Front Page
November 20, 2009
Opposition Leader: Financial rules under threat

by Dayle DaSilva 20.NOV.09

The Accountant General acted in perfect order.

This is the response from government in relation to concerns raised by Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace about the disbursement of funds from the $4 million special warrant approved for the Yes Vote campaign.{{more}}

During a press conference on Wednesday, November 18, Eustace read from a memorandum written by the Accountant General Ingrid Fitzpatrick to former Cabinet Secretary Bernard Morgan.

In the document dated October 5, Fitzpatrick expressed her “dissatisfaction” with the operation of the ‘Yes’ campaign bank account.

The memo further stated: “I pointed out to you from the inception, the operation of the account must be in keeping with the Finance Regulations; however, requests for payments were submitted with only a certified listing by the Director of Operations.”

The Director of Operations of the “Yes” vote campaign is Senator Julian Francis.

The memorandum said the invoices were submitted only after the Accountant General refused to sign the cheques.

“You seem to have relinquished your responsibility as the Accounting Officer in this regard, however I must remind you that the funds allocated to the account is (sic) under your charge and I am concerned that the expenditure to date be certified by the Director of Operations instead of you or your designate,” the memorandum continued.

Some of the payments certified by the Director of Operations include $125,000 to E.Com Institute SVG for IT Equipment, networks and media, $45,000 to NCB for letters, envelopes and labels and $32,000 to John Greaves for Labour and Materials.

“This memo confirms my concerns that our financial rules were under threat from possible fraud,” said Eustace.

He went on to say that he was “quite uneasy” and “quite concerned” over the matter.

The Opposition Leader further questioned the then Cabinet Secretary as to why he did not provide the invoices as was required by law and why did Francis certify expenditures without the appropriate documentation.

“These recent events have shown that my misgivings at the outset when the $4 million special warrant was approved were justified,” Eustace contended.

However, Susan Dougan, current Cabinet Secretary, said in a press conference later on Wednesday that all procedures in relation to the account were in accordance with the government’s financial regulations.

According to Dougan, she was present when Prime Minister Gonsalves spoke to the Accountant General detailing the conditions under which the funds were to be disbursed.

“The arrangement in setting up account is not done in an ad hoc manner,” Dougan stated.

“So, too, money is not disbursed in any ad hoc manner-all of the invoices, contracts detailing schedules, dates on which service was provided and all other stipulations are expected to be given by those persons who are applying for use of funds,” she continued.

Dougan said that as the process was then in its initial stage, there were going to be problems.

She noted that in this case, the Accountant General guided the process, which is as it should be.

“A person in charge of government’s accounts, the Accountant General, ought to advise all officers on correct procedures.”

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, the prime minister said that the Accountant General’s actions were in perfect order.

Specific instructions were given to the relevant authorities for the highest standards to be maintained in relation to the account for accountability and transparency, he said.

The Prime Minister did, however, go on to defend Francis’ actions, saying that it was not the first time that persons had become frustrated with the bureaucracy involved in receiving payment.

“This doesn’t mean he is dishonest, but that he must comply with the regulations,” Gonsalves told members of the media.

But Gonsalves again assured members of the public that the highest standards were being adhered to.

“The matter was dealt with, which shows that the process is working and government’s money is being accounted for.”