Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves has denied that special warrants were used to pay for work done for the ruling Unity Labour Party.
Under the Finance Administration Act, special warrants are to be used to finance expenditures that are unforeseen, foreseen and not provided for or not sufficiently provided for and required for the public good in circumstances such that the expenditure cannot, in the opinion of the minister, be postponed without injury to the public good.
However, Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock, and opposition lawmaker, said that some of the EC$123 million in the spending done via special warrants between 2014 and 2018 was for work done on behalf of the ULP.
Last Thursday, Gonsalves, in wrapping up the debate ahead of Parliament’s approval of the spending, applauded Leacock for raising the issue of special warrants not having been approved since 2014.
He said that in raising the issue, the opposition lawmaker had put it back on the front burner, his advocacy having lit the fire.
“I accept that. But, he made some comments there as he got heated about us using special warrants to fund ULP activities or non-state expenditure for ULP purposes. That was beyond the pale,” Gonsalves told Parliament.
“And he said he would reveal it but decided against it. In other words, it is a bald and baseless and unfounded allegation. And it is unfortunate that somebody who had raised and issue and had championed it, and, of course, everybody has to play their politics, would descend to those depths in the concluding moments of his presentation,” Gonsalves said.
In his contribution to the debate, Leacock said:
“There is expenditure in these special warrants paid to individuals that have nothing to do with the public service, for not providing any public good, or any public service but solely for providing opportunities for the government regime and they should have paid for it.
“But because of the state of the individuals, I choose tonight not to embarrass them or their families on the basis of my personal good relationship by calling names. But don’t push me. Don’t push me. Don’t push the envelope.”
Responding to cross talk, Leacock doubled down, saying: There are individuals here receiving payments and the service for which they provided is not for the state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It’s for the Unity Labour Party. I say that”
Someone across the aisle told Leacock he did not know what he was saying.
Leacock retorted: “I ain’t know what I saying? Yo’ want me go to the account number? But I have respect for the family and I feel their pain and suffering.”
The opposition lawmaker noted in his presentation that in 2007, two years after the ULP administration amended the Finance Administration Act, the director of audit spoke about the ease with which the government was spending money without the approval of Parliament, as prescribed by the Constitution.
“The Director of Audit was mad, hopping mad, displeased with the way government is doing its business, sufficient to put it on record the ease with which we get money, we’re finding ourselves too easy to spend money,” he said.
He told lawmakers it was not the first, second, or third time that the director of audit was raising such an issue.
He further said that Opposition Leader Godwin Friday was corrected when he noted that lawmakers were being asked to approve spending down under a previous Parliament.
“… the Parliament of 2010, 2015, when not only special warrants were not issued to account to the Parliament of that time, but we had the circumstances of which funds from the PetroCaribe fund did not go into the Consolidated Fund under the same Finance Act provision, never been audited by the Director of Audit, and millions of dollars spent without the authority of this parliament,” Leacock said.
He accused the government of attempting to pit sanitation workers against the opposition New Democratic Party, by highlighting that special warrants were also issued to ensure that sanitation workers were paid.
“They are all wising up now,” Leacock said of the sanitation workers.
“As a matter of fact, in many respects, the behaviour of this Honourable House is no different to the poor struggling people of Redemption Sharpes, Largo Height, Green Hill in Central Kingstown who can’t pay their light bill,” he said of villages in his constituency.
“The only difference is that VINLEC don’t cut them off summarily and name and shame them,” he added, referring to disconnection from the electricity grid due to payment default that causes social embarrassment to householders within their communities.
But Gonsalves said he believes that reasonable people will realise that a number of things are true, including that the government should not be bringing four years’ worth of special warrants to Parliament at once.
“But those same reasonable people would realise that when you have natural disasters, when you have health care crises, when you have unpaid bills that have to be paid, when you have accounting journalising to correct, sometimes, special warrants are necessary, “ he said,
Gonsalves said that is why special warrants are contemplated in the constitution, and the Finance Administration Act, and this is the case in countries around the world.
“And that our use of the special warrant has been within the four walls of the law, has represented the expenditures contemplated by the law and have prevented, in the opinion of this finance minister, injuries to the public good, as prescribed by the law that we have in my hand,” the finance minister told Parliament.