A prominent lawyer says that Prime Minster, Ralph Gonsalves, is wrong when he says he has no legal obligation to lay before Parliament, the accounts of the state-owned International Airport Development Company (IADC).
Further, the lawyer, Kay Bacchus-Baptiste says that comments that Gonsalves made in Parliament in 2002 contradict his current position.
IADC was responsible for the construction of the Argyle International Airport, which the government has said was built at a cost of EC$700 million — EC$400 million of which are loans that are yet to be repaid.
The opposition has called on the government to account for the money by laying the accounts of the IADC before Parliament.
Gonsalves, however, said he has no legal obligation to do so, adding that the law says that those accounts should be lodged with the Commercial and International Property Office.
Bacchus-Baptiste, speaking on NICE Radio on Tuesday, noted that Section 75 of the Constitution says, “The Director of Audit shall … satisfy himself that all monies that have been appropriated by Parliament and disbursed have been applied to the purposes to which they were so appropriated and that the expenditure conforms to the authority that governs it…”
She said that all monies appropriated must include AIA because Vincentians know that millions have been appropriated towards AIA.
“So there is no way Dr. Gonsalves can convince any right-thinking person, anybody who is not biased and not myopic in their vision that the Director of Audit does not have oversight over those monies which went to the AIA.”
She noted that the Constitution further says that at least once every year, the Director of Audit shall audit and report on the public accounts of St. Vincent, the accounts of all officers and authorities of the Government, the accounts of all courts of law in St. Vincent (including any accounts of the Supreme Court maintained in Saint Vincent), the accounts of every Commission established by this Constitution and the accounts of the Clerk of the House.”
Bacchus said: “Whether it be AIA, BRAGSA or PetroCaribe, they must fall under public accounts of St. Vincent and the Grenadines…
“So, for Gonsalves to say that because you file statements under the Companies Act you don’t have to lay them in Parliament is incorrect, absolutely, according to the Constitution.”
Bacchus-Baptiste said that persons who need more convincing can read Gonsalves’ own words on the matter, as expressed in the April 17, 2017 meeting of Parliament while he debated the National Lotteries Authority Bill 2002
In that meeting of Parliament — which took place one year after Gonsalves Unity Labour Party government came to office — he noted the provisions of the Constitution.
The prime minister, who is also Minster of Finance, said a lot of laws have been passed in this country on statutory corporations where the Director of Audit has been taken off completely, where the Board can simply appoint the auditors. Well we have examined this matter very carefully and Section 75 of the constitution.”
He noted the provisions of that section of the nation’s highest law, noting that the Director of Audit shall at least once in every year audit and report on the public accounts of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“The accounts of all offices and authorities of the Government, notice that the accounts of all offices and authorities of the Government, statutory authority and authorities in our view.” Gonsalves said.
He said this means that the Director of Audit should be the one overseeing the selection of auditors.
“… and that is what we have introduced in the National Lotteries Act, because you can get some auditors who may not be appointed by a Board and you have a lot of ‘friend- friend’ business going on. It’s part of our transparency, but in the hands of the Director of Audit and let he or she appoint the auditors. So it says here he shall audit the accounts of the authority in each financial year by the Director of Audit, or by an auditor duly,” Gonsalves said, according to the Hansard.
“Now, when you say this in 2002 and then you incorporate, wilfully, the AIA, knowingly, the biggest project in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and you hide it under the Companies Act, Vincentians, you need to sit up and ask yourself why… This is not by chance.”
Bacchus-Baptiste asked why did Gonsalves do the same thing with PetroCaribe, BRAGSA and most of all, AIA.