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Deputy Speaker’s question a distraction, says Opposition Leader

Deputy Speaker’s question a  distraction, says Opposition Leader

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Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace has described as an attempt to distract, the question government Senator David Browne was slated to ask Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves in Parliament yesterday.{{more}}

Browne, who is also Deputy Speaker, was expected to ask Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, how the Opposition spent the money Parliament voted for their office expenses last year, including the salary of a research officer.

“I see the question from the Deputy Speaker as part of a general plan to distract the public’s attention from some of the grave issues being raised even in this parliamentary session, especially those related to the passport issues,” Eustace said at a press conference on Wednesday.

“But the questions to be asked are related to the health and general welfare and citizenship and the passports of this country and answers are needed. The government has a responsibility to provide those answers,” Eustace further said.

“The Prime Minister can say whatever he wants about this question, but I am going to give you the facts as we understand them…” Eustace said, noting his previous statements about arrears his office inherited.

He said the arrears were passed on to his office, when Parliament, in 2010, voted that a subvention be granted directly to the Opposition, instead of the Clerk of the House of Assembly being responsible for paying the bills of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition.

Eustace read a May 4, 2010 letter to the Director of Finance, in which he spoke of $28,056.34 in arrears his office inherited with the policy change.

He said the government had not paid $19,382.84 to LIME, $3,762.31 to VINLEC, and $4,911.19 to the Central Water and Sewerage Authority.

Eustace said he did not receive a reply to his letter to the Director General of Finance and Planning.

“Indeed, our office phones were disconnected for 18 months, and we received several visits from these institutions, seeking to collect the monies owed to them by the government,” he said.

“I therefore took the decision to delay the recruitment of the research officer in order to repay VINLEC, CWSA, and LIME the $28,000-plus owed to them by the government. We completed the payments in October 2011 and the research officer was employed then,” Eustace said.

Eustace said it was the first time since he became a Parliamentarian in 1998, that a government legislator was asking a question of the Prime Minister.

“Under the Standing Orders, I don’t think there is anything that prevents that. It is just unusual in the context of the way Parliament has been conducted,” he said.

The Order Paper said Senator Browne would ask Gonsalves to give a breakdown of the sum paid to the Opposition in 2011, and to say whether the monies were used as approved by Parliament, and where deficiencies lie.

Gonsalves was also expected to tell Parliament what action is being taken to correct the situation, including any plans to recover any money spent by the Opposition, but not authorised. (kentonchance@searchlight.vc)

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