Recently appointed Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Ronnie Skelton blasted the government for only bringing Supplementary Appropriation bills (SAPs) that spanned from 2007 to 2013 to the House on 28 December for approval. Speaking strongly on the matter following presentations by Premier and Minister for Finance Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith Hon. Skelton criticized the move stating that it: “is totally unacceptable 11 years after…that is totally unacceptable.”
In presenting the SAPS Premier Smith explained the multiple SAPs that were before the House is to complete the process of regularizing this over expenditure to ensure compliance with the Constitution and to bring the government accounts in line with the Auditor General’s report. “In short Madame Speaker this is simply a cleanup exercise,” the Premier added.
In responding to the presentations made by the Premier the Leader of the Opposition explained that the fact that a number of SAPs are being brought at once and years behind. Hon. Skelton announced, “That is unacceptable we cannot continue to run the government in this type of fashion. Whether I was over there or over here it is unacceptable by any stretch of the imagination. None of us who are in business run our business this way because eventually you don’t know what you have and what you have to spend.”
The Opposition Leader further described the presentations of the SAPs as a form of Government house cleaning in consideration of the upcoming elections. “Now we have seven of these things which is good – it’s the end of the government’s term we are entering an election year. They are cleaning the shop so to speak and they are putting things in order.”
Further Hon. Skelton pointed out that some of the years covered in the SAPs he was not in office: “Madame Speaker I suspect that now the Auditor General has really gone through and has done her work and now we are here trying to do these bills, but this should not have taken so long, it should have been done …To be here 11 years after trying to do this is not right.”
Mr. Skelton said that both government officials and public servants should be mindful to not run the Territory’s finances in this manner
Hon. Fahie Says SAPs Raise Red Flags
First District Representative, Hon. Andrew Fahie was most vocal about the many Supplementary Bills that are before the House. In fact, he declared: “This raises many red flags.”
In citing his issues with the presentation of the Bills, Hon. Fahie told the House that the regularizing should have been done sooner: “I rise out of concern about each and every one of these appropriation acts that is going to come up here today, because the Appropriation is to regularize the over expenditure of those years that have been identified by the Auditor General. Madame Speaker I don’t want to preempt the House but I am seeing that we have to come now with an appropriation act to regularize expenditures in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. The problem is that supplementary for year end to clean up the government accounts already have passed through this Honourable House.”
Hon. Fahie called on the Minister of Finance to bring the supplementary that already passed through the House of Assembly for comparison. This Mr. Fahie said will shed light on what was missed by the Ministry of Finance and noted by the Auditor General…”
In bolstering for answers to what went wrong, Hon. Fahie declared. “11 years afterwards the Auditor General has picked up an irregularity in the actual handling of the finances of the Territory someone has to answer what has gone wrong. Why didn’t we pick this up before 11 years later, now that the Auditor General has finally completed the audits, Not only that there have been audits before by the Auditor General.”
Hon. Fahie said that the red flags raise the question of what else was overlooked in the Ministry of Finance. “This raises some red flags for me not so much so the persons in the Ministry of Finance as it is, but it raises a red flag for me in the Ministry of Finance as it is over the last few years. I can give the Financial Secretary [credit]now that he is moving towards what the Auditor General is saying to get all of this regularized; but it begs the question – what else is out there that we do not know about. The finances of the Territory – 11 years later we are going to regularize an expenditure of 2007.”
In further probing the reason for the supplementary delays the First District Representative said: “This Hon. House has it in its records supplementary that were approved. We call them clean up SAPs. Some of them came the year or two years after that. My question is why weren’t these in the cleanup SAP because if we have all the accounting, all these computers, laptop all the modern things to track the expenditures of the country – why they weren’t identified before.”
“I don’t raise this as a political point I raise it as a concern – growing up in business, somebody that know about accounting I am concerned. It spans the life of the governments from 2007 to present time. I can take those from 2018 because we are in 2018. I can even take those from 2017 because that was just last year but anything before 2016 I have a problem with that they are now only being identified by the Auditor General’s report,” he added.
Additionally, Hon. Fahie said that he tried to address this matter before in the House of Assembly: “I got up in this Honourable House and I asked what were the actual balances of the year before and I started couple years with a question in a questions and answers segment; and it was met with some slurs, but I asked: If you don’t have an accurate balance at the end of the year in the accounts of your Territory then your new year’s balance that you are starting the new year…is going to be off from all those years before? The question is how far on are we now and what else will be found when we continue to dig over the years that we have missed,” the Opposition Member stated.
“The question is why when those supplementary appropriations were brought here before these were not identified. I am concerned. I am extremely concerned and I would like an explanation Madame Speaker on why and I hope that is palatable for me to be able to swallow and digest because this shows the vigilance in the accounting of our finances there were some concerns there. This raises many red flags,” Hon. Fahie added.
Problem Spans Two Ministers of Finance
On the other hand, Minister for Education and Culture, Hon. Myron Walwyn pointed out that the problem did not occur overnight. He told the House: “What is before us is a problem that we have that we have to address it head on and see it for what it really and truly is. We have to be as objective as possible.”
Hon. Walwyn noted that the SAPs from 2007 to 2011 were during the VIP administration. “We had the Virgin Islands Party government in place I am only just using that for the sake of demarcation. Then you have the others which are under the National Democratic Party.”
“We had two finance ministers and the same problem prevailed with the two finance ministers. We have a problem with our country where there seems to be a miseducation of our people and many of us who are in this House of Assembly we are responsible for that,” he added.
The Education Minister stressed that the issue is not a matter that should result in blame for the Minister of Finance: “I know the talk would be almost as if the current Minister of Finance would have done something or not pay attention to something — this is not his job. Let us be real and be honest, because it spanned so many years – two ministers of finance. Yes, he should have paid attention, but we have a problem of capacity that we have to address at the core of what we are doing.”
“Since the new financial secretary came back from his second or third tour as financial secretary he has brought up some things that I have seen overlooked for many years. I have never seen some of the things since I’m there,” Hon. Walwyn added.
The Minister further stated that this situation highlights that some training is needed within the public service.