Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Godwin Friday. (iWN file photo)

Financial statements lodged at the Commercial and Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) are “irrelevant” to efforts to hold the government accountable, Leader of the Opposition, Godwin Friday said on Wednesday.

He made the point at a press conference in which the New Democratic Party intensified its call for proper accounting of how public funds are spent, focusing this time on PetroCaribe, Venezuela’s oil initiative with several countries.

Friday is also calling on the government to account for how it used the EC$700 million that it said was spent building the Argyle International Airport.

The opposition leader had, in an April 19 press conference, called on the government to lay in Parliament, the financial statements of the International Airport Development Company (IADC).

“But when we raised the matter of accountability, we get all sorts of irrelevant responses and we get the minister of finance blatantly ignoring his duty under the constitution, and ignoring the job that he is responsible for, and telling us that we must go to CIPO and search for financial statements.”

Friday said that anyone who has looked into this matter will know by now that having financial statements filed at CIPO “is completely immaterial to the matter of accountability of public funds”.

He said the key point is that the Constitution requires parliamentary accountability.

“The Companies Act, which covers CIPO, is ordinary legislation and, therefore, subject to the Constitution. Companies must report to CIPO under the Companies Act, but that cannot reduce, replace or modify what is required under the Constitution. The Registrar at CIPO has no role in accountability. The Constitution clearly defines where the responsibility for accountability lies – and it is not housed at CIPO.

CIPO is irrelevant to this matter of accountability. Plain and simple.”

Friday said that despite this, the nation has heard “all sorts of contradictory stories from two separate ministers, about one minister sending an ordinary person to search at CIPO, or calling CIPO to get records sent down to him, or something”.

He was referring to Minister of Information, Camillo Gonsalves, who, in trying to illustrate that any ordinary citizen can get the IADC’s records at CIPO, had told a press conference that he had sent someone there to get copies, not wanting to use his ministerial influence.

“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 ask for the audited financial statements of the IADC,” Minister Gonsalves told the press conference, where he held up what he said were copies of all the IADC accounts lodged at CIPO.

But when iWitness News visited CIPO about two hours after Minister Gonsalves’ April 28 press conference, we were told that we could not get some of the financial statements because they were not registered.

At a press conference on May 9, Prime Minister Gonsalves gave this explanation:

“The answer was very simple. There was nothing sinister and I had said it… Camillo had — he told me that he called the Registrar of Companies and said, ‘Look, I am sending somebody. I would like to have the accounts of the IADC, which have been filed.’ So, she does that.”

Friday told his press conference on Wednesday:

“Well, I hope now that Prime Minister Gonsalves and his son Camillo Gonsalves have had some time to sort out their stories and get it straight between them, that they will also tell us now how is it that, before we raised this matter on April 19th, the entries at CIPO for the companies PetroCaribe No. 126 of 2005 and PDV St Vincent and the Grenadines No 136 of 2006, showed ‘NO FINANCIALS ON RECORD’.

“But now, all of a sudden, on Tuesday, 9th May – last week Tuesday – financial statements were lodged at CIPO for one of those companies for the years 2007 and 2008, and for the other one for the years 2009 and 2010.”