Director of Audit Dahalia Sealey has acknowledged that as the Argyle International Airport (AIA) project and the state-owned International Airport Development Company (IADC) received funds appropriated by Parliament and disbursed, she has a responsibility to audit the project to determine how the money was spent.
She, however, said that her office would have to hire technical experts from fields other than accounting and auditing to do a proper audit of the project and that her office lacked the resources to do so.
“Consequently, no audit of the project has been done by her office since the project started,” Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday told a press conference in Kingstown on Wednesday.
Friday was reporting on a June 23 meeting that he and Member of Parliament for East Kingstown, Arnhim Eustace — a former chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) — had with Sealey and her deputy, Joan Browne, at the Audit Office.
The meeting took place as Friday and his New Democratic Party has called on the Director of Audit to verify that the monies voted by Parliament for the construction of the EC$700 million AIA was used as lawmakers intended.
The opposition leader said that during the meeting, he also drew to Sealey’s attention “my dissatisfaction over the way the funds of the PetroCaribe loan programme have been handled by the government over the years in that no legal authority for the operation of a PetroCaribe fund existed until one was established by Parliament in 2016.
“She acknowledged that the Director of Audit is, under the act establishing the fund, directly responsible for auditing the fund but because of insufficient resources she was unable to say when an audit of the PetroCaribe Development Fund would be done,” Friday said.
Responding to questions from the media, Friday said that Sealey indicated that in order to audit AIA, her office would have to hire additional experts, including quantity surveyors and financial auditors, but said her office does not have the resources to do so.
“So, there didn’t seem to be any indication that there was anything… that even though there was a desire and there was a recognition of the mandate to do so, because the funds were voted by parliament and disbursed that there was no indication that this was anything which would be done soon,” the opposition leader said.
“And more than that, she said even if we were to initiate something, it would take quite some time to get it done, given the massive nature of the exercise,” Friday said, noting that such an audit would be starting after the project is “virtually completed”.
The opposition leader said that the Organisation of American States, in a statement 2014, spoke of the failure to audit the AIA project and a similar response was given by the Director of Audit.
“It is a very big project, it is a constitutional duty that she had, that she acknowledged, the office acknowledged, but the resources are not there and she said that very clearly,” he said.
AIA opened on Feb. 14, nine years after construction began and opened six years behind schedule.
The government has said that it spent EC$700 million — almost twice the initial estimate — to build the project.
The project has left taxpayers with EC$400 million in loans to be repaid.