An opposition lawmaker says that the fact that special warrants were not brought to Parliament for five years represents a “serious systemic failure” in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Last Thursday, Parliament approved EC$123 million in special warrants spending, some of which date back to 2014, during the lifetime of the previous parliament, which ended in November 2015.
“And when we look at what has taken place here, Mr. Speaker, it is a serious systemic failure of institutions, officers, processes and procedures, culminating in tonight’s embarrassment before this Honourable House,” Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock said during Thursday’s debate.
In presenting the bills for lawmakers’ approval, Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves admitted that his government had taken too long to do so.
Gonsalves had promised lawmakers that the situation would not be repeated, even as he noted that previous ministers of finance over various administrations had made similar commitments.
In his response to legislators’ contributions, however, Gonsalves cautioned against attacking the independence of certain constitutionally independent offices.
Leacock said he accepted the finance minister’s contribution, adding that this was important going forward.
The opposition lawmaker said the finance minister had accepted the point that the society has institutions.
“And in our cross talk, I also make the point of individuals, officers and processes,” Leacock said.
He pointed out that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves had noted that there is a role for the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The PAC, which, traditionally, is chaired by the leader of the opposition, has not met in the 18 years Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party has been in office.
Leacock, however, noted that when the PAC attempted to hold a meeting in 2010, the government members stonewalled the meeting, saying that the rules had not been approved by parliament.
He said that since then, the government has done nothing to have the rules approved.
But Leacock said the issue with the special warrants arose because of the realities touching two other important offices, namely the director of audit and the accountant general.
He acknowledged that there was also tardiness in the completion of the director of audit’s reports under the former New Democratic Party.
He, however, noted that the last audited accounts were for 2012.
“Why not start doing 2016, let’s say — I pull a year — or 2017 so that we are working to get as close as possible to currently and at the same time working backwards? So we are catching up but we are current?” he said.
Leacock questioned when the most recent years’ accounts will be audited at the current pace.
“Those accounts would probably not be up to date until the year 2026 or thereabouts, when they are virtually irrelevant,” he told lawmakers.
“So we have taken little or insufficient action to have current audit information before us so that this Parliament could be properly advised.”
“But therein lies the rub as well, Mr. Speaker,” he said, adding that the director of audit cannot do his or her work unless the accountant general prepares the national accounts for audit purposes.
“I impute no negative attributes to the accountant general,” he said.
Leacock, however, reiterated an observation in the 2011 director of audit’s report.
In that report, the director of audit said:
“There are no notes to the financial statements and as such the statements do not provide adequate information for the proper interpretation of the account. In addition, the narrative in the account was sometimes insufficient to determine the exact nature of the transactions.”
Leacock said that if that observation by the Director of Audit is applied in the context of the special warrants to several of the transactions before the House, “they are woefully inadequate as to what the special warrants’ purposes were for…”
He said that was the case except where the minister of finance explained that EC$300,000 could not simply be for the demolition of a house, as had been stated, but additional expenses connected to its reconstruction.
“But he can go through and carefully do that for several other transactions and one has to assume that they are deliberately vague in a number of these transactions.
“So that’s what I meant when I spoke earlier today when he said the Estimates and Budget is one of most important documents that come to the house and that it credibility has been called into question and so too, its integrity.”
Leacock also repeated what the director of audit had to say with respect to the Budget:
“The government should consider reviewing the total estimates for capital expenditure since these large shortfalls in capital revenue have implications for the credibility of the capital budget…”
“And this is long, long time ago. Long enough that we could have corrected it.”
He said the situation would repeat itself in the 2020 Budget.
He noted the minister of finance had said the Budget contains an EC$1 million surplus on the current account surplus.
Leacock, however, said that to the extent that every year there is in excess of EC$25 million in special warrants, there is no current account surplus.
He said the government balances the budget by under-spending.
“But the chicken has to come home to roost because this society needs hope, it needs jobs and opportunities for our people and they will only come when you provide real and factual information to manage the affairs of this country,” Leacock said.
Thank you Mr Leacock
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  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  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;
Where there is a statutory offence, but it would be difficult or inappropriate to use it. This might arise because of evidential difficulties in proving the statutory offence in the particular circumstances; or because the maximum sentence for the statutory offence would be entirely insufficient for the seriousness of the misconduct.
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 a breach 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?
To any rational-thinking Vincentian this is all very frightening news! It appears the government has done all in its’ power to keep the mismanaged finances of the country secret. No accountability, Wow! At least Camillo has admitted this. Something his father would never do. Leacock mentions that it is not possible to account for the nation’s recent past finances until around 2026 because the ULP government has blocked an audit for all these years. In 2026 the accounts of 2017 will be irrelevant. No one will care if it is found out that the books of 10 years ago were totally mismanaged and a complete sham!
As voters, what is wrong with us to accept this?
Kenton are you going to publish my comments?
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