The financial statements for the state-owned International Airport Development Company (IADC) for the years 2005 to 2013 are lodged at the Commercial and Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), where the government says they should be.
However, contrary to what Minister of Information Camillo Gonsalves told a press conference in Kingstown on Friday, not all of them are available to be copied by the public, as he claimed.
Gonsalves had displayed at the press conference what he said were copies of the IADC financials that he said someone had gotten for him at CIPO.
“I had somebody go to CIPO — not me — because I didn’t want anybody to say, well yes, Camillo Gonsalves, could get it, because he is a minister. So I had a non-minister go to CIPO and asked for the audited financial statements of the IADC,” he told the press conference.
When iWitness News visited CIPO about two hours later on Friday, we were told that the accounts for 2011, 2012, and 2012 — which CIPO received on Dec. 8, 2015, were “unregistered” and, therefore, cannot be copied.
A worker at CIPO told iWitness News that a document might be unregistered if it does not comply with records that CIPO had before or if the document has missing information.
“It could be any little stuff that they don’t comply with pertaining to the document,” the worker told iWitness News, adding that such a document should not be copied by a member of the public.
“They are not supposed to get a copy of that unregistered document,” he said, adding that such a request would have to be approved by the Registrar of Companies.
The registrar, Lakeisha Caesar-Toney, told iWitness News separately on Friday that unregistered documents are not available for copy.
“We don’t give copies of unregistered documents,” she said and explained that an unregistered document “may have a discrepancy”.
She said these discrepancies can include a name not being printed below a signature, but said she could not say what the discrepancies with the IADC files are since she had not looked at them in a while.
The accounts of the IADC, which was charged with building the Argyle International Airport (AIA), has become an issue of public focus after Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday said two weeks ago that they should be laid in Parliament.
The government has said this is not the case as the IADC is a company, rather than a statutory corporation.
At Friday’s press conference, Gonsalves displayed what he said were copies of the IADC accounts for each of the years between 2005 and 2013 that he said one of his agents had gotten from CIPO.
He told the media:
“It is more open, it is more transparent, it is more publicly available to place these documents at CIPO where anybody, any lawyers, any accountant, any citizen can go and pick them up and read them than in handing a personal copy to Nature and Patel for their review and dissemination, and Dr. Friday and everybody else.”
He was referring to Members of Parliament for North and South Leeward, Nigel “Nature” Stephenson and Roland “Patel” Matthews, and Opposition Leader, Godwin Friday.
“There is no magic in laying a document before the house. And this view that they must sit in splendour in Parliament and have everything brought to them, otherwise it is not real, it’s a fallacy. The documents are under the Companies Act because it is a company.”
Gonsalves said that any document can be laid before Parliament but added that there are civil and criminal penalties under the Companies Act for misstating information in financial statements.
“Do you know that the High Court, under the Companies Act can investigate companies in a way that they couldn’t be if they were laid before Parliament?”
The government has said that the airport was built at a cost of EC$700 million, EC$400 million of which are loans that are yet to be repaid.
Gonsalves described the opposition’s argument as a false one, saying that with the airport being the most important infrastructural project in the history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, they should have gotten around to asking about the money before now.
“They should have known that documents were filed as far back as 2007. The prime minister has stated when audited financial statements were filed. They knew or should have known where to get them. Dr. Friday is a lawyer. He has many other lawyers in his party. Don’t pretend that these documents were being hidden.”
Gonsalves said it is not to suggest that matters of a particular size must be placed in Parliament.
“The law is clear on what should be in Parliament and what should not be,” he said, adding that the Prime Minister has answered every question asked of him in Parliament about the airport.
Gonsalves further said that Friday, former leader of the Opposition, Arnhim Eustace, and MP for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock, have asked, in Parliament, questions about the airport, and Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has made parliamentary statements about the airport and the Budget Debate has included data on this.
“And to say you should have brought them to this room or that room… that is a disingenuous comment because it says to me, if it is here it is important, but if it is there, it is not important?
“It is still the largest infrastructural project in this country, it has received all the scrutiny that they claim to have given it. They should have taken a look at the numbers. And this argument about accountability is a false one, on those grounds.”
Gonsalves told the press conference that he did not know how much it cost to get copies of the AIDC’s financial statements at CIPO.
“I asked somebody to go and a lady went and collected them on my behalf and when I said ‘What do I owe you? She said comrade don’t worry about that; small thing.”
If a person does not know the company number of the IADC – 112 of 2004 – they have to pay EC$5 to inspect the index of companies.
The cost of inspecting a file at CIPO is EC$5 and the agency charges EC$1 to copy a page of a document.