Tuesday, 27 June 2017 10:10:27 (AST)
 

National·News

Opposition wants gov’t to account for millions spent on new airport

The opposition has raised questions about accountability in the ULP administration, but have focused on Argyle International Airport and PetroCaribe. (iWN file photo)

The main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) is calling on the Ralph Gonsalves Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration to account for the more than EC$700 million it said it spent to build Argyle International Airport (AIA).

NDP President and Leader of the Opposition, Godwin Friday, made the call at a press conference in Kingstown on Wednesday in which he accused the government of breaking the nation’s accountability laws.

Friday, who, like Gonsalves is a lawyer, noted that in Section 70 of the Constitution and in the Finance Administration Act, 2004 say that the Minister of Finance is responsible for “Ensuring that a full account of the finances of the Government is laid before the House of Assembly in the Public Accounts”.

He, further pointed out that the Finance Administration Act says that the Accountant General shall within four months after the end of every financial year prepare, certify and submit to the Director of Audit, the Public Accounts of SVG for that financial year accounting for all public money and showing fully the financial position of St Vincent and the Grenadines at the end of the financial year.

Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Godwin Friday. (iWN file photo)

The law also demands that the Director of Audit must audit the accounts prepared by the Accountant General.

“Accountability is not optional. As specified in the subsection of the law quoted above: the work of accountability is legally and constitutionally required; it must be performed annually, and it is the responsibility of the Minister of Finance to ensure that it is performed annually,” Friday told the press conference.

He said that notwithstanding the nation’s laws, Gonsalves, as Minister of Finance, has failed to lay before Parliament annual reports on the financial performance of a number of state-owned companies, including the International Airport Development Company (AIDC), which was responsible for building AIA.

The airport opened on Feb. 14, 2017, six years behind schedule and at a cost almost twice what the government initially said would have been needed to build it.

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Friday noted that in reference to the airport, Gonsalves has said it is the responsibility of all citizens to get together and “make it work”.

The opposition leader said that he, too, maintains that given the large scale of the project and the implications for the country, “we must do what we can to make it work”.

Friday, however, asked about Gonsalves’ responsibility as Minister of Finance, adding, “What about the responsibility of the Director of Audit? What about the responsibility of the Accountant General?” he said, noting that these officials have legally specified responsibilities relating to accountability that cannot be shoved aside for any reason.

“But the Minister of Finance, who the law says has the final responsibility of ‘ensuring that a full account of the finances of the Government is laid before the House of Assembly in the Public’ has not done his job; he has not done what the law requires him to do. But he now wants to hand it over to us now and say, ‘Here, all yo’ mek it wuk’,” Friday told reporters.

“He is telling us that “we” must make it work. But what is the ‘it’ exactly? What actually was the cost to build Argyle?”

Friday asked if the cost of the airport was EC$700 million, as has been reported recently in some news media.

He noted that a few weeks ago, Minister of Works, Sen. Julian Francis said on a radio programme that the airport cost EC$$1.3 billion, but that Vincentians only paid EC$$800 million, because EC$500 million was “in kind” contributions.

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves. (iWN file photo)

“And then we were told by Dr. Gonsalves during this year’s budget debate that the country owes $400 million that was borrowed specifically to build the airport. But he brought no audited financial statements from the Director of Audit to support anything that he said.

“So, we are supposed to take his word for it! What is the true cost? All sorts of numbers are being bandied about. Every time you turn around, you hear a different figure. Are we supposed to just believe the PM because he said so in the House?

“Well, that’s not how it works. We cannot simply take HIS word for it. In fact, the law says we must not take his word for it!” Friday said.

“And, the more important question is this: How do we know that all of the hundreds of millions of dollars actually went to the airport? How do we know that some of these monies did not go through the airport and end up somewhere else? The fact is we cannot know, because there have been no audited financial statements. You see why the law of the country says there must be full and annual audited accounts?”

Friday asked reporters and media audiences to recall that the International Monetary Fund revealed last year the ULP government had left EC$112 million dollars of debt to PetroCaribe off of the books.

“Was that a matter of incompetence on the part of the Minister of Finance? Or is it incompetence by design?

“If the Prime Minister had done his job and ensured that the laws were being followed, all of this would have been presented, audited and reported, so there would be no doubt about any of it. But now we are left to ask, is he even capable of doing the job of Minister of Finance? Or is he incapable?” Friday said.

“Why is the minister not doing his job? Why is it that this government is breaking the law? Why is there no accountability for the hundreds of millions of dollars that they have spent on Argyle and on all sorts of other things that we don’t know about?”

Friday asked listeners to consider what they would do if they had one million dollars.

“It’s a huge sum of money! And what we have here is a situation where this government headed by Ralph Gonsalves is handling hundreds of millions of our dollars, and we can’t get a straight answer from them about where the monies went! This state of affairs is simply unacceptable and inexcusable,” Friday said.

The opposition leader noted that a couple of years ago, when opposition lawmakers were asking in Parliament for the government to provide the Vincentian people with audited financial statements for the IADC, Gonsalves asked f he should show a man his title deed.

“Imagine that! His title deed! That response from Dr. Gonsalves was nothing but a dictatorial and disgraceful expression of contempt for the law, contempt for good governance in this country and contempt for Vincentians,” Friday said.

Opposition accuses gov’t of breaking nation’s accountability laws

IWN Conversations

9 thoughts on “Opposition wants gov’t to account for millions spent on new airport

  1. Vinci says:

    Well finally someone is asking the question. I wait with bated breath for the answer.
    Some words come to mind – squandermania, co-mingling,misuse, thievery, and the phrase “personal gain from the public coffers”
    Again I will continue to wait for the answers. Not holding my breath though!

    • C. ben-David says:

      Vinci Vin Samuel, you are part of the problem because of your wholehearted support for this useless airport project. Shame on you for now asking for accountability!

      • Vinci says:

        Don’t know where you ever got the idea that I wholeheartedly supported the airport. Or that I even supported it at all. As a matter of fact, I still think of it as Gonsalves’ Folly, and a waste of the country’s funds that could have done a lot of good to the citizens of SVG. I have commented about accountability a long time ago. So please get your facts straight before you try to make others look bad. You really are not succeeding.

  2. C. ben-David says:

    Good questions that will fall mainly on deaf ears because: (1) the government would not release these figures and can’t be compelled to do so because of an absence of appropriate legislation and community outrage, (2) our semi-literate masses wouldn’t be able to understand the figures if they were released, and (3) the opposition doesn’t have the smarts to turn this into a major scandal that ordinary people could understand.

    I say this because there is also the issue of tens of millions of missing government funds long identified by the Director of Public Audit that can’t be accounted for that has never received more than a yawn.

    In SVG, anything goes, no-one of high status is ever held accountable for their misdeeds, and the government does as it likes without any adverse consequences.

    This is why we are a Third World country and why our best and brightest have always fled for other countries.

  3. Lostpet says:

    We are living in the days of government unaccountability. Look at Trump and the fake Assad Gassed his own people, (without providing any evidence!). Look at all the Obama lies. The government will never account for the airport spending because so many would be outraged to see where the money went. Many governments play “fast and loose” with the people’s money. One problem is that in SVG approximately half the people don’t care, as long as they get reduced-price Christmas Barrels and lumber and Cement at election time.

    We know that Friday is doing a great job of keeping his eye on the terrible financial management of the government because the PM is using every opportunity to ridicule him. That lets you know our PM is frightened the people will really find out how terrible he is in Finance and Economics. As so many have said Gonsalves is incompetent in Finance and Economics. Even many in the ULP have hinted at this.
    Is there anything that can save this country from poor and unaccountable leadership?

    • Lostpet says:

      One thing we know for certain: The airport cost more than 700 Million, that was the amount already spent over two years before the runway was paved or anything was completed in the Terminal building. Francis’ Freudian slip tells us the amount is around 1.4 Billion….The amount Ivan O’Neal calculates.

  4. Vinci says:

    Those who celebrate have a right to do so, those who oppose have a right to oppose. One can support something and then change one’s mind if new information warrants that change. I have never supported the airport, and no new information has come to light that warrants me changing my mind about it.

  5. Vinci says:

    Those in favour have a right to be in favour, those who oppose have a right to oppose. Positions can change and evolve as new information comes to light that warrants a change from original position. However, my position has never changed. I still oppose as no new information has come to light that has convinced me to move from my original position.

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