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Defence Counsel Jomo Thomas in a Dec. 21, 2023.
Defence Counsel Jomo Thomas in a Dec. 21, 2023.
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Social commentator and former Speaker of the House of Assembly Jomo Thomas says he believes that people would go to jail if some government programmes are audited.

“You see in the same way in which the government … audited Cable Wireless twice, got millions of dollars from them, you saw recently where they found that Courts … owed millions of dollars to the government, it’s the same way that if we do an audit of the Argyle International Airport and the $900 million, they said was spent, people are going to go to jail,” Thomas said. 

Thomas, a lawyer, was a candidate for Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party (ULP) in the 2015 general elections but broke ranks with the party in early 2020.

Before joining the ULP, he had used his column and media programme to criticise the party and continued to do so even as he was a senator for the party and later house speaker, and also after breaking ranks with the ruling administration.

“If we do an audit of the Petrocaribe Fund, in which more than $500 million was spent, people are going to go to jail,” he further stated on Monday on “Voices”, his weekly talk show on WE FM.

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“If we do an audit, a proper audit, of the port, people are going to go to jail. … remember $86 million that we got from the Kuwaitis to build the roads back in 2014, 2015? If we do an audit of how that $85 million was spent, people are going to go to jail.”

Thomas discussed recent comments by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves about assessors’ findings about the damage to houses caused by the April 2021 eruption of La Soufriere.

Gonsalves said that the assessors first reported that some 600 houses were damaged.

He said he told the assessors that they had to be joking and accused them of looking at the houses when they were locked up and their occupants in emergency shelters.

The prime minister said that when a second assessment was done, the number of houses damaged by the volcano rose to 1,400.

Gonsalves said that he told the assessors that the number would rise to about 2,000 houses, citing his experience with the 1979 eruption and his research.

The prime minister said that homeowners may have to change a few sheets of galvanise immediately after the eruption.

Gonsalves said recently that his government has a lot of money for housing repair, including some from a loan from the Saudi Fund.

The government has borrowed EC$135 million from the Saudi Government, of which EC$35.1,  the largest portion will go to the rehabilitation and rebuilding of homes damaged by the volcanic eruption.

Thomas said:

“Now think about this. Professionals went out after the eruption of April 2021. They made an assessment, the prime minister told them go back. They updated the number to 1,400  and he said, ‘Look it going be about 2,000’,” said Thomas.

He noted that Gonsalves also said that his government was borrowing money from Saudi Arabia for housing repairs, among other public intrastromal development projects.

But Thomas doubted that 2,000 houses were damaged by the volcanic eruption.

Thomas noted that the Volcano red zone — about the northern third of St. Vincent — is the least populated part of the island. 

“… let us say there are 6,000 homes in that area. Is the PM telling us that 1/3 of all of the homes were damaged and that necessitates millions of dollars and this is millions of dollars in addition to the millions that have been spent before?” Thomas said. 

He said he had checked with people who live in the northeastern and northwestern sides of St. Vincent.

“And clearly, there is not that amount of damage to amount to 2,000 homes. Clearly, there is some reason why this number is being padded ” he said, adding that this is the case when the prime minister’s word “becomes better than the professional assessors’ word”.

“… and all that is happening there is that these guys are taking the people’s money which they’re borrowing to engage in an election campaign,” Thomas said.

He said the government would say that people speaking out against the use of the money to repair houses are opposed to poor people receiving assistance.

“… if the professionals went out and said that is 600, how does the prime minister, on his own volition say on his own word, on only his word, cause a tripling in the amount of people whom the assessor said needed assistance.”

Thomas said he spoke recently to someone in North Leeward who said that in their village, fewer than 10 houses were destroyed or had collapsed roofs as a result of the eruption. 

“But how does it get from 600 to 2,000?” Thomas said.  

“Why are you going to tell me that you’re borrowing millions of dollars to fix homes that were not damaged? You will make up stories that the houses were damaged. And this flies in the face of the information that we got from the professionals who you sent, who we all assume were trained to do the job. 

“And you sit in an office in Kingstown and conclude that that number is going to be more than three times the amount that the assessor said it was?

“That can’t be right. That cannot be right in a democracy. And it’s for that reason that I always say that one of the first things of a new government, it must be to do a serious audit of these programmes that this government [has executed]…”

Thomas said it is shocking that none of the major newspapers have not picked up the story.

He further said that  progressives who commented in “a previous dispensation” have said absolutely nothing”.

“But if we are seriously concerned about transparency, if we’re seriously concerned about accountability, we will begin to pay attention to these things.  Because that money that they’re borrowing now from the Saudis to say that they’re going to build homes, that’s going to be another issue of serious contention.”

5 replies on “Audit of gov’t programmes would see people jailed — Jomo Thomas”

  1. “If we do an audit of the Petrocaribe Fund, in which more than $500 million was spent, people are going to go to jail,” The question Jomo , is who will go to jail and who will send them and to witch jail or maybe we will just have another Suriname fiasco repeated here

  2. Jomo’s article has some merits, there was no audit done on the Argyle International Airport. If there is nothing to hide why not open the books? It would appear if an audit is to be done , one would discover a significant variances. Variances is another word to for embezzlement. The ULP coffers appear to be paddled as an opening batsman would in facing a fast bowler. Is there any wonder the origin of the source of funds to funnel the election machine over the years? Something is in the mortar besides the pestle. As a calypsonian vividly put it in his own rendition, ” nothing to show gor five in a row”.

  3. It’s disgusting that this government continues to this to get money to give away for election. This is also aided and abetted by some of our foreign friends that we constantly support at the United Nations

  4. Politicians don’t put other Politicians in jail in the Caribbean. In the USA, they do. We need help in poor svg badly.

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