Financial statements for two state-owned companies involved in the PetroCaribe initiative were only lodged after the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), in April, renewed calls for the government to account for monies disbursed to state-owned companies.
Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday asked if there is “a widening scandal” and whether the Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration was hiding something.
He said the opposition is now calling for an audit — supervised by the Director of Audit — into the operation of the PetroCaribe programme.
“We also continue to call for an audit of the IADC accounts supervised by the Director of Audit. We will continue to call on the Director of Audit to follow up on these matters in the context of her duties under the law,” Friday said.
Wednesday’s press conference follows on one from April 19 in which Friday called on the Ralph Gonsalves administration to table in Parliament the financial statements for the International Airport Development Company (IADC) and other state-owned businesses, including PetroCaribe.
In response, Gonsalves said that the law requires only that his government lodge the statements at the Commercial and International Property Office (CIPO).
On Wednesday, Friday called on the prime minister, and Minister of Information, Camillo Gonsalves to explain to the nation how is it that before the NDP raised the issue of accountability on April 19, 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,” Friday said.
“And, at exactly the same time, the price of the ‘Labour Gas’ supplied through PetroCaribe, was put up, by over nine dollars in some areas, and by $28 for the big bottle in the Grenadines,” Friday told a press conference in Kingstown.
“So that is more money out of your pocket going into the PetroCaribe scheme, with no accountability,” Friday said.
He said there are two PetroCaribe companies in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, transacting with “hundreds of millions of dollars of our money — that you paid on your light bills every month, money that people are paying for ‘Labour gas’; money that is a public debt to Venezuela that Vincentians have to repay with interest to Venezuela — and yet, you know nothing about these companies and what they are doing with our money”.
‘What is the ULP hiding?’
The opposition leader said these companies are operating with public funds.
He said that according to the Constitution and the law, the Director of Audit must have oversight of these companies, so that she can have their financials audited, and she can then report on those audits to the Minister of Finance, who is then required, by law, to lay the reports in Parliament.
Friday cited the situation of the PetroCaribe entities in Jamaica in support of his position.
“Because if that is not done, we don’t know if the government is spending our money properly, or if they are bad-spending it.
“Despite the constant old talk from Dr. Gonsalves about good governance, Vincentians have the opposite. We have no idea what this ULP administration is doing with our money. Hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by this government, with no accountability! Being spent in the dark! With no light on it from the Director of Audit.”
Friday said that at the same time, the economy is in shambles, violent crime is out of control, there are not even basic supplies in our hospitals, and schools all over the country are falling apart and swimming in sewage.
“The list goes on and on. This country is in the worst shape it has ever been in and Vincentians know it! We see it, we feel it, we live it every day!
“Where exactly have all the hundreds of millions of dollars gone? Is public money being wasted, badly spent, lost, or stolen? Any Vincentian now has to ask this question, because it is a question that is now staring us in the face,” Friday said.
He said the real problem is “the responses from Dr. Gonsalves and his camp have done nothing to calm our fears.
“In fact, the opposite is true. The contradictory stories, the untruths, the excuses, the evasions, the beating-around-the bush, the hurried filing of ten-year old accounts for PetroCaribe companies at CIPO: all of these things, taken together, convey a sense of the abnormal — and a sense of scandal. These things, taken together, raise the question of whether there is a cover up in progress.”
“Is someone covering up the truth? Is there a widening scandal here? What is the ULP hiding?” Friday said.