KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – An opposition Member of Parliament has said that the Unity Labour Party (ULP) government owed telecommunications service provider LIME EC$2,668,638.57 as of Feb. 24.
South Leeward representative Nigel Stephenson said on radio on Friday that the entire nation “ought to take disciplinary action against the Prime Minister for his incompetence”.
LIME last weekend began cutting telephone service to police stations and had moved to clinics and schools by the time the situation was resolved Wednesday afternoon after a meeting between government officials and the company.
Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said on Thursday that accounting officers in the various government departments have not paid sufficient attention to the timely payment of the government’s telephone bills, which amounts to some EC$300,000 each month.
But Stephenson said that the situation resulted from the poor financial health of the country and described Gonsalves as “absolutely incompetent when it comes to running the affairs of St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
“I have always made the point, if you have a business and you put Mr. X to run your business and for four years you have been making a loss, and there are other business operating in the same environment, selling the same goods and services that you are offering and those businesses are making a profit, would you continue to get Mr. X as your manager?” Stephenson said.
“Look around Latin America and the Caribbean. For all the territories in this region, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is the only country that is returning negative growth for a fourth year,” he further stated.
He said that information reaching the opposition New Democratic Party indicates that 99 per cent of all government departments had their telephone service disconnected.
While Gonsalves said there had been “some disconnections of central government enterprises”, he did not say how many were affected.
“But what is the extent of this cutting? Because I have heard the Prime Minister on radio blaming public servants and saying they are not doing their jobs and it is a misuse of resources and so on and so on. I would have thought, having listened to him, that it is one or two departments. But we have been given a list and I want the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to listen very carefully,” Stephenson said.
He said that as of Feb. 24, the following government departments owed LIME the following sums for telephone services:
- Airport: EC$3,638
- Customs and Excise: EC$40,240.61
- Disaster Preparedness Office: EC$7,323.97
- Inland revenue department: EC$96,276.12
- Ministry of Agriculture: EC$105,701.37
- Ministry of Transport: EC$8,271.97
- Ministry of Education: EC$849,898.58
- Ministry of Finance: EC$34,291.23
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs: EC$62,789.47
- Ministry of Health: EC$243,703.33
- Ministry of Housing: EC$43,604.93
- Ministry of Legal Affairs: EC$119,772.76
- Ministry of National Security: EC$577,415.74
- Ministry of Planning: EC$56,407.51
- Ministry of Rural Transformation: EC$22,236.27
- Ministry of Social development: EC$43,047.98
- Ministry of Telecommunications: EC$240,353.44
- Ministry of Tourism: EC$6,808.37
- Ministry of Trade: EC$38,774,93
- Prime Minister’s Office: EC$64,575.21
- Service Commissions Department: EC$2,373,39
Stephenson said that he agreed with Gonsalves, “to some extent, that public servants are not doing their jobs” in paying he bills on time.
“But you can only pay the bills if money is available to pay the bills. … But I want to ask the question: who or which ministry is responsible for releasing money to pay these bills? The Ministry of Finance.”
Stephenson noted that if the Ministry of Finance does not release the money then the bills couldn’t be paid. “Interestingly, the Minister of Finance is the Prime Minister, who has to give the okay for the money to be released and therefore, if any blame should be laid, [it should be laid] squarely at the feet of the Prime Minister.”
He said that Gonsalves could take action against the respective accounting officers, since he is their ultimate supervisor.
“But I want the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to know that you are the supervisor of the Prime Minister. You ought to be supervising his action because any embarrassment that is brought to the government because of the action of the Prime Minister is actually filtered over to you,” Stephenson further stated.