Opposition Leader is misleading people – Finance Minister
THERE IS nothing illegal, immoral or unethical about any of the practices carried out by the current administration.
This is what Finance Minister, Camillo Gonsalves, had to say in response to charges by Opposition leader, Dr. Godwin Friday that the government has been acting illegally with the country’s finances.
At a press conference on Tuesday, February 18, the opposition leader said the government had acted unlawfully by exceeding the $50 million overdraft limit set by resolution of Parliament, and by not paying down the overdraft by year end, as the law requires.
He said the government had also acted unlawfully by converting overdraft sums to ongoing loans, called Account General Loans, without prior authorisation from Parliament to take these loans, hence making them part of the public debt.
But Gonsalves maintains that the opposition leader’s claims are baseless.
“…The Honourable Leader of the Opposition is attempting to mislead people with a partial accounting of the facts, and given the substance of his allegations, but we will give a fulsome response…to those allegations…” the Finance Minister told SEARCHLIGHT on Tuesday evening.
He said Dr. Friday has been deliberately misleading and false in multiple ways, including citing some numbers that have no parallel with records at the Ministry of finance.
He said that while the opposition points out accurately that there is a law at the beginning of each year to run an overdraft, what they do not point out is that at the beginning of each year, there is also a general borrowing resolution in Parliament which allows the government to borrow up to $100 million dollars.
“So there’s an overdraft resolution and there’s a general borrowing resolution so that every loan we go to take, we don’t have to come back to Parliament,” he said.
“When we convert a part of the overdraft to a loan, it is under the authority of the general borrowing resolution that we have to borrow up to 100 million dollars, so there’s absolutely nothing illegal there, I want to say that.”
He also said that the claim that overdrafts are supposed to be zeroed out by the end of the year is a novel claim that exists nowhere else, nor has it ever existed in the history of this country.
Gonsalves said it was “precisely at the end of the year when the overdraft is most used, because that’s when you’re paying two salaries very close together, the end of November and then mid December.
“That is when you have a number of loans that you have to pay interest on and the like, and, it is precisely at the end of the year where sometimes there is a spike in the overdraft, which is why you go back every year and you renew the overdraft under Parliament,” he said.
The Finance Minister said overdrafts have fluctuated over the years but Dr. Friday was attempting to mis-align numbers to suggest that the government had far exceeded the overdraft, when that is not the case.
He reiterated that there was nothing “illegal, immoral, unethical with any of the practices that we have that we have done in that regard.
Adding, “I want to say that this government has operated with the utmost probity that the public servants, that successive Ministers of Finance and the finance community, the banks themselves, are all satisfied that we have been operating within the bounds of the law, and we’ve been operating in an ethical and legal manner on this.”
The Finance Minister said that his ministry intended to issue a release to clarify and address all the claims made by the opposition leader and the New Democratic Party (NDP).