KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – There is no legal basis for government legislators to table in Parliament the audited accounts of Solidarity Inc., the entity that runs the state-owned car park in Kingstown.
Solidarity Inc., comprised of the National Workers Congress and the Windward Islands Farmers Association, has leased the car park – often referred to as a “cash cow” – from the government for ten years at EC$50,000 per year.
The lease began in 2010, ten years after the Chamber of Industry and Commerce developed and leased the facility under similar arrangements.
Opposition Legislator Daniel Cummings on Monday asked Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves to tell Parliament “the exact terms and conditions under which the car park … was granted to a private business entity to manage”.
He also wanted Gonsalves to say if there was “a requirement to submit audited financial statements and if so where were those audited financial statements submitted” and whether the statements would be made public and/or tabled in Parliament
Gonsalves, in his response, noted that the Chamber was also a private entity.
“The business people had it for ten years. What is the problem with the workers and farmers having it for ten years? I don’t see a problem with it at all,” Gonsalves said.
He noted that while the Chamber had developed the infrastructure at the car park, Solidarity Inc. was not paying “pepper corn rent”.
He further suggested that the Chamber has destroyed some of the infrastructure at the car park when their lease came to an end.
“The place was – let me not go into that what they had to do,” Gonsalves said, later adding, “I know the workers who are there are much better paid than before and I know that the office was trashed upon the demitting of the previous lessees when these new lessees took over.”
Gonsalves, who also has ministerial responsibility for legal affairs and tax, said that since Solidarity Inc. is a private entity, he doesn’t have to see their balance sheets.
“There is nothing in the agreement [saying] I had to see their audited statements and I have never heard of audited statement of a private entity to be laid in the House,” he said, adding that all company information are available to the public via the company registry.
“Why is it that we must look into the business of Solidarity Inc. to have it laid in the House? Are we going to change the laws, the company laws? If I want to see it, I would go up there and I would pay … [to see it],” he said in reference to the company registry.
Gonsalves, however, said that he was told that the accounts from Solidarity Inc.’s first year of managing the car park were being audited and the company has “on the cards distribution of dividends”.
“I am not on Mars. I know some of the politics that is behind an apparently innocuous question and that is why I put the context to this in every material particular,” Gonsalves said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar, in response to a separate question from Cummings, detailed the ways in which farmers and other farmers groups have benefited since Solidarity Inc. began managing the car park.