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The accountability issue: A view


The issue of accountability as it pertains to the construction of the airport, and particularly to cost of construction and monies spent, was the talking point last week.It dominated the airwaves and became quite bitter and heated, leading one of our public commentators to back away from any further public commentary. This, it appears, was to avoid the name of the company that employs him being dragged into the political mud. We are all the worst for this, because there is always need for informed commentary on issues in the society. You did not always have to agree with his positions to realize that he was doing a useful job. I hope the intention is not to frighten others under the philosophy that if you want to play mas, you must not be afraid of powder. Did the discussion have to involve his place of employment, which had nothing to do with what was being discussed? This is indeed a sad state of affairs.

It is unfortunate that the discussion, triggered by the Leader of the Opposition, had to be dragged to the point where the debate became one about what should be taken to Parliament. I believe I saw some reference to a statement by our Prime Minister suggesting that because he was not legally required to bring the matter to Parliament, there was no need for him to do so. To make the point that the IADC was established under the Companies Act and was not a Statutory Body is really to hide under technicalities. I must admit unfamiliarity with the details of the Companies Act, but wondered why it was registered under it. It beats me that the financial accounts of what is our biggest capital project would not be debated in Parliament, the same Parliament that sanctioned loans to meet certain aspects of construction.

This is, after all, a government project. The Government, I believe, is the only shareholder. The people of this country, at home and in the diaspora, made contributions and dedicated themselves to do so. Public lands were even sold. To suggest that anyone can pick up and read the financials at the Commercial and Intellectual Property Office is not the way to deal with political accountability. Reading whatever is available at CIPO will mean little to most Vincentians, but we elect representatives to Parliament, who are supposed to act on our behalf. They are the ones we expect to debate this issue in Parliament and to provide us with the necessary information.

The Government has received plaudits for masterminding the construction of the airport. It would be good if it then goes further and highlight the unconventional way in which it financed the project and dealt with the people’s money. There are loans to be paid back by the taxpayers of this country, loans sanctioned by Parliament, so total disclosure is necessary. This does not come by simply going to CIPO and asking to see copies which are apparently not registered and therefore not available for copying.

The issue of accountability goes deeper, for it is a fundamental aspect of good governance. Transparency, which is a critical part of any democracy, assumes accountability. One expects government officials to act in the best interest of the people who have given them the responsibility to spend their money. I am not suggesting here that there was any ‘hanky pankying’ with monies involved. But It is serious business, especially given the magnitude of the project. It should therefore not be brushed aside by simply suggesting that anyone can go to CIPO and get the information. This matter sits at the heart of good governance.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.