KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Several government departments, and institutions, including clinics, police stations, and schools that had their telephones disconnected this week because of non-payment of bills have been reconnected.

The affected fix-lined connections were unable to place or receive calls until the situation was resolved Wednesday evening.

“There had been some disconnections of central government enterprises — some of them,” Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said on radio Thursday.

He said that accounting officers in the various government departments have not paid sufficient attention to the timely payment of the government’s telephone bills.

Follow our FeedFollow on FacebookFollow on TwitterGonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, did not meet with Leslie Jack, manager of telecommunications provider LIME, when Jack requested a meeting on Friday. The disconnections, which intensified on Tuesday, are said to have begun with police stations on the weekend.

They resulted from “three sets of problems, all connected to management of the issue,” Gonsalves said. He said that when schools get their telephone bills, they don’t take them in to the Ministry of Education or if they are taken to the Ministry, the person responsible does not deal with them expeditiously.

“So arrears build up,” he said, noting that the government pays about EC$300,000 for telecommunications services every month.

He said that in one department, the person responsible told the head of the department that they didn’t get the bill. “Of course, the bill had come. But the management of the issue was problematic and the person at the top didn’t keep – in fact, that person at the top apologised to me for not keeping the tabs on the issue in her department.”

Gonsalves further said that the permanent secretary of a Ministry that is “a significant culprit” emailed him outlining a number of problems and pointed out that there are “some challenges in reconciling what LIME says … is outstanding”.

The telephones were reconnected Wednesday afternoon after a meeting between LIME and the Director General of Finance and Planning, who has been asked “to take hold of this matter”.

Gonsalves spoke of the LIME manager’s request to meet with him on Friday.

“… I inquired about what. Because if it is a policy issue, you can come and see me; but when I heard it’s an issue of reconciling accounts or something like that, that’s not a matter for the Prime Minister, that’s a matter for the Director General of [Finance and Planning] to handle … through the various persons,” Gonsalves said.

He further said that LIME informed him that the telephones were not disconnected because of Jack’s failure to secure a meeting with him.

Abuse

Gonsalves said that government telephones were being abused.

“There is a lot of abuse in the public service. Lots of abuse and at various institutions throughout the country. Tremendous abuse. The bill for telecommunication services for the government every month is in the region of EC$300,000.”

He said people abuse the telephones even when they require codes to make calls and the cost of fixed-to-mobile calls contribute to the situation.”

“And people would call for social purposes; not really for government work,” he said.

“It is fundamentally a management problem. So I am hoping that this is a wake up call,” he said, adding that previously, when there were disconnections, it only affected outgoing calls.

“I was not displeased that [the telephones were disconnected] for a 24-hour period … except for places like police station, where, it would have effected, I think, over the weekend,” Gonsalves said.

“So it concentrates the minds of those who are suppose to manage this problem properly. I provide overall leadership but the prime minister of this country can’t deal with the paying of a telephone bill. You know that’s a matter for the management in the public service…. And many of them who had their telephones cut off, certainly, if they have any shame, will feel that they have egg all over their face yesterday,” Gonsalves said.

At least two radio personalities on Tuesday dialled live on air the numbers of police stations, clinics, and other departments, all of which were answered by an operator saying that call to the numbers were temporarily restricted. In one instance, the radio personality’s call to “911”, the emergency number, went unanswered after ringing for almost a minute.