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Eustace wants Director of Audit to explain Special Warrant

Eustace wants Director of Audit to explain Special Warrant

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Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace is alarmed at a $4 million Special Warrant issued by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, but Gonsalves and other top Government officials remain adamant there is nothing sinister afoot.{{more}}

Eustace, in his capacity as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, wrote to the Director of Audit earlier this week calling for answers pertaining to the Special Warrant.

According to Eustace, the application for the Special Warrant was made on August 12th, 2009, “under miscellaneous Account 38299 Office of the Prime Minister for the “Vote Yes Campaign”.

In his letter, dated Monday, October 5, Eustace expressed alarm at several aspects of the Special Warrant which was approved by the Prime Minister on September 25, 2009, in his capacity as Minister of Finance, on an application made by his Cabinet Secretary Bernard Morgan.

Eustace stated he needed answers and listed nine areas.

Among the issues, Eustace said he wanted to know why the Special Warrant had no details on how the $4 million is to be actually spent. He added he would also like to know whether the funds would be spent on consultants or rallies or labour.

He added he wanted to know under whose authority are persons allowed to disburse funds or deposit funds.

The Opposition Leader further stated he needed to be informed as to whether the $4 million can be considered unforeseen expenditure and if its postponement will cause injury to the public as per the Finance and Audit Act.

Eustace’s letter also said that he had information that $1 million was paid out on September 28 and was collected by a Government Minister for the purpose of the “Vote Yes” campaign.

At a press conference held at Cabinet Room on Wednesday, October 7, Gonsalves sought to bring clarity to the matter, as it had become the topical issue during the week.

The prime minister said on September 23, 2009, Morgan wrote the Director General of Finance and Planning with an application for the Special Warrant.

He confirmed that as Minister of Finance he authorized it on September 25, and it was issued in accordance and compliance with the provisions of the Finance and Audit Act Number 1 of 1964. This he said was signed by Maurice Edwards, the Director General of Finance and Planning.

Gonsalves added that there was a detailed budget that both the Cabinet Secretary and the Director General of Finance and Planning were aware of.

He concluded that there is a provision under the law to deal with urgent and unforeseen expenditure when they arise and the urgency in this matter is clear.

“You have to finance the arrangements leading to the education of the public to carry out the public policy which was agreed to by Parliament, so that they can vote in the referendum election,” said Gonsalves.

According to prime minister, when he prepared the state’s Budget in November last year to take to Parliament, “none of us would have known whether we would have been able to complete the exercise this year.

“But now it has been completed and we have to go to the referendum on a particular date it has to be funded accordingly,” said Gonsalves.

Commenting on the issue of how monies can be withdrawn from the account after it has been approved, Gonsalves said the funds can be withdrawn under two out of four signatories, namely: The Accountant General, the Deputy Accountant General, the Cabinet Secretary or the Senior Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet Secretary.

“They will not sign unless you have the bills, the documentation, to show that there is proper expenditure as happened with any account in government,” said the prime minister.

“The naysayers cannot have it both ways. On one hand they are saying well it would be ok if the government is to finance the ‘Yes Campaign’ but they must also finance the ‘No Campaign’. Well, if it is wrong to finance the ‘Yes Campaign’ how can that be right to finance the ‘No campaign’?” questioned Gonsalves.

He concluded: “The long and short of it is that this is a public policy approved by government and the public policy is for a new constitution. The making of law.”

On November 25th, 2009, Vincentians will go to the poll to vote in a referendum to decide whether to alter the constitution or not.

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