Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves (File photo).

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The disconnection of government telephone by telecommunications provider LIME for 24 hours last week because of non-payment had nothing to do with the government’s ability to pay its bills, according to Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.

“I want to say emphatically this is not about a shortage or absence of resources to pay any telephone bills. I want to put that on the marker,” Gonsalves, who is also the Finance Minister, said at a press briefing on Monday.

“I know when I say that they say Ralph is only saying so to save face. I am telling you, as the Minister of Finance, that that is not so. But I am not allowing the Ministry of Finance to authorise the payment of bills, which are inflated, which are wrong,” he said, adding that the government owed LIME less than EC$1.1 million and not the EC$2.6 million the company claims.

Gonsalves further said that he “silently rejoiced” when the telephones were disconnected.

“I want to say to you with all honestly that I was not displeased. In fact, when I heard about it, I silently rejoiced because, for years, since before I came to office, there is this problem of the misuse and abuse of government telephones,” said Gonsalves, whose Unity Labour Party administration came to office in March 2001.

“The misuse and abuse have intensified since you can call from a fixed-line to a mobile, which is more expensive,” he said.

He said permanent secretaries and heads of department have not managed this problem.

“I have spoken to them repeatedly over the years. They will exercise some control for now and then they will go back to the old ways. And I am so happy that LIME did something, which they don’t usually do. They cut off the phones not only where you can make calls but also where you can receive. Because many of them felt no sense of shame when they couldn’t make but the problem is when they receive,” Gonsalves said.

He further said he was happy when radio personalities telephoned, live on air, police stations only to hear that the lines had been disconnected.

“Because why should a police station owe 20-something thousand dollars in telephone? Why should one owe $16,000? So I am hoping that out of all of this will come new and better systems and those with shame in their face will finally say they can’t abuse and misuse the government telephone and the permanent secretaries and the heads of department would ensure that systems are in place to prevent the misuse and abuse and to ensure that the bills are paid,” Gonsalves said.

He said three issues were connected to the disconnection of the telephones: the abuse of telephones by public servants, the issue of reconciling the accounts, and management by the heads of department and permanent secretaries.

He said the public service have relegated the payment of telephone bills to “somebody lower down the totem poll” and do not pay enough attention to it.

“… when the people by LIME call them, there are some ministries, some permanent secretaries, who believe they could talk to LIME like how they want and pay no attention to them. … And some people feel that Cable and Wireless will never cut,” Gonsalves said.

Read also: Gov’t cannot afford to pay bills – Eustace

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