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PM: ‘I did what is required of me after being informed’

PM: ‘I did what is required of me after being informed’

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Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace is calling for the removal of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Allan Alexander, following corruption allegations.{{more}}

Eustace made these claims yesterday, Monday, December 6, on the New Times radio programme on NICE Radio.

Eustace said he has already written to the Director of Audit Dahlia Sealy, drawing to her attention a number of items which were purchased using funds allocated to the Agriculture Diversification Project.

These items include digital cameras, computers and computer software, vehicle parts and audio accessories.

One of the companies these items were purchased from is CARDAP Investment Limited, which is owned by Alexander, who, as permanent secretary, is the accounting officer for his ministry.

The Opposition Leader listed the items which he said were purchased over a two-year period, and alleged that in some cases, they were sold at over 300 per cent of the cost.

“Between the 11th of August 2009 and the 23rd of December 2009, CARDAP received payments totaling EC$43,555.38 from the Ministry of Agriculture, and many of the transactions are questionable,” Eustace said.

“When I look at many of the items that were purchased, it is very hard for me to link them to the Agriculture Diversification Project.”

“One of the items brought by CARDAP into St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a 15 foot male to female microphone cable, that cable cost US $12.14 that is EC $32.78… that item was sold by CARDAP to the Ministry of Agriculture for EC$1,499.76…. It was brought in duty free.”

Apart from the cable, Eustace informed listeners that items such as computers, software and parts, speakers, lighting mixers and transmitters were among items also imported and sold to the ministry by Alexander’s company.

He questioned the legitimacy of the transactions and called for the Director of Audit, who he said was out of state, to look into the allegations and take the necessary action to make a factual determination of the situation.

“How can the accounting officer who owns a business place claim items duty free for the ministry and sell them back to the ministry? Eustace enquired.

“It would have been easier for the ministry to import the item itself and save the tax payers and in this case the farmers of this country thousands of dollars.

“Not only in my mind is this rampant corruption, but it is also a violation of the rules that govern when ministries buy things…. This is something totally and absolutely unacceptable.”

Eustace’s letter to the Director of Audit also implicates three other companies in the transactions. He said that he knows who owns the companies but did not indicate who the proprietors were.

The Opposition Leader linked the information received from the Ministry of Agriculture to documents from the Ministry of Health, which stated that a number of routine tests cannot now be conducted at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital because of what he said was the lack of material at the hospital.

“Here on the one hand, the government is being charged heavily… in another ministry, wasting tax payers money which could be used to do some of these things if you have to do a different allocation.”

Addison Thomas, the candidate for the NDP in the constituency of South Central Windward in the December 13th General Elections, who was also present at the Nice Radio studio, claimed that allegations are another case of corruption in the Ministry of Agriculture.

“As a voice of the farmers… today I call on the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry to resign immediately.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, responding to the allegations, told SEARCHLIGHT that he first learnt about the allegations on Wednesday, December 1, when Alexander told him there is “an issue relating to some computers and accessories which were purchased by him for the Ministry, through an entity owned by him.”

He said he told Alexander that based on what he had told him, he (Gonsalves) has to inform the Director General of Finance and Planning to “get the Director of Audit engaged in the matter to do an audit to determine what all the facts were and to see if there was any wrong doing.”

Gonsalves said on Thursday morning, he spoke with the Director General of Finance and Planning, and this morning (Monday, December 6), he called the Director of Audit to find out if they had commenced the audit, and was told by the Deputy Director of Audit that they are in “the initial stages of doing something….”

Dr. Gonsalves said that Alexander still remains at his post since the audit has not quite started, and there is no indication yet of any wrong doing in the matter.

“The auditor first of all, collects background facts and then does the audit and would communicate with the Public Service Commission,” the prime minister said.

“No minister, no politician is involved in this. It does not involve the tenders board which is a subcommittee of Cabinet, because these purchases of which I have been advised were all below $20,000, which purchases don’t have to go to tenders board…”

“I do not know as yet if there were simply matters of conflict of interest and breach of procedures, or was there any gain by any public officer in these transactions. We will find out when the audit is done.”

“I did what is required of me to be done, and I do so very promptly after being informed,” Gonsalves said.

Alexander was appointed permanent secretary on February 2, 2009.

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