Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday has called on the Director of Audit to break what he described as her silence on what he says is the government’s flouting of the nation’s accountability laws.
Friday told a press conference on Wednesday that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, as Minister of Finance, has failed to present to parliament annual audited statements of several state-owned companies, as the law commands.
He further noted that when the opposition asked in parliament a couple of years ago about audited financial statements for the International Airport Development Company (IADC), Gonsalves asked if he should show a man his title deed.
Friday said Gonsalves’ response was “nothing but a dictatorial and disgraceful expression of contempt for the law, contempt for good governance in this country and contempt for Vincentians.
“This contemptuous, unlawful behaviour cannot — and must not — continue. The Prime Minister and his cohorts have already shown their absolute contempt for the whole business of transparency and accountability, so we in the New Democratic Party now call on the Director of Audit, who is a constitutionally independent authority and a servant of the public interest, to break the silence on this matter of vital and fundamental national importance,” Friday said.
He said his New Democratic Party await her urgent response, but in the meantime, shall be taking the necessary actions to see that this “atrocity does not continue.
“Despite all the overheated rhetoric we hear from Dr Gonsalves about ‘good governance’ and ‘serious business’, he is in breach of the law. Under successive ULP administrations led by Dr Gonsalves, governance in SVG has actually fallen by the wayside — and has been replaced by smokescreens, a hug-up, and a set of daily ‘ole talk’ on radio programmes,” Friday said.
He said that the NDP has raised before, in Parliament, the issue of lack of accountability by the government.
“What we are doing today, is we are taking the matter up with the public. We have a public duty to educate people about what is required and where it is not being met,” Friday said.
He also said that the New Democratic Party is calling on the Director of Audit to ensure that the accountability standard set out in the law are met and that they are treated the way they are supposed to be, adding that this is very serious public business.
“The Minister of Finance, who is also the Prime Minister, has, systematically and consistently, either neglected, ignored, or broken the laws of this country. Under this ULP administration, this country has witnessed a steady and systematic erosion of the principles and practices of good governance. The norms, the rules and regulations — the actual laws — relating to accountability and transparency have been flouted, ignored and broken.
“In a modern democratic society, public funds cannot be spent in the dark. The law does not allow it – and we, hand in hand with the Vincentian people — will not allow the government to break the law with impunity. In fact, such behaviour smacks of the offence of misbehaviour in Public office,” Friday said.
He said accountability is not about going on the radio every day.
“Accountability is what the Finance Administration Act 2004 says and what the Audit Act 2005 says. And that is the standard that we, in the New Democratic Party, will hold ourselves to. We will demonstrate what proper governance is. In fact, you can consider this the first lesson in how governance is supposed to work!
And take our word for it: we will make governance work, we will make the airport work, we will make the country work,” said Friday, who became Leader of the Opposition last November.
Friday said that the nation has heard comments about the functions of the Public Accounts Committee and that the opposition had been complaining about public accountability but the Public Accounts Committee had not been meeting.
He, however, said that first, the Director of Audit has to prepare the audited statements, present them to the Minister of Finance so that they are laid in Parliament, then after that is done, the Public Accounts Committee can do its work.
“If this isn’t done, then the public accounts committee has nothing to do… And what we have had over many years is that the Public Accounts Committee has basically not been able to do its job because a lot of the audited statements are way behind. I think the last ones that were issued were for 2010, 2011. We are now in 2017,” Friday said.