June 29, 2012
Money missing at the Ministry of Agriculture?

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Nathaniel Williams has denied allegations that money has gone missing at the Ministry of Agriculture. He, however, admits that a review is being conducted of how the Ministry’s accounts are processed.{{more}}

“The Ministry is quite large and there are a lot of agencies with whom we work, and there are outstations we are dealing with that we collect a lot of money from, where things are sold,” he told SEARCHLIGHT in an interview on Wednesday.

“So, the accounting staff and myself are making some investigations as to find out how things are going, whether or not we need to improve on the things that we are doing in terms of transparency within the operation and the accountability,” he said.

Williams further noted that some persons will always speculate whenever certain changes are made with regard to the reposting of workers within the accounting department, for example.

“Of course you will hear people say things, because if you see a certain trait, you will want to double-check it and people may see you double-checking a certain trait and come up with their own versions of things.

“However, at this point, I am not aware of any missing money or anything of that sort,” he added.

Williams also disclosed that in an effort to minimize the chances of money going missing, an Asset Register will be initiated.

“This accounts for all the assets at the ministry. So we are looking at the accounting system and we are also looking at the various assets and equipment of the state, which are in the various areas, so that we can properly account for that…” he said.

Agriculture Minister, Saboto Caesar also told SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday that where issues of lack of accountability arise, the ministry will highlight the issue and deal with the matter accordingly.

“At this time, we have not raised any flags, but once there are issues of bad management or in the case where matters are not transparent, then we will definitely raise a flag,” Caesar stated.

The Minister also disclosed that over the next two weeks, routine checks will be done within his department.

“These routine checks are done in the private sector from time to time and we have to be accountable to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines,” he stated.

According to Caesar, upon completion of the review, a report will be handed to him and from there he will make the necessary changes, “if any are to be made”.

“So, you might hear somebody who collect the money, no longer collect the money and they may say is because the person thief the money, why they move.

“But note this, if any such reports of missing finances have been revealed, then that matter will be dealt with accordingly,” said the Agriculture Minister.

In 2008, former acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Cheryl Biddy was fined $8,000 by the Public Services Commission. Biddy was ordered before the Commission after an internal audit at the Ministry revealed some discrepancies in the purchasing of some items for the ministry, including computer memory sticks.

In 2010, prime minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said he had ordered an audit of the Ministry of Agriculture to determine if there was any wrong doing in a situation where computers and accessories were purchased using funds allocated to the Agricultural Diversification Project from CARDAP Investment Ltd., a company owned by then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry Allan Alexander. Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace had alleged that in some cases, the items were sold to the Ministry at over 300 per cent of the cost. Alexander was subsequently transferred from the Ministry. He is presented Deputy Executive Director of Invest SVG.