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ARGYLE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: ACOUNTABILITY ASSURED

ARGYLE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: ACOUNTABILITY ASSURED

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By Dr THE HON RALPH E GONSALVES PRIME MINISTER of St Vincent and the Grenadines

THE ISSUE

For the past 16 years of government, the Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration has made accountability and transparency in governance to be among its outstanding hallmarks. Our record shows this; and international organizations so recognize this in their written assessments. Our Government’s construction of the Argyle International Airport has, accordingly, been a manifestation of its quest always for accountability and transparency. The facts, and the law, support this, despite lame efforts by the parliamentary opposition, the NDP, to dispute this.

THE REGIME OF ACCOUNTABILITY

The entity established in November 2004 to construct the Argyle International Airport is a registered state-owned company, known as the International Airport Development Company (IADC). This company was registered under the Companies Act with a quality Board of Directors appointed by the government. On the Board have been, and are, distinguished Vincentians, including the Director General of Finance and Planning (or his nominee), the Chief Engineer, the Director of Airports, and Garth Saunders of the CWSA. The Chairman of the Board and the Chief Executive Officer of the IADC since its inception has been Dr Rudy Matthias, who, among other things, holds the qualification of a PhD in Economics and Finance from Cambridge University, one of the top universities in the world.

The IADC, under the Companies Act, is required by law to submit its audited financial statements to the Companies’ Registrar at the Commerce and Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). The regime under the Companies Act is more stringent than for statutory bodies. Such audited financial statements have been filed for the period from November 2004 up to 2013; 2014 and 2015 statements are in draft and are being finalized by the reputable auditor, Floyd Patterson of BDO; and the statement for 2016 will be finalized immediately thereafter. Within the IADC itself there is a Finance Department headed by a Financial Controller, a trained and experienced Accountant, Ms Susan Providence-Samuel, the daughter of a former distinguished Director of Audit in SVG. This Department has had its own internal rules, protocols and controls reflective of a well-organized company under the Company’s Act.

The IADC, too, has been, and is, accountable to Parliament through the Minister of Finance in a number of ways:

(i) Through the presentation of, and debates on, Estimates (including Supplementary Estimates) and Appropriation Bills (including Supplementary Appropriation Bill) in respect of monies sought for from, and appropriated by, Parliament for our international airport. There have been annual Estimates and Appropriation Bills for the airport over the years.

(ii) The itemization in the Appendix to the annual Estimates detailing the Disbursed Public Debt in relation to our international airport.

(iii) The securing of parliamentary approval for certain specific loans by way of specific Bills. There have been,

for example, Bills relating to loans from Taiwanese Banks (though the Taiwan government), the Bank of Nova Scotia, the CARICOM Development Fund, and the Sovereign Fund of the United Kingdom. Monies from the ALBA Bank do not require any specific Bill, because SVG is a member of the Bank (the same applies to any borrowing from the CDB or the World Bank of which SVG is a member). Borrowings from the ALBA and Petro Caribe are listed in the Estimates and are appro- priated through an Appropriation Bill.

(iv) The provision of information on the progress of our airport through numerous Prime Ministerial Statements over the years.

(v) The answering of numerous questions posed to the Prime Minister by the members of the parliamentary opposition (mainly Arnhim Eustace and St Clair Leacock) about the Argyle International Airport.

(vi) The “laying on the table” of the Reports of the Director of Audit (under Section 75 of the Constitution) on the public accounts of SVG, the accounts of all officers and authori ties of the Government, the accounts of all courts of law in SVG, the accounts of every Commission established by the Constitution, and the accounts of the Clerk of the House. The Director of Audit is enjoined to satisfy himself/herself that all monies that have been appropriated and that the expenditure conforms to the authority that governs it. So, monies appropriated by Parliament to IADC come within the specific frame of the Director of Audit for reportage as prescribed by the Constitution. [Please note, however, that the audited financial statements of the IADC are to be filed as required by the Companies Act to the Registrar of Companies].

There is a seventh limb for parliamentary oversight and accountability, namely, through the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) under Section 7b of the Constitution, but this is not within the specific domain of the Prime Minister/Minister of Finance. By Convention, the PAC is chaired by the Leader of the Opposition who is mandated to report to Parliament on the work of the PAC. Unfortunately, the opposition NDP has paid little or no regard of, or to, the PAC; so, it has not been functioning at all.

Thus, there exists three specific legal regimes of accountability of the IADC: (i) Internal modalities of accountability, including those required by the Companies Act; (ii) Submission of audited financial statements and any other relevant report to the Registrar of Companies at CIPO; and (iii) Parliamentary accountability in one or more of the seven ways detailed above.

 
HOW MONIES VOTED BY PARLIAMENT GET TO IADC?

The monies appropriated by Parliament for the IADC, and sourced, are lodged in the Consoli­dated Fund (“the Govern­ment Treasury”) and can only be disbursed to the IADC by a legally-mandated process as detailed under the Finance Administration Act and its Regulations.

This legally-mandated process broadly follows thus: (i) The Chief Executive Officer of the IADC directly, and through the Permanent Secretary for Airport Development applies to the Director General of Finance and Planning (DGFP) with a request for some or all of any specific sum appropriated by Parliament for the IADC’s expenditure; this application is accompanied by a Work Plan detailing on what the monies requested are to be spent; (ii) the DGFP considers this request and, if he is satisfied with it, applies to the Minister of Finance to release the requested monies in whole or in specified part; (iii) the Minister of Finance then approves the release on the recommendation of the DGFP and sends the file containing “the Release” back to the DGFP; (iv) On receipt of the release, the DGFP formally communicates to the Accountant General to transfer the “released” sum to money to the account of the IADC; (v) the Accountant General effects the transfer and informs the Financial Controller of the IADC of the transfer; (vi) the Financial Controller of the IADC informs the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the IADC.

When the IADC receives the funds appropriated by Parliament and disbursed legally, it expends those monies in accordance with its Work Plan and the Directives of the Board of Directors. The CEO of IADC reports to the Prime Minister/Minister of Finance on an ongoing basis. The Prime Minister, DGFP, and the CEO of IADC are regularly in conversation on the revenue and expenditure of IADC. The internal and external regimes of accountability of the IADC, as detailed above, are followed.

THE FALSEHOODS OF THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

At a Press Conference held by the Leader of the Opposition, Lorraine Friday, on April 19, 2017, he delivered himself FOUR FALSEHOODS on this matter from which he and his party have been unable to extricate themselves. Let us quote him and then detail his falsehoods.

At this Press Conference, Friday said:

“This brings us to the International Airport Development Corporation, the IADC, which is a statutory body that was set up by the ULP Government with the functions of financing and building the Argyle International Airport. The IADC was established in 2004. Today, thirteen years later not a single audited financial statement of the IADC has been brought to Parliament by the Minister of Finance; in other words the IADC has operated for thirteen years and in complete contravention of the laws of the country the Minister of Finance has not brought a single audited financial statement of the IADC to Parliament and therefore to the people of this country.”

First, Friday stated falsely that the IADC was a statutory corporation or authority subjected to a legal reportage regime common to all statutory authorities. The simple fact is that the IADC is a state-owned company registered under the Companies Act with a reportage regime for its audited financial statements under the Act to the Registrar of Companies at CIPO.

Secondly, Friday stated falsely that the IADC being a statutory authority must submit its accounts to Parliament. The simple truth is that as a registered company under the Companies Act, the IADC is required to submit its audited financial statements to the Companies’ Registrar and not to Parliament.

Thirdly, Friday stated falsely that IADC has had no audited accounts since 2004. The simple truth is that the IADC has submitted its annual financial statements to the Registrar of Companies for every year up to, and including, 2013. The accounts for 2014 and 2015 are in “draft” and are being finalized by independent auditors; 2016 accounts will be audited immediately following.

Fourthly, Friday’s false assertion that I broke the law is, in the face of the law and the facts outlined above, absolutely ludicrous.

Friday’s subsequent diversion of Section 75 of the Constitution about the role of the Director of Audit does not help him. Indeed, it confirms that Friday’s falsehoods were monumental and shows him as being wholly unprepared for “the big time”. In effect, he is scrambling in the dark with no light!

FINAL COMMENTS

Lorraine Friday’s FOUR FALSEHOODS on this matter and his subsequent groping in the dark hither and thither, reminds one of the saying: “Man can’t play test cricket with flannel ball or gru-gru; you must come with leather seed.”

Friday and the NDP (save and except St Clair Leacock) have opposed the Argyle International Airport from the beginning. Friday’s FOUR FALSEHOODS and hysterical swiping are nothing but his continuing attack on our international airport. His “accountability” charade is another proxy attack on our international airport. He and the NDP cannot help it; attacking our international airport is in their DNA.

These are people who said that the cost of constructing our airport is in excess of $1.5 billion. The actual construction cost is around $700 million; and we owe only $400 million approximately. Clearly, this is an excellent achievement of an impossible dream. Remember the NDP also said that no aircraft could ever land at Argyle because of its “wrong” alignment. They also said that “cross wind” would also make a landing impossible. These were all falsehoods. Add Friday’s current “accountability” falsehoods to their long list against the Argyle International Airport.

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