The questions raised by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves on Tuesday about an employee of the Mustique Company may have raised in the minds of citizens questions about his government’s supervision of the company, on whose board it has a director.
The queries were triggered by suggestive questions that the Prime Minister asked about the company’s financial controller, Stephen Joachim.
Gonsalves was responding on Boom FM to comments that Joachim, who is also a social commentator, made on the radio station as he joined in calls for the government to account for monies spent to build the Argyle International Airport.
“… we need to account for the taxpayers’ money. This airport has effectively almost bankrupted this country as far as we are aware,” Joachim said of the airport, which opened on Feb. 14, six years behind schedule and at almost twice the initial estimated cost.
Friday said that the government has not, in almost a decade, laid any accounts of the state-owned International Airport Development Company (IADC) before Parliament.
Speaking on radio on Tuesday, Joachim said: “The Prime Minister says it (the airport) costs 700 million and 400 million [in debt]. You are hearing all these crazy numbers and it makes no sense to me.”
Joachim said it is “funny” how the “red people” — a reference to Unity Labour Party supporters — seem to have forgotten what has happened in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Speaking about the Ottley Hall Marina which was built under the New Democratic Party administration, Joachim said that the ULP was demanding accountability from then prime minister, Sir James.
The NDP administration, under Sir James, built the marina with little parliamentary supervision, and the ULP administration later found that it was worth significantly less than the government said was spent.
The ULP held an inquiry into the project, but those proceedings ground to a halt without any clear answers about what happened.
Speaking about the ULP reaction to the marina project while in opposition, Joachim said:
“… I happen to think they were right in those days.
“Stalky was right to demand accountability,” he said, referring to then ULP leader, Stanley “Stalky” John.
“It’s taxpayers’ money, although, of course, you could argue the difference was it was all ultimately guaranteed by the government of Italy. So what happened doesn’t matter,” Joachim said in reference to the Ottley Hall Marina.
Of the Argyle International Airport, Joachim said:
“The reality is that we have been told that we’ve spent a humungous amount of money on building an airport and nobody has been held accountable.”
Joachim said he doesn’t think even Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, knows how much was spent on the airport.
“Nobody is held accountable when we waste money endlessly… I don’t know if anybody knows how much was spent, because where are the audited financials? Never mind the audited, where are the financial statements for this massive project we have done.”
Joachim suggested that the response of the nation to the questions of accountability surrounding the airport should be the same as the reaction to the marina.
“If Stalky and Labour were right when they were cussing about the lack of accountability on Ottley Hall, what do they have to say now on Argyle International Airport, because you can’t have it both ways. Let’s be fair here,” Joachim said in his call to the station on which he makes a regular commentary.
‘residual antipathy’ to AIA?
In a separate call to station on Monday, Gonsalves said that he has answered, in Parliament, questions about the financing of the airport and the submissions are made to the requisite authority under the Companies Act
“I don’t know if Stephen has any residual antipathy to the international airport,” Gonsalves said.
He said that statutory bodies are required by law to present their accounts to Parliament and they do so on an on-going basis.
He said IADC — whose website said it was incorporated on Nov. 24, 2004 under the Companies Act of 1994 — has audited financial statements up to 2013.
The audited statements for 2014 and 2015 are in draft and he is “very hopeful” that 2014 and 2015 will be “finished and available in June-July … and shortly thereafter, 2016,” Gonsalves said.
“I don’t understand this attack,” said Gonsalves, who told listeners that while on the call, head of the IADC, Rudy Matthias, had confirmed that the company had filed with CIPO all its audited accounts up to 2013.
Regarding Joachim’s comments about the airport almost bankrupting the country, Gonsalves said:
“If you build an airport, which, by all estimates, is worth in excess of a billion dollars but 700 [million dollars] was spent on it and what you have owing is about 400 million EC, I would have thought that Stephen would say, ‘That’s a damn good deal.’”
He added: “What I want Stephen to do is to make sure, as financial controller of the Mustique Company, that he makes sure that whatever is due to us always comes to us. I am not talking about direct monies from the Mustique Company you know…”
The prime minister asked if Joachim, as financial controller of the Mustique Company, ensures that the government receives all taxes from the sale of homes in Mustique, including withholding taxes from commissions.
“As a patriot working in the Mustique Company, he (Joachim) makes sure all those things are in order? You see, when you come to talk about money and the fiscal situation of the government, you have to bear in mind that other people will talk about other things and raise other questions. You can’t get a free pass you know, once you enter the dialogue with me.”
Gonsalves said he is not saying that the Mustique Company is involved in anything, but noted that Joachim is the financial controller.
“I am just asking if he so interested, as a patriot, in the welfare of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the financial situation, does he ensure that all those things in order?”
Asked if all those things are in order, “Gonsalves said, “Listen to me, this is a morning for questions. Didn’t you say that Stephen raised a question?”
Gonsalves said Joachim has answers to his questions about whether these things are in order.
“He has answers for those. He would probably answer me and say, ‘Yes, they are in order.’ Well, if he answers that, fair enough. All I want to show, there are always questions and I am glad that questions are being asked, so that all of us would ask questions.”
Questions trigger questions
But Gonsalves’ questions may have resulted in questions about the operations of the Mustique Company and whether there are untoward goings-on there.
Further, his comments raise questions about what his government has done to ensure that all taxes due to itfrom the Mustique Company are received and why — if that is not the case — it is only now being hinted at, seemingly as an attack on Joachim.
The prime minister’s comments further raise questions about the role of the government’s representative on the board of directors of the Mustique Company, which, in early 2014, paid the government EC$4 million in taxes in advance to help it respond to the Christmas storm of December 2013.
When contacted Monday evening, Joachim told iWitness News that he has no comments to make about Gonsalves’ question.
He, however, stood by his statements about the IADC.
“As a citizen, a social commentator and a taxpayer, I feel that I did nothing wrong in asking how the money was spent,” Joachim told iWitness News.