Tobago House of Assembly Minority Assemblyman Farley Augustine says Tobago’s $4.71 billion 2021 fiscal package lacks accountability and transparency.
Speaking during the THA budget debate yesterday in place of Minority Leader Watson Duke, who gave way to his deputy political leader in an unprecedented move, Augustine, the People’s Democratic Party’s area representative for Parlatuvier/L’Anse Forum/Speyside, said Finance Secretary Joel Jack’s budget was a ‘hodgepodge of ideas.” However, Augustine said history had shown there was never any accountability for money spent on projects on the island.
“On the matter of accountability and transparency, this is a vexing issue area, Madame Presiding Officer, because every single Auditor General report … within the last two decades gave us adverse opinions. We can’t be coming to Tobago at our 20th budget, … and now talking about putting systems in place,” Augustine said.
Farley said in January 2001, the People’s National Movement’s then Tobago Council leader Orville London made the same statement about addressing accountability but since then nothing had been done.
However, THA Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis later called Farley’s presentation a “mismatch of words purporting to be a response to the budget.”
Dennis addressed Augustine as the de facto Minority Leader because Augustine had spoken first in the debate – a position usually reserved for the Minority Leader.
Guardian Media reached out to Augustine and Duke on the change in procedure. Both said it was part of the party’s “strategy as … Duke is transitioning into national politics” at the Tobago East candidate for the forthcoming general elections and Augustine will be vying for the position of Chief Secretary in next year’s THA election.
Dennis sidestepped Augustine’s comment on accountability but said the PDP should first account for the source of its party’s finances.
“…They (PDP) want to come here and talk about transparency but I want to suggest to them that in the interest of transparency, they should tell the people of Tobago where the funding is coming from to fix all those roofs and to create those images that appear as though they care about Tobagonians. Why weren’t they fixing roofs all along?” he said in reference to recent activity by Duke in various communities.
On Monday when Jack presented the budget, however, he took umbrage with Auditor Generals’ reports on the Assembly’s accounts.
“You may recall, Madam Presiding Officer, that I had … some challenges emanating from the previous report coming from the Auditor General’s department. These reports suggested malfeasance and … recognise(ed) that the system that we use … is antiquated.”
Jack said the THA is currently updating its accounting system, the 2016 financial statements are being audited and noted the THA’s outstanding audits will now be done by a reputable, independent firm.
In 2015, the Auditor General noted that the THA had failed to produce supporting documents for its 2006 fiscal year to the tune of almost $1 billion. The Auditor General gave similar reports for fiscal 2003, 2004 and 2005. In 2016, the Auditor General, commenting on the THA’s fiscal 2015 accounts, said vouchers worth $500 million were missing.