’s the government money,” Gonsalves said.
He, however, noted that Eustace should repay the monies to the Consolidated Fund if they are not used as stipulated.
Gonsalves further noted that in 2001, Eustace, then prime minister, was prepared to reimburse former ambassador Kinsley Layne $100,000 without the proper documentation.