Opposition Leader Godwin Friday. (iWN file photo)

Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday says that the government spent EC$123 million of the nation’s money “in the dark”, when it failed to abide by the constitutional provision to bring special warrants to Parliament as the law mandates.

“The process engaged in here by this government over the past five years is one where you have expenditures that are basically done in the dark in that the light of Parliament is not shone on it for five years. Why so long?” Friday said.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told lawmakers that under the law passed by his government, the special warrants should have been brought to parliament within a year.

And Friday told Parliament it was not in the contemplation of the constitution or the legislation that it would take years for the special warrant to be brought for lawmakers’ approval.

“…It’s almost embarrassing to think that we are dealing here in this Honourable House today with special warrants that were spent not by this Parliament, not under this Parliament, but in 2014 under a previous Parliament. Legally, a previous government — and we are now dealing with them here in this Parliament. I don’t even know how to consider the legality of that process.

“It appears to me that the kind of laissez-faire attitude that his government had adopted in respect of these matters it’s not a case of being late, it is a case of being negligent or not seeming to care whatsoever that these matters are brought to the Parliament,” Friday said.

 “And there is no excuse, simply no excuse or no way in which you could sugar-coat this. This is not a case of being late, this is just a case of not finding [that it is] imperative to comply with the law,” Friday told Parliament.

“There is no other way and I will say, at the outset, there is no way that this can be justified or that the members on this side of the house can condone it by supporting what is brought here today for approval,” he said.

On Thursday, Parliament approved some EC$123 million in special warrants spent since 2014.

A special warrant is used to fund expenditure outside of what parliament approved in the Budget.

The Finance Administration Act says a special warrant can be used “when it appears to the minister that an expenditure of a service not foreseen and not provided for or not sufficiently provided for is required for the public good, and the circumstances are such that the expenditure cannot, in the opinion of the minister, be postponed without injury to the public good…”

During Thursday’s debate, opposition lawmakers raised questions about whether some of the spending met those criteria.

Friday said:

“By telling me that these funds, we can look at them, they are properly expended because we had to do it for litigation, there is some of it you had to do to bring stuff to account, there was some disaster somewhere and you had to deal with it, those are things that are contemplated in the law. That is why you have that flexibility. It doesn’t excuse the conduct here.” 

He said that a look through the list raises the question of whether special warrants have become convenient.

The relevant law further says that the total of special warrants issued in any one year must not exceed the amount fixed by resolution by Parliament, which is EC$25 million.

“When you look at the list of items here, you ask yourself what is the unforeseen nature or the urgent matter that required it to be done by special warrant that would do injury to the public good,” Friday told lawmakers.

He said, for example, in 2014, the government used a special warrant of EC$2.3 million for additional funds to facilitate the payment of refund duty to Eastern Caribbean Group of Companies for rice exported during the period 2009 to 2013.

“So, in fact, the liability had occurred even before 2014. Why couldn’t this be dealt with in the normal course of the presentation of a Budget as a debt in the Estimates or to bring a supplementary estimate in the House, debate it so we can know exactly what the monies are going for and you can have a more fulsome debate of it and you vote on it? Why use a special warrant in this circumstance?”

Another example was EC$30,000 for providing additional funds to settle arrears to VINLEC for the years 2009 on behalf of the Family Court.

“Where is the urgency?  Where is the unforeseen nature of this? That is abusing the special warrant requirement of the legislation. And it is because there was never the intention of bringing it properly to account that it seems to me that this practice has been going on over and over again.”

In 2015, special warrants were additional funds for electricity bills and telephone services.

“Why haven’t we been paying LIME and VINLEC? … Are these all exigent circumstances that will do harm to the public good?” Friday said.

Special warrants were also issued for contributions and regional organisations

“We don’t know what we owe regional and international organisations at the end of the year to properly budget for it? These charges don’t just jump willy-nilly

“The point I am making is that as we have criticised, quite properly, this administration, it has played fast and loose with the financial laws and procedures of this country.”

The opposition leader said that in 2014 and 2017, the government exceeded the EC$25 million in spending via special warrants that the law allows.

Friday said that the government attempted to hide the 2014 amount by splitting it into two supplementary estimates: one for EC$19.06 million and the other for EC$7.099 million.

In 2017, it was even worse, at EC$28.5 million he said, adding that again, two estimates were presented.

“In two cases here, you have a clear violation of the law that was passed by this honourable house… How can we say that this government is behaving in a lawful manner when it deals with the people’s money?” Friday said.

The government noted in the debate that one of the special warrants was for the fast ferry company. 

Friday’s constituents own the company, but he said the principles should apply regardless of the reason for the warrant or the beneficiary. 

 “I expect you to have the same standard irrespective of whether it affects my constituents or a constituent in the north of the country or in the Southern Grenadines or anywhere else because it is not a matter of convenience or expediency.

“It is not something we can do if we choose to or not. It is a legal requirement. It’s a must and we see it quite clearly in the way in which the government has behaved in these matters,” Friday told lawmakers.

“What we have before this honourable house is really a disgraceful practice of financial management of the business of this country. There is no way to sugar-coat it and the ministers of finance present and past are directly culpable and the senior officers in the Ministry of Finance who are responsible for making sure that these things are done ought to insist, as well, that they are done and maybe we should have a whistle-blower law in St. Vincent and the Grenadines too,” the opposition leader said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story quoted as EC$115 million the total value of the special warrants issued between 2014 and 2018. The correct figure is $123,053,677.

According to the summary that Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves presented to lawmakers, in 2014, the amount was EC$19,061,041; in 2015, it was EC$16,827,908, in 2016, the amount was EC$22,703,177, in 2017, the total was EC$24,994,071; and in 2018, it was EC$23,954,094, for a total of EC$115,954,572.

However, Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday told iWitness News that part of the supplementary estimates package excluded $7,099,105, which was the amount of the second supplementary estimates for 2014.  

The opposition leader noted that this takes the total to EC$123,053,677.

“Because the maximum was $25 million to be spent by special warrants in a year, when the government exceeded the limit, it divided the total amount and present two supplementary estimates with each being under the $25m limit!  Attempt to confuse others and conceal the breach!?” Friday said. 

9 replies on “Gov’t spent $123m ‘in the dark’ — Friday”

  1. Urlan Alexander says:

    The defenders and detractors will spin this until it seems legal for the government to break the law. This has been a ballpark of this administration;/no respect for the law.

  2. This mean more taxes on the poor and hard working citizens of st Vincent and the grenadine. Your burdens just got heavier people .

  3. Now that, (and very many times), the Opposition has exposed wrong-doing by the government, what happens next?
    NOTHING!
    This government is accountable to no one. they do as they please, leagel or illegal. The Opposition can complain all they want. 90% of the people do not understand the laws that restrain the government and will not protest. The police belong to the government as well as the courts. If all the wrong-doing and disrespect for the law (and the people) were to be punished, there would be so many trials that a separate court would need to be established. This would create a demand for even higher taxes.
    Much of the problem is obvious:
    The Gonsalves Family does not know how to manage money. Thier priorities as to where the revenue should go are all wrong (look at our roads and main hospital!!!) and we see money usually only goes to things that benefit the family regime.

  4. Louis D. Brandeis was an American lawyer and associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States of America from 1916 to 1939 to quote him “Our government… teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy”.

    In SVG’s regime’s case, the Law givers have become the Law breakers! For “Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told lawmakers that under the law passed by his government, the special warrants should have been brought to parliament within a year”. BUT he and his regime had;

    Scandalously “failed to abide by the constitutional provision” and “spent EC$115.9 million of the nation’s money “in the dark”. To quote Friday! What does that tell us about the man Ralph Gonsalves who is an established Lawyer and who encourages us all to abide by the Law of the land? But does he and his family regime abide by it one thus ask?

    If this behaviour of theirs is not utter contempt for the St Vincent Parliament and thus us the Vincentian people, what is? Negligent is not a word, for such a course of scandalous action but rather profound contemp. These lawyers knew full well what they fully intended by their disclosed actions and the exact consequential effect on both the nation’s Law and its finances.

    The question for us Vincentians is, had the Law in question made a provision for a sanction in the event of the breach, be it negligent or contemptuous? And although this arrogant Prime Minister’s retort to these events was that the breach is not a hanging offence, perhaps it ought to be an imprisoning one! Even more so, since the LAW GIVER avowedly openly declared, that he indeed truly had BECOME THE delinquent LAW BREAKER!

    Gifted speaker and Author Drexel Deal in his book; (The Fight of Life is Wrapped up in my Father) writes, quote; “One who has a deaden conscience can never live within the confinements of the law.” As all dictators are apt to be, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZmduW_Ye_8 as was Papa Doc, Chavez, Castro of late and equally Maduro too. Lawless and a Law onto themselves.

  5. It would be good to see a schedule of these payments and what they used for. Ordinary citizens are held to account when they break the law, why is it that politicians are not held in the same standard

    That’s why we need an Integrity Commissioner. The Prime Minister and hi Ministers knows why they don’t want an Integrity Commissioner. Corruption is a big issue among Regional Governments that’s why they may not want it.

    I would like to see the day when our Democracy would allow ordinary citizens the power to introduce one piece of legislation in parliament Annually. Citizens should be allowed to do this when Government falls out of line.

  6. So are you now going to seize the bull by the proverbial horn and bring in that “Whistle-blower Law” were you to win Office at the next schedule election Dr Friday? And are you going to give us that long awaited “FREEDON OF INFORMATION BILL” likewise?

    These issues are fundamental to our democracy now and strike at the heart of our inherited and now seemingly failing democratic system. Who will champion the people rights to know what is being done in their name? Who will give us back our democracy, before we sadly slide into total anarchy, causing the majority of Vincentians to rise up in utter disgust, at our political system?

    Will the NDP now give us that guarantee of future action, a declaration of assurance, a solid promise to bring this seemingly recklessly delinquent renegade family to books before SVG becomes another Cuba or Venezuela?

  7. This should be treated as a police offence there may well be an element of conspiracy to defraud involved.

  8. It was a matter that has taken in the dark because the ULP turned the light out at the end of the tunnel a long time ago. We all know that democracy dies in darkness, and this matter is living proof that democracy is dead in SVG.

    There has got be something highly illegal about these payments otherwise they would have been declared a long time ago. Is this some of the continuation work of Maurice Bishop? Was this an attempt to not keep two sets of books but to keep one set and simply discard the rest.

    The NDP should demand an enquiry, after all this was an extremely serious breach of the constitution. Its like robbing a bank and admitting doing it four years later, expecting no consequence for committing the original crime.

    Misconduct in public office is an offence at common law triable only on indictment. It carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. It is an offence confined to those who are public office holders and is committed when the office holder acts (or fails to act) in a way that constitutes a breach of the duties of that office, most often under purposeful breach of the constitution.

    The offence should be strictly confined. It can raise complex and sometimes sensitive issues. The Director of Public Prosecutions [DPP] should be asked to resolve any uncertainty as to whether it would be appropriate to bring a prosecution for such an offence. In the failing by the DPP, there are other regional and international bodies that can be sort for advice on appropriate action and how to go about such an action.

    Where there is clear evidence of one or more statutory offences, they should usually form the basis of the case, with the ‘public office’ element being put forward as an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.
    The decision of the Court of Appeal in Attorney General’s Reference No 3 of 2003 [2004] EWCA Crim 868 does not go so far as to prohibit the use of misconduct in public office where there is a statutory offence available. There is, however, earlier authority for preferring the use of statutory offences over common law ones. In R v Hall (1891) 1 QB 747 the court held that where a statute creates (or recreates) a duty and prescribes a particular penalty for a wilful neglect of that duty ‘the remedy by indictment is excluded’.
    In R v Rimmington, R v Goldstein [2005] UKHL63 at paragraph 30 the House of Lords confirmed this approach, saying:

    “…good practice and respect for the primacy of statute…require that conduct falling within the terms of a specific statutory provision should be prosecuted under that provision unless there is good reason for doing otherwise.”

    The use of the common law offence should therefore be limited to the following situations:
    Where there is no relevant statutory offence, but the behaviour or the circumstances are such that they should nevertheless be treated as criminal;

    There is absolute oodles of case law and procedures in and throughout the Commonwealth. Perhaps even advice from the Commonwealth legal department should be initially requested.

    Going into parliament and trying to make good an ancient breach of the constitution retrospectively is simply not good enough because the breach in this case was long out of date for rectification.

    It, was not until the NDP complained, that any action was taken in trying to rectify this matter. But what would have happened if the NDP had not brought it to the attention of Parliament? Would it all have been lost in time? Or continued to be hidden from view?

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