July 11, 2014
Gonsalves challenges Opposition Leader

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has invited Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace, or anyone else, to state which particular minister of government or public official has committed an act of “official corruption”.

Gonsalves’ challenge was thrown out in a 26-page letter to Eustace, dated June 30, in which he responded to seven questions the Leader of the Opposition asked of him, pertaining to allegations of official corruption.{{more}}

In the letter, which was delivered to Eustace on July 9, Gonsalves said he replied in detail so as to rebut the “repeated falsehoods, distortions and misrepresentation” on the issue of “official corruption” by the Leader of the Opposition.

Eustace had, in a letter to Gonsalves dated June 23, made specific reference to recent reports of the Director of Audit and the resignation of the High Court Registrar, and called on Gonsalves to “clear the air” on these matters and to take the necessary legal action.

The Opposition Leader said at the time that “the image of our country on matters of corruption is increasingly being tarnished.”

The Prime Minister said given the Leader of the Opposition’s “hysterical claims” that there have been “several instances of official corruption in many areas of government,” Eustace must be able to detail the corrupt circumstances of particular cases and/or the names of persons in these Ministries or state agencies who have committed or are alleged to have committed acts of official corruption.

“Any failure or refusal to do so ought to prompt the reasonable conclusion of your recklessness and political desperation,” Gonsalves said.

The Prime Minister’s letter, broken up into eight sections, first defines “official corruption” according to the Laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Against that legal backdrop, Gonsalves writes that Eustace’s assertion that “there have been several instances of corruption in many areas of government,” over the years, is not supported by the facts.

Gonsalves said the matter of the resignation and departure of the former Registrar of the High Court and the query of alleged wrong doing on her part, have “somehow been twisted by [Eustace] into a battering ram with which to assault [Gonsalves’] government, without merit or right reason, in support of [Eustace’s] unfounded thesis of ‘official corruption’ against [Gonsalves] government.”

The Prime Minister said the Registrar is a judicial officer and is not a member of his government nor part of the state administration appointed by him or his government. He therefore asked, “how in the circumstances of the Office can any alleged wrong-doing or malfeasance by any Registrar of the High Court be put at the door of any government?”

He restated the point that if any allegation of wrong-doing arises, it is the duty of several relevant officers of State to investigate the allegations and take appropriate legal action. The relevant officers, he said, are the Attorney General, the Director of Audit, the Commissioner of Police and in the case, ultimately of a criminal prosecution, the Director of Public Prosecution.

Gonsalves also explained that by virtue of the Office he holds, he cannot do or say anything which may prejudice the constitutionally-entrenched right of a person to a fair trial.

“In effect, what you want me to do is to pronounce on the guilt or innocence of Mrs. Gibson-Marks….I do not and cannot properly as Prime Minister accept your ill-advised invitation for me to pronounce, comment or proclaim as aforesaid.”

Regarding the reports of the Director of Audit for 2010, Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance said, “it is evident that some Accounting Officers (Permanent Secretaries and the like) have queries to answer, procedures and process to correct, and errors to be put right.”

He however noted that the Director of Audit in her 2010 Report has not alleged “official corruption” against public officers.

“It is true that [Ministers] have an overall political superintendence of their Ministries and provide leadership to ensure that the laws and regulations governing the financial administration of the government are scrupulously followed, it is the responsibility of the Accounting Officers (the relevant senior public servants) to make certain that nothing improper or unlawful is done with government’s revenue and expenditure as laid out in the Estimates and Appropriation Bill approved by Parliament.”

Gonsalves, giving examples from reports of the Director of Audit while Eustace was Minister of Finance (June 1998 to March 2001), said he has never held Eustace or any Minister in the former NDP government liable or responsible for the “improper acts, omissions or malfeasance of public servants or Accounting Officers” as detailed in the reports.

In relation to the issuance of birth certificates to persons not born in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Gonsalves said, giving detailed examples, that his government has “strengthened immeasurably” both the processes for obtaining a birth certificate and a passport and the actual documents themselves.

The Prime Minister also lashed out at the Leader of the Opposition, describing his performance as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) as “dismal” and a “monumental failure”.

“In the thirteen years as Chairman of PAC, only on one occasion you have submitted a report to Parliament — a flimsy report of the proceedings of only one brief meeting. You have neglected, failed and/or refused to summon PAC meetings. When challenged on it you have served up excuses which are an embarrassment to you and your NDP opposition.”

Gonsalves ended the letter by summarizing, in 21 points, his government’s efforts to address issues of corruption and offences against property in the state administration.

“Given all these efforts, and others, it is not surprising that St Vincent and the Grenadines, under my government, has received very high marks from reputable international institutions and agencies in the areas of good governance, democracy, fighting corruption and freedom of the press – the last being a vital pillar in exposing official wrong doing. On none of these indicators has the NDP administration (1984 – March 2001) come close to the high regard in which my government is held regionally and internationally.”