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Parliament approves five years worth of special warrants

Parliament approves five years worth of special warrants
Finance minister Camillo Gonsalves and member for Central Kingstown St Clair Leacock

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Five years worth of special warrants were approved in Parliament on October 10 when finance minister, Camillo Gonsalves moved eight supplementary estimates and appropriation bills in the House of Assembly for that purpose. 

The issue of these special warrants, some of which date back to 2014, was raised in Parliament last month by member for Central Kingstown, St Clair Leacock, who asked a question about it. 

Members of the Opposition have questioned why it has taken the Government so long to bring the warrants to the House for them to be approved. 

But Gonsalves, while speaking in Parliament last week, promised that this would not happen again. 

“I want to say something before I begin discussing what is in the Estimates, that I recall the commitment by the professionals of my Ministry in January… that these outstanding supplementary estimates which were highlighted by the Honourable Member for Central Kingstown, there was a commitment…that we would do what we are doing now in March in 2019,” the finance minister said. 

He also said that his Ministry had missed the mark in the number of months, particularly since the supplementary estimates had already been late when that commitment was made. 

“I want to say that it is not acceptable that the supplementary estimates dating as far back as 2014 are being brought to this honourable house in 2019. I want to say that and I want to give an undertaking to this honourable house that such delinquency will not happen again in the future,” Gonsalves said.

The finance minister noted that other finance ministers from both sides of the House have made similar commitments in the past. 
“While there may be exigent circumstances from time to time, that I am sure the honourable house would understand, the act of bringing this information before the honourable house to explain whatever question there may be and to account for in a public forum the money that has been spent, it’s important that we do it and it’s important that we do it periodically and I want to give that undertaking,” he said. 

Gonsalves said that the Estimates brought to the House show that the pattern of spending is understandable and reasonable in every respect. 

And he explained the reason for using special warrants, according to the Constitution and the Finance Administration Act. 

“So you have an instance where the Budget has passed and something comes up, whither there is an unforeseen thing that happens; you didn’t expect something to happen or there was something there in the Budget but it wasn’t sufficient, it wasn’t enough money to do what it is you thought it would do in the Budget and you can’t postpone paying these bills or making these expenditures. The Minister may issue a special warrant and that special warrant then allows for the money to be spent and thereafter, you bring those special warrants for the money spent,” Gonsalves said.

Dr Godwin Friday, the opposition leader criticised the length of time that it has taken the Government to bring the estimates for the special warrants to the House for approval. 

“I was sitting and listening to the Minister of Finance and with all the hand wringing about it’s so late and so on, but if the Honourable Member for Central Kingstown and the members on this side had not raised the issue, we would have had more special warrants being issued, monies being spent, God knows from where, and not being brought to the Parliament,” Friday said.

While doing calculations of the money spent via special warrants since 2014, the opposition leader said that over 120 million was spent over the course of the five years without coming to Parliament. 

He further said this was an average of over $24 million per year. 

“There is simply no excuse or no way in which you could sugarcoat this. This is not a case of just being late. This is just a case of not finding its imperative to comply with the law. There is no other way Mr Speaker. And I would say at the outset that there is no way this can be justified or the members on this side of the House can condone it by supporting what is brought here today for approval,” Friday said. 

The opposition leader said the situation as “almost embarrassing to think that we are dealing here in this honourable house today with special warrants that were spent not by this Parliament, not under this Parliament, but in 2014 under a previous Parliament — legally, a previous government —and we are now dealing with them here in this Parliament. I don’t even know how to consider the legality of that process”.

Friday further questioned the value of the Financial Administration Act if the Government doesn’t adhere to what it says about bringing special warrants to Parliament within a 12-month period.