The United Workers’ Party (UWP) has undertaken a very preliminary assessment of the report on the operations of Town and Village Councils, presented by the government in parliament during the debate on the budget for 2013 /2014 and would like to make the following initial observations:
1. The UWP is appalled that the government and its agents continue to mislead the public by referring to the report as a “forensic audit”. A Forensic Accountant is a professional with very specific qualifications and a forensic audit follows particular procedures and methodologies. None of the individuals named as authors of the report are qualified in this field. Besides, the language of the report and the methods used are not in keeping with the approach of a Forensic Audit. The government should cease misrepresenting the Forensic Accounting profession in their attempt to give credibility to a report and process which are fundamentally flawed.
2. It was not the Government of Saint Lucia which made the decision that the monies donated by the Taiwanese should not be channeled through the Consolidated Fund. It was a requirement of the donor – the Government of Taiwan. This is not something new. There are numerous examples during the tenure in office of both political parties. It must be remembered however, that the requirements of the donor in terms of accountability for the funds were complied with. If they were not, the donor would stop or suspend the disbursement of funds to individual projects. It is documented that this happened in only one case.
3. The UWP notes that the office of the Director of Audit, which is the agency responsible for the conduct of audits of government institutions, has lamented that her office was not involved in this audit. “Unlike the Castries City Council where the Director of Audit has the explicit mandate to audit the financial statements it is not so for the Town and Village Councils. For the last four years the councils were included as programs under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Renewal. The town and village councils were not required to present us with financial statements for audit.” (Page 61) One must wonder why. Is it that the government had a particular agenda and the Director of Audit would not compromise the professionalism of her office? The government should refrain from using civil servants to pursue its political motives. Saint Lucians should also bear in mind that the present Prime Minister, as Leader of the Opposition for five years was chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament and the party is not aware that he convened any meeting of that committee to consider the reports of the Director of Audit.
4. It is not surprising that the government selected the occasion of the presentation of the annual budget to release this report. The government is well aware that the budget presented was one which gave no hope to the people of Saint Lucia. The removal of subsidies on basic food commodities such as rice, sugar and flour, huge increases in the cost of water and other goods and services as well as the compounding effect of the VAT will erode the disposable income of the average Saint Lucian and contribute to a reduction in their standard of living. The timing of the release was therefore carefully orchestrated in order to divert attention from these bread and butter issues.
5. The UWP is committed to the principle of holding persons to account. The party has a proud record of management of the public funds while in office. The UWP therefore does not condone any wrong doing in that regard. Persons who, it is proven have broken the law or violated established procedures from whichever political party should be dealt with appropriately.
The UWP has assembled a team of professionals with the requisite credentials and qualifications to study the report in detail and offer appropriate recommendations. The party will offer a more detailed response at the conclusion of this exercise.