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Government acting unlawfully – Opposition MP

Government acting unlawfully – Opposition MP

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The arrangements which have been put in place for the administration of the PetroCaribe funds in St Vincent and the Grenadines have been described as unlawful.

Contributing to the debate on the Estimates in Parliament last week, Opposition Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown St Claire Leacock said{{more}} the present PetroCaribe arrangement is a “serious violation of protocol and procedures.”

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, during a ministerial statement to Parliament, had revealed that the PetroCaribe agreement is executed through two local companies: PetroCaribe St Vincent and the Grenadines Ltd and PDV SVG Ltd, which is a branch of Venezuelan oil company PDVSA.

“PetroCaribe SVG is our company, so PDVSA sells products to PDV SVG and … the percentage of the money which will go to Venezuela goes to them within 90 days and the balance of the money is put into the account of PetroCaribe St Vincent and the Grenadines Ltd for us to use in purposes that we see fit in accordance with the agreement which we signed with Venezuela,” Gonsalves said.

In a very passionate presentation to the House, Leacock said: “I was dismayed, I was embarrassed and humiliated when I heard of the expenditure that had been disbursed from that fund; some including the purchase of galvanize and cement from Tankweld…which really, as a parliamentarian, I had no knowledge of….”

According to Leacock, this is not the first time that money has been used by this Government “outside of the provisions of finance regulations,” which state that all funds received from this country, except where there are special laws in place, should pass through the Consolidated Fund.

The parliamentarian said the PetroCaribe matter, by way of volumes of money, the period of time for which it has occurred and its continuation, is a dicourtesy and a disrespect for the oversight responsibility of Parliament.

“It is wholly unlawful for the Government to do what they are now doing: receiving funds for which there will be an ultimate charge on the taxpayers of St Vincent and the Grenadines and placing those funds into a private company, which did not even have the permission of this Parliament to so do,” he said.

In Leacock’s view, this arrangement is a “serious violation of protocol and procedures.”

He said initially, in the early stages of the PetroCaribe arrangement, when the fuel was received by the St Vincent Electricity Services Ltd (VINLEC), VINLEC covered their costs and the surcharge cost and those portions of monies that would emerge to be loan funds were remitted to the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

“I saw nothing wrong with that arrangement. I thought VINLEC was a totally competent, fit and able company to discharge that responsibility…

“But Mr Speaker, when the decision was made to terminate that agreement, and replace it with two private companies, PDV SVG and PetroCaribe St Vincent and the Grenadines, I thought that was a serious violation of protocols and procedures,” the parliamentarian said.

In his presentation, Leacock also highlighted several other issues that he has with the PetroCaribe Agreement, one being the interest rate at which the money is being loaned to St Vincent and the Grenadines.

“The joint venture company (PDV SVG) then on lends to the other (PetroCaribe SVG); the Estimates say six per cent; the Prime Minister corrected it to four per cent. If, in fact, PetroCaribe is getting that at four per cent, then the interest charge on St Vincent and the Grenadines is not the one per cent, as has been claimed. If I have to go by the Estimates, it’s six per cent and a six per cent interest charge is significantly more than a one per cent interest charge. That must be a concern of ours in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Mr Speaker, that the fuel agreement is not costing us one per cent as it has been claimed and stated repeatedly, but in fact the six per cent which the taxpayers will have to pay back because any money borrowed by that company has to be repaid by the taxpayers of St Vincent and the Grenadines,” he reasoned.

Furthermore, Leacock elaborated on a point made by Opposition Leader, Arnhim Eustace, stating that the Estimates did not reflect where the loan funds were being used.

“The loan arrangement is not reflected in the Estimates Mr Speaker, and that is wrong. The Government does not have any authority to so do, Mr Speaker and it is outside of the Finance Act of St Vincent and the Grenadines, section 68 and should be corrected speedily and apologized for,” he said.

The parliamentarian opined that this matter does not support good governance or transparency and declared that on that basis alone, the entire Estimates should be rejected because “it is unconstitutional in its nature”.(BK)

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