Better accountability, transparency needed from statutory bodies– Friday
April 21, 2017

Better accountability, transparency needed from statutory bodies– Friday

Leader of the Opposition and President of the New Democratic Party (NDP) Dr Godwin Friday is calling for better accountability and transparency from several government statutory bodies.

Friday, during a press conference on Wednesday at the NDP headquarters, called for the audited financial statements of several statutory bodies and wholly owned government companies to be laid in Parliament.

“The International Airport Development Company (IADC) was established in 2004. Today, 13 years later, not a single audited financial statement of the IADC has been brought to the House of Parliament by the Minister of Finance,” the Opposition Leader said.

He said that because of this, the IADC operated for 13 years in contravention of the laws of the country.

Friday, who is a lawyer by profession, noted that the Audit Act speaks very clearly in relation to statutory bodies.

He noted that at Section 13 (1) it states that: “The Director of Audit shall, no later than six months after the end of each financial year, make such examinations and inquiries … to enable him to audit the accounts of each statutory body for the previous year and report as required by this Act.”

Friday said while Vincentians are being asked to make the Argyle International Airport work, they are still unsure about what it cost to build the recently opened airport.

“Is it $700 million as has been reported recently in some news media? But, also, a few weeks ago Senator Julian Francis said on a radio programme that it cost $1.3 billion, but that Vincentians only paid $800 million, because we got $500 million in ‘in kind’ contributions,” the Opposition Leader questioned.

He added that in the 2017 budget debate Vincentians were told that the country owes $400 million on the money borrowed to build the airport.

“But he brought no audited financial statements from the Director of Audit to support anything that he said. So, we are supposed to take his word for it! What is the true cost?…,” he asked.

Friday further questioned the financing of the IADC and where the money went to.

“How do we know that all of the hundreds of millions of dollars actually went to the airport? How do we know that some of these monies did not go through the airport and end up somewhere else? The fact is we cannot know, because there has been no audited financial statements. You see why the law of the country says there must be full and annual audited accounts?”

Furthermore the Opposition Leader recalled International Monetary Fund revealing that Government had $112 million dollars of the debt to Petro Caribe not included on the books.

He stated that the Government has been working in contravention of the laws of the country, which state that the Minister of Finance, who is also the Prime Minister, is responsible for: the preparation of the … Estimates, the Government’s fiscal management and control, including the management and control of revenue and expenditure and of the Consolidated Fund, and ensuring that a full account of the finances of the Government is laid before the House of Assembly in the Public Accounts.

“Ensuring that a full account of the government’s finances is laid before the House – is not referring to the Budget presentation itself; rather it relates to accountability after the fact. Specifically, it refers to the provision, to Parliament and by extension to the nation, of audited accounts of national revenue and expenditure, including capital expenditure that occurred in the previous year,” the Opposition Leader explained.

He said the matter of accountability is fundamental and critical, as it goes from top to bottom of the business of government, crosses all sectors and connects in the business of running the country.

Friday explained that accountability included the need to give full account of all funds received and spent on behalf of the public and is not optional.

“The work of accountability is legally and constitutionally required; it must be performed annually, and it is the responsibility of the Minister of Finance to ensure that it is performed annually.”

He noted that it is the responsibility of the Minister of Finance to ensure that the legal and constitutional requirements are met and there are legally specified mandatory timeframes within which he should do so.

Friday also called for audited accounts of the National Lotteries Authority, National Properties Limited, Petro Caribe, BRAGSA, etc.