Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, on Friday, retreated behind the law when asked about presenting to Parliament the accounts for the International Airport Development Company (IADC).
The IADC, a state-owned company, was responsible for the construction of the Argyle International Airport, which opened on Feb. 14 after six years’ delay and at almost twice the initial projected cost.
The government has said that the airport was built at a cost of EC$700 million, but its value is more than EC$1.3 billion.
The project has left the nation with a further EC$400 million in debt.
The main opposition New Democratic Party last week raised the question of accountability within Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party and used the IADC as an example.
Opposition Leader Godwin Friday noted that the IADC has never presented its accounts to Parliament and accused Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, of failing in his legal obligations.
He said that the constitution demands that the accounts of all state-owned companies be laid in Parliament.
“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, who, like Gonsalves, is a lawyer, told an NDP press conference.
But speaking on Boom FM on Friday, Gonsalves noted that IADC is a company and not statutory corporation.
He said that as such, IADC does not have to present its financials to Parliament but must lodge them with the Commercial and Intellectual Property Office (CIPO).
The prime minister said he has asked chief executive officer of the IADC, Rudy Matthias and its financial controller to keep the company going for a few months to make sure that the auditors can ask them questions in relation to the documents presented for the auditing.
He said the IADC would then present him with what he calls a completion report.
“Tie up this thing with a nice bow and send me a completion report,” the prime minister said.
Asked if he would then lay the report and audited statements in Parliament, Gonsalves said: “I don’t have to lay the audited statements. It is not necessary under the law.”
He said that persons could go by CIPO and access the information, adding that he said that VINLEC has been a state company since 1973 but has never presented any accounts to Parliament, although its accounts are audited.
Asked if there is anything wrong with bringing IADC them to Parliament, the prime minister said:
“Why must I bring it when it is not legally required to be brought? You can call for anything. There are legal processes and there are legal processes…. There is a distinction in law in how you make accountability in respect of companies and how you make it in respect of statutory bodies.”
Gonsalves cited the nation’s rank — 38 out of 176 countries — on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2016.
“And I tell you, the difference between us and those which are above us is very minimal in terms of the point scoring.”
On that ranking, SVG is tied with Cape Verde and St. Lucia on with a score of 60 and preceded by Taiwan, Slovenia, Qatar and Barbados, who are tied for 61.
It was noted to Gonsalves that the questions of accountability relate to the largest capital project in the history of SVG.
The prime minister was again asked if he thought that the IADC’s accounts should be brought to Parliament.
“I have spoken about the IADC and in relation to its accounts, monies spent. I do it all the time and there is nothing at all to hide.”
He disagreed with a suggestion that he has a moral responsibility to bring the accounts to Parliament.
“What I do, is that the information I will present it to Parliament. But there is no moral — what is the moral question?” Gonsalves said.