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KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Feb 1, CMC – Opposition Leader Dr. Godwin Friday has called for an audit of the PetroCaribe programme in St, Vincent and the Grenadines claiming that since its introduction here in 2005 “we have never had a proper accounting of the funds that were collected and how they were spent”.
PetroCaribe is an energy cooperation agreement initiated by the Venezuela government to provide a preferential payment arrangement for petroleum and petroleum products to some Caribbean and Latin American countries.
It was established in 2005 when the accord was signed by 14 Caribbean countries during the First Energy Summit of Caribbean Heads of Government held in the city of Puerto La Cruz, in eastern Venezuela.
The payment system allows for participating nations to buy oil on market value with only a portion paid for upfront and the remainder to be paid through a 25 year financing agreement on one per cent interest. A portion of the value of imports of crude oil from Venezuela is paid according to a sliding scale.
Friday said that while he welcomed the introduction of performance audits by the Director of Audit, he is hoping that PetroCaribe programme here would be one of the first to be examined under the new initiative.
“I would submit, I can’t tell the Director of Audit what to do, because it is an independent office, but the PetroCaribe programme cries out for a performance audit,” he said , adding “here you have a programme, Mr. Speaker, that has been in place since 2005 and we have never had a proper accounting of the funds that were collected and how they were spent”.
But Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, who was in Parliament when Friday made the statement, commented from across the aisle that that is not the case.
But Friday maintained his position saying “that is absolutely true….you come in Parliament with a sheet your hand and you wave it and say ‘Look a list here. We give this person this, we give the ferry this, we give this, that.
“That is not accounting. That is you telling me what you do, with nobody assessing it to see where the money actually went. What I would say, Mr. Speaker, to end all speculations about this, let the thing be audited,” Friday said.
The Opposition Leader said that while while PetroCaribe was established in 2005, there was no legal authority for the government to collect or spend the money under the initiative.
“It was only in 2016 that the special fund was created,” Friday said, adding that it was set up because of a constitutional requirement.
He said the government ran the programme for 10 years and according to the estimates of revenues and expenditure for the 2019 national budget presented to Parliament earlier this week, for 2018 there was EC$5.8 million (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) from PetroCaribean and nothing for 2019.
“There is zero. No money, in 2020 and 2021, nothing is expected to change so a projection of zero from PetroCaribe. So, 2016, you have laws that say that you have legislative authority under which to collect and spend money but no money coming, the money done gone.
“And the Director of Audit is given authority to audit the PetroCaribe programme. But is the office being given the resources to do it. And what’s more, when an audit is done, will it go back to 2005 or does the authority only start from 2016 when the law is passed going forward, when no money is collected. It can’t be that, because that would be a whitewash,” Friday added.