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Open Letter: St Vincent opposition leader writes to PM on the matter of accountability
Published on May 8, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

Leader of the Opposition
St Vincent and the Grenadines
Dr the Honourable Godwin Friday, PHD, LLB, MP.
Democrat House Murray’s Road PO Box 1300 Kingstown St. Vincent W.I. 0100
Tel: 1 (784) 451 2845/456 2114 Fax: 1 (784) 456 2456
Email:
oppositionleadersvg@gmail.com
www.ndpsvg.org

May 2nd, 2017

Dr The Honourable Ralph E. Gonsalves
Prime Minister and Minister of Finance
Ministry of Finance
Financial Complex
Kingstown

Dear Dr Gonsalves:

On the urgent and existential need for national accountability

I write concerning the important matter of public accountability, which was the subject of a media conference I held on Wednesday 19th April at Democrat House. At that event, I made clear the position of the Members of the Opposition and the New Democratic Party on the matter. That is: in a modern, properly-functioning democratic society, public money cannot be spent in the dark. If we are to develop and progress as a country and people, public accountability must be a fundamental and necessary component of that journey.

In responding to my statement, you have held on strictly legalistic grounds that you as Minister of Finance are not required and therefore do not intend to lay before Parliament and the people, through the Director of Audit, audited financial statements of government owned or controlled corporations that are not statutory corporations, even though they have received and used taxpayers’ money provided by Parliament.

Your position is unfortunate and incorrect. The Constitution of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines at sections 75 and 76, the Finance Administration Act 2004 at sections 4, 5, 7, 49, and the Audit Act 2005, at sections 2(4), 5, 11, 12, 15 and 19 all clearly speak to the legal requirement for parliamentary accountability in the use of monies appropriated by Parliament and for the central role of the Director of Audit in same.

I believe that you are aware of the intellectual and philosophical basis of the need for public accountability and its vital importance to good governance. A lack of accountability in public spending is a hallmark of the autocratic regime, not of a mature, well-governed democracy. It has been amply demonstrated in the arenas of academia and in practical affairs, that a lack of accountability in public spending breeds corruption in high places; promotes economic inequality (the rich get richer and the poor get poorer); fosters economic stagnation and imposes unnecessary taxes and other costs on citizens. In short, a lack of public accountability works wonderfully for an undemocratic ruling elite, but not for the citizen.

It is primarily for these reasons that the requirement for accountability is embodied in the constitutional and legal frameworks of democratic countries such as ours. The Constitution of our country is clear on the matter: accountability is mandatory! But even further, in addition to the clear constitutional and legal requirement, there is a moral and ethical imperative for accountability that can be simply stated: if you, in good faith, take a man’s money from him, purportedly to do something for his benefit, then the man is entitled to an account as to how his money was spent.

I am concerned that the last audited central government accounts that you as Minister of Finance have laid in Parliament have been the Director of Audit’s report and audited financial statements for years 2009 and 2010. I am also concerned that no financial statements appear to exist, for Petrocaribe No 126 of 2005 and PDV St Vincent & The Grenadines No 136 of 2006, two local companies that your government established in 2005 and 2006, which have been involved in transactions concerning hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds since then.

At present however, I wish to focus on the state of affairs surrounding the operations of the International Airport Development Corporation (IADC), a company which your government established in 2004 for the purpose of financing and constructing the Argyle International Airport (AIA).

It is a matter of public record that, after appropriation by Parliament of hundreds of millions of dollars for the Argyle airport project to be used through the IADC, you have handed over an undertaking that was opened six years behind schedule, with an unknown final cost and cost overruns of hundreds of millions of dollars. And further, despite your promise that there would be, in your own words, “no significant increase in our long-term debt”, the project has incurred hundreds of millions of dollars of long-term, public debt to be repaid by the citizens of this country. And then you exhort us, the citizens of the country, to make it work. Yet you have provided the people of this country with no proper accounting for the project’s cost, which may be in excess of one billion dollars. Indeed, to the contrary; when opposition members of Parliament correctly and consistently requested a proper accounting of public monies expended on the project, your unfortunate and unacceptable response at one point, was to ask whether you should show a man your title deed.

Surely, you must by now see the profound and untenable contradiction that your position poses to the citizens of this country. Your position that the law does not require you as Minister of Finance to give proper account in Parliament in the form of audited financial statements by way of the Director of Audit is wrong, legalistic and one-dimensional, and will surely place you on the wrong side of history in relation to the necessities and prerequisites of good governance in any mature, modern democracy. Our position on the other hand is legally, morally and ethically correct, and is endorsed by a wide cross-section of our society, including many of your own political supporters.

As I have stated above, the Constitution requires a proper accounting in this matter by way of the Director of Audit and Parliament. Moreover, the people demand a proper accounting and it is your responsibility to provide it to them. As Minister of Finance and Prime Minister, and as a self-styled champion of transparency and good governance, this is a responsibility you cannot escape. Therefore, on behalf of the people, I call on you to present without delay to Parliament, all outstanding reports of the Director of Audit in connection with the IADC, required by section 75 of the Constitution and the other statutes mentioned above.

Through you, I am also calling on the Attorney General as the principal legal officer of the Government to remind the Director of Audit of her duty under the above-mentioned laws to have oversight of the accounts of all government owned or controlled corporations and recipients of government money, including the IADC, Petrocaribe and PDV SV&G and to present them to the Minister of Finance to be laid in Parliament.

We await your prudent response.

Sincerely,

Dr The Honourable Godwin Friday
Leader of the Opposition and President of the New Democratic Party

cc: His Excellency Sir Frederick Ballantyne, Governor General
      Mr. Jomo Sanga Thomas, Speaker of the House of Assembly
      Ms. Dahalia Sealey, Director of Audit
      Ms. Judith Jones-Morgan, Attorney General
 
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Comments:

James H:

Without a read our S.V.G constitution, it would appear to me at this point in time, that our country’s constitution is utterly and profoundly deficient and lacking in good protection for us, the Vincentian people, that is to say, in respect of it giving us the people, true safeguards against rogues and wannabe wayward dictators.

This is so if the leader of the Opposition only recourse is to write an “open letter” to Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, copied to Frederick Ballantyne, the Governor General, Mr. Jomo Sanga Thomas, the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Ms. Dahalia Sealey, the Director of Audit and Ms. Judith Jones-Morgan, our Attorney General, rather than a recourse through law for tough legal sanctions.

For sure our most “August” leader and wannabe tyrannical dictator, Ralph E. Gonsalves the first, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, and our leader of the opposition who wrote the above open letter, Ms. Judith Jones-Morgan, our Attorney General are all lawyers and so too is Mr. Jomo Sanga Thomas, the Speaker of the House of Assembly, a fellow whom I understand would have us believe that he holds “the common man’s rights” in high regard.

Therefore, my question is, if the constitution provided us with “good legal protection”, why therefore, is the leader of the opposition, in seeking to defend the nation’s and the common man’s “right to know” how our hard earned tax dollar and borrowed monies was and are being spent, his only recourse, is to write this open letter to these individuals here in question, if our country’s constitution as written, is not most truly and profoundly deficient in providing us with good and proper protection and true safeguards against the “abuse of power”, abuse of process and perceived likely corruption in both public and high office?

If the leader of the opposition here, in quoting our constitutional provision thus writes “The Constitution of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines at sections 75 and 76, the Finance Administration Act 2004 at sections 4, 5, 7, 49, and the Audit Act 2005, at sections 2(4), 5, 11, 12, 15 and 19 all clearly speak to the legal requirement for parliamentary accountability in the use of monies appropriated by Parliament and for the central role of the Director of Audit in same,” and that act has not been done, what sanctions therefore may one ask, does the said constitution provide for against those who do not comply with the provisions.

The assumption therefore, is that the constitution itself is grossly weak and moreover grossly deficient and needing a serious review, if it leaves a grubby dictator to “run amok” and do as he/she so pleases, because it provides us with very poor or no sanctions at all, against abusers or at least, are the guardians of the provisions themselves of little use to us?

Often when a nation’s constitution has proved itself to be totally useless against abuse of powers and grubby dictators overreach themselves, the abusers often find themselves swinging in the market square from gibbets, as the people seek to take back their lost powers.


Vinciman:

This current outcry over airport “accountability” and the nonexistence of audited statement records is moot. It is irrelevant, unimportant and a wasted argument.

The audited statements exist. Dr Friday knows where to find the audited statements; we all know where to find the audited statement, and there is no question, no doubt in any sane person’s head that they exist at CIPO (Commerce and Intellectual Property Office) in Kingstown; Dr Friday as opposition leader and shadow minister of Finance would have no problem in securing these documents.

According to PM Gonsalves, “his (Friday) accountability charade is another proxy attack on our international airport. He and the NDP cannot help it; attacking our international airport is in their DNA”.

The AIA ( Argyle International Airport) is a nail in the NDP coffin. Hence, it might be the strongest nail that fastens the coffin so tightly, that robbers will have a hard time breaking in.

C.ben David had it right when he said to them, that he too like most in the NDP camp “...believed that the conception and construction of Argyle International Airport (AIA) was anything more than a very clever ruse to maintain political power from one election to another”. Well maybe...maybe not! In any event, whether we want to admit it or not, one cannot leave out politics concerning AIA, and especially leading up to the next election.

To make a long story short, as the NDP founder and former Prime Minister James Mitchell once said to the party,‘...if the ULP build that airport, “crapo” smoke your pipe’. Well, now we get to see that those words were/are prophetic.

Moreover, the NDP’s “election petition” is on the cusp of abysmal failure, the “Canouan Glossy Bay Marina” is a Grenadines thorn in their side, the upcoming Mount Wynne/Peter’s Hope project is a Leeward thorn again, and things on the political front in SVG do not look good for them in the long run, particularly in the party’s now disjointed ranks.

So, what is to be done? The answer. Come up with an effective plan another one of their “master strokes” to counter the “enemies” the ULP administration achievements and progressive advances on the national front, or lose a substantial percentage of their support base, and another defeat at the polls in 2020. So they fired Sponge-ben and hired Joke-ing and Paar-trick as the new party strategist.

GT:

Dear Jimmy H, your last paragraph is seditious for which you deserve the wrath and whatever punishment that the comrade will dish out to you.

The comrade is within the law because he is a master at interpreting it. He is the law, the power and the glory so eat you hearts out. He will lead and you will all obediently follow for as long as he determines.

C. ben-David:

Sorry, James H, but the problem is not the constitution. Indeed, a constitution is not even needed to address the issues you raise. Many people don't know that our motherland, Great Britain, which gave us our constitution does not even have one of its own but still has far more government accountability than we do!

This is because the aim of a constitution is to codify a body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state is acknowledged to be governed. To be sure, it may have a lot of particulars such as who is a citizen, who gets to vote, when and how elections takes place, etc. but it also made up of often vague generalizations that keep constitutional lawyers very busy and make them very rich.

I have carefully read the relevant sections on financial accountability in our constitution and it needs no more clarification. Indeed, if every time a new law was passed in SVG and it had to be put into the constitution we would be having a national referendum every few months.

Rather than being a constitutional issue, the problem lies with the lack of detailed constitutionally valid supplementary laws surrounding accountability, transparency, and freedom of information, laws which governments going back to Milton Cato could have passed had they be willing to do so. Even Arnhim Eustace could have passed an omnibus accountability law during his short stint as PM but choose not to do so presumably because he wanted the freedom to do exactly what Ralph has been doing -- hiding stuff he doesn't want the public and opposition to know about.

So what is the answer? The answer is to vote for a government -- based on the detailed regulations for doing so as laid out in the constitution -- that presents a clear policy on what and how they will put accountability legislation with real teeth and impartial enforcement and with severe penalties for its breach to the people in their party manifesto and from the election platform and which they promise to enact (if they get a majority government) within the first 60 days of their mandate, swearing before Almighty God to relinquish power to the opposition or force fresh elections if they failed to do so.

Too bad for us that no party will every promise anything close to this.

Isn't this yet another reason we are often called the "Third World's Third World?"

Vinci Vin:

The Need to Account for Funds Expended on the AIA

This is a quite reasonable request for accountability submitted by the opposition party to the ruling Unity Labour Party through the Minister of Finance. The letter is written in clear, simple language that the man on the streets of Kingstown can understand, no legalise. It is a Good First Effort by the Leader of the Opposition and should provide a jump-off point for further action should the PM continue to refuse to do his constitutionally-mandated duty of providing accountability for public funds managed and expended. I hope the PM will see the error of his ways, relent and do the right thing, that is: Account for all funds invested in the Argyle Airport and other public ventures. After all, no matter how hard and long the PM and his people try to stall the process they will eventually have to provide credible accounting for the funds.

@ H. James - Yes it is rather frustrating to read about the manner in which the "Peoples' Business" is being conducted in Kingstown. Yet, the constitution might not be as weak as you seem to think. While laws and the regulations that effectuate them emanate from the constitution and through legal precedents it is the judicial arm of government that applies those laws to issues of infringements and illegalities. But as one dead English jurist is reported to have observed - The law can be an ass at times. And both Drs. Friday and Gonsalves know the weaknesses and limitations of the law when applied to imprecise political issues. Even though we are talking of funds received and expended, the actual process of tracing those funds could be quite complicated. In fact, the challenge to the 2015 election outcome is a good example of how impotent and untimely the law can be in addressing problems of seemingly clear political illegalities. Therefore, I agree with the approach taken by Dr. Friday in this matter of political accountability for public funds entrusted to the Unity Labour Party. By holding a Press Conference and disseminating the relevant issues in the national press, Dr. Friday is doing his duty of informing the Vincentian People of the problems as he understands them. His next step of writing to the PM follows from that action. While he might have to get a court order to force the ULP to open up the books, that could become a nightmarish, prolonged process.

Meanwhile, Dr. Gonsalves and his son are acting as politicians who have something to hide. Camillo even suggested that Dr. Friday thinks the ULP has "teef" some of the money that was appropriated for use or alleged to have been expended on the AIA. But from what I have read, Dr. Friday never accused anyone of such theft. He is just doing his job in a statesmanlike many required by his election to Parliament. Does Dr. Gonsalves give a hill of beans as to what ordinary Vincentians, especially those who have voted for the NDP fells/thinks? Perhaps not. Still he needs to do the right thing.

Now, the ball is in the PM's court. No more obfuscation, attempts at political gamesmanship, legal dodge-ball or double-speak can protect the PM from doing his duty to the people and their elected opposition party. The PM needs to open the windows and let in the fresh air of accountability and transparency into the stuffy halls of his government. After all, had he been in opposition the world would have heard about the undemocratic attempts to keep the records from the people and the evils of the unaccountability for public funds in SVG. Why continue to embroil the AIA in an atmosphere of political and accounting uncertainties? Don’t we have bigger problems to address in making the AIA work for the Vincentian people?

I am Vinci Vin

James H:

It should be H. Jimmy if you wish GT, do get it right! And for your information you gross fool, the act of sedition is the “conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch” so please do take the above as you will, for free minded individuals can never be intimidated by anyone who wish to curtail their freedom, unlike the likes of you GT who would sell yours and others freedom for sacks of cement or a few bottles of white Rum.

With that said GT, It is here noted that gross fools like yourself should always be removed to the area of the trash bins with the rest of the garbage when one is engaging in house cleaning, for the very fact your very poor learning we know, is the dust that your master likes to play in, when exploiting the poor, and as Shakespeare himself puts it, you are just meat, “donkeys to be sent on errands.”

Further, and in recollection of previous posting GT, I have told you in the most recent past, that if you wish to contribute in these exchanges, you do need to return to a good place of learning, for you do indeed appear to be most profoundly ill-equipped to be participating in matters well above the standard of your seriously poor education, nevertheless, the choice is yours to return or not to do so.

Dear C. ben-David, I do take on board the important points in hand that you have so rightly made clear, in particularly that of the fact that the U.K, our former colonial masters, has an entirely unwritten constitution and that situation works to their benefit.

However, the issue at hand here is not whether our constitution is written or not but rather, if we do indeed have a written Constitution, does this constitution of ours provide for “legal sanctions” if there are reprobates and rogues in Public Office, who ignore its provisions. That for me C. ben-David is the central issue at play here. Failure to provide proper accountability in government can only generate suspicions of wrongdoings.

Godwin Friday for the opposition party says that “The Constitution of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines at sections 75 and 76, the Finance Administration Act 2004 at sections 4, 5, 7, 49, and the Audit Act 2005, at sections 2(4), 5, 11, 12, 15 and 19 all clearly speak to the legal requirement for parliamentary accountability in the use of monies appropriated by Parliament and for the central role of the Director of Audit in same.” And that in his Godwin Friday’s opinion, that duty to us and to Parliament has not been discharged by Ralph Gonsalves and his administration. The Administration for its part however deny the charges! The fact remains that we appear to be governed by an elected dictatorship!

If this administration has nothing to hide, and in the interest of openness in government, uprightness in conduct, correctness and moral rectitude, I do not understand why the administration cannot put before parliament a full disclosure of its dealings in these matters, unless of course it has something to hide.

Dictatorships and all forms of autocratic government, as we all know, works to the citizenry’s disadvantage and a good Constitution should provide safeguards against abuse of powers by rogues. The provision of serious sanctions such as the disqualification from Public Office, a term time in Prison and or also the imposition of serious financial fines on individuals, could deter abusers.

Nevertheless, in the absence of such, one notes that dictators and autocrats are not altogether invincible and where the General Law in the constitution do not provides for “sanctions” in the event of non-compliance, dictators and autocrats do often pay the ultimate price for their gross abuse in ways that the citizenry often otherwise choose.

Ralph Goncalves, our resident Neo-Colonialist it would appear, truly likes to model himself on Fidel Castro his idol and Hugo Chávez, both of whom impoverished and oppressed their peoples through misguided ideas Socialism/Marxism and have now departed, leaving behind nothing but economic disasters for their nations.

Parliamentary accountability was never their strong points. Our resident dictator no doubt intends doing the same to us, if we will continue to tolerate his gross impudence. For a people who are the very recent descendants of Slaves, this surely is a bridge too far.

Patrick Ferrari:

All yo’ head too hard. Everybody got this thing wrong, but GT.

This thing is not about anything other than what the messiah says it is. GT explained it and, for good measure, added a threat – the second in as many weeks – to anyone (this time to James H, the last to C. ben-David) who does not see it the Prime Minister’s way. This threat, like the last one did not see the light of disapproval from above.

The explanation: GT said of the Prime Minister, in his messianic role, “is a master at interpreting it (the law).” He didn’t say “for his own end.” GT carried on, “he is the law, the power and the glory (here we genuflect and cross ourselves – or else).” “He (the Prime Minister) will lead and you will all (that is, we, the doting sheep) obediently follow for as long as he determines.” Is it seditious for me – not you, GT – to write it without the capital? Amen. No. Not quite; the ‘or else’ is yet to be issued. Or else the disobedient sheep will “deserve the wrath and whatever punishment that the comrade will dish out for you.” Vengeance is his. What? No capital? Then I am to face rage and retribution.

Here is GT’s other threat on his comrade’s behalf. (His second post.)
http://www.caribbeannewsnow.com/topstory-Letter%3A-Who-did-it%21---The-sudden-murders-of-St-Vincent-bad-men-34265.html

James H:

Patrick, as its people starve there and Maduro wrestle with accountability too the Constitution is very much an issue in Venezuela as it is for us here in SVG and as the Venezuelan protesters take to the streets to make their protest known they have resorted to throwing “excrement bombs” at the police during the messiest day of the six-week wave of riots there.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4490024/Venezuelans-prepare-fecal-cocktails-throw-security-forces.html

Dr Friday tells us that “The Constitution of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines at sections 75 and 76, the Finance Administration Act 2004 at sections 4, 5, 7, 49, and the Audit Act 2005, at sections 2(4), 5, 11, 12, 15 and 19 all clearly speak to the legal requirement for parliamentary accountability in the use of monies appropriated by Parliament and for the central role of the Director of Audit in same,” however accountability for us is a long way off and is a far cry when we as sheep cry baar, baaaaar, baar!


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