Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday says that EC$95 million in alleged government spending between 2010 and 2015 is unaccounted for.
The matter was flagged in the latest Director of Audit Report — for 2015. The reports are running some five years behind schedule.
The EC$95 million represents the difference between what the Bank of St. Vincent and the Grenadines said was drawn down under the government’s overdraft account, and the amount that the accountant general presented to the Director of Audit, Friday said.
“What this means is not the fact that there is a discrepancy but that discrepancy must be explainable. And when the accountant general can’t explain that to the satisfaction of the director of audit, then it leads to all sorts of questions,” the opposition leader told a virtual public meeting of his New Democratic Party Tuesday night.
“Were there inefficiencies? Were there losses? Or worse, was there misappropriation? These are questions that need to be answered in that document,” Friday said.
He said that so bad has been the way in which the government has managed its affairs that in the past, the director of audit has said, for example in the 2008 report, “‘because of the significance of the matters raised, I have not been able to obtain sufficient appropriate evidence to provide the basis of an audit opinion. Accordingly, I do not express an opinion on the financial statements’.”
“That’s a very serious statement to make because that is her job – it is to express an opinion and one of the reasons for that is the failure to have the overdraft account at the bank, which is NCB and what the accountant general said was the amount, reconciled.”
He said that the overdraft amount stated for 2010 on the bank’s account was EC$58 million.
“The accountant general, however, stated the amount of the overdraft as $44 million. That’s a $13 million difference,” Friday pointed out.
“So the bank is saying somebody required the spending of $58 million in overdraft but the accountant general in the report presented to the director of audit, says it is only $44 million is in the overdraft balance.”
In 2011, the bank said that $33.7 million was spent via the overdraft account, and the director of audit said it was $16.3 million.
“That is $17 million less than the bank said that somebody actually requisitioned to spend. More than half of the money in that year, the accountant general could not present to the director of audit how that money was spent, how it went,” Friday told media audiences.
In 2012, the bank said they had disbursed $41.6 million in the overdraft account and the account general said it was $31.3 million — a difference of $10 million.
In 2013, the bank said it was $51.1 million but the accountant general’s account said it was $34.2 million, for a difference of $16.9 million.
And, in 2014, it got even worse, where the bank quoted $60.5 million and the accountant general said it was $31 million.
“Couldn’t account for 28 million,” Friday said.
In 2015, the most recent year for which accounts are available, the amount was $60 million in the bank’s account and $50 million according to the accountant general.
Friday said that over the years, the opposition has lamented the “fast and loose way in which this government has managed the finances of our country, the disregard for the legal provisions that say how we are supposed to account for the finances of our country”.
He said that the NDP has repeatedly said that the government has disregarded accountability.
The primary instrument of that accountability has been the presentation of the accounts by the accountant general and their audit by the director of audit, so as to determine whether they represent the truth of government finances
“But transparency has not been a watch word of the way this government has functioned,” Friday said.
“They will say it, they will talk about it, but we have pointed out over the years the many ways in which they have used and abused the various financial instruments in this country and we are all paying the price for it. I talk about the conditions we have to endure now and the rising poverty. All of those things are connected to the way the government manages our finances.”
He said that the NDP had pointed out how special warrants were abused and the government was spending more money than Parliament had approved in the Budget.
And, for many years, contrary to law, these special warrants were not brought to Parliament for approval so that lawmakers could see why the government was spending more money than approved and whether the money was being spent as special warrants are intended: things that are urgent but unforeseeable, Friday said.
“These are things they have failed to do in the past and they only try to fix it after we had raised it in the Parliament and in the public domain to try and make them, that is the government, to be accountable to the people, to follow the financial regulations and law.”
Friday said that the reports of the director of audit are still far behind, with the most recent one being for 2015, indicating a five-year delay.
“Sometimes, we have been longer, seven years behind and when it comes out, you are dealing with things that happened six years ago, so it is very difficult to keep track of how the finances of the country have been managed and whether the watchdog agency, that is the director of audit and the audit department, approves of the way in which the government has managed the finances.
“And I can tell you, even though the reports are way behind, we still read them to see what they tell us about how the government has conducted our affairs say five, six, seven, eight years ago.”
He said that the document, while late, is important and the director of audit has raised many queries over the years.
He, however, said that the late preparation of the reports has been identified as a problem for over the years but has not been rectified although it may have serious consequences for government finances and how they are managed.
The opposition leader said he has spoken about how the government has abused the overdraft facility, exceeding what Parliament authorises and failing to clear it at the end of the year.
Further, the government has converted part of the overdraft debt into a long-term loan without the approval of Parliament.
“But also, there is the problem that that same overdraft, that account has not been reconciled between what the bank said and what the accountant general says is the amount. This is a very serious problem.”