The $21 million in the Tobago House of Assembly’s (THA) closed escrow account, which is earmarked to pay Milshirv Properties Ltd for rent, is not missing. Rather, the THA opened an account at the First Citizens, transferred the funds there and subsequently paid the company.
This was the assurance People’s National Movement’s candidate for Buccoo/Mt Pleasant Ancil Dennis gave to Tobagonians during a THA campaign meeting in Charlotteville on Saturday night.
He was responding to criticism levelled against the THA following the release of the Auditor General’s 2016 report which noted the authority did not present documentation accounting for some $21,569,248 from the closed account.
Milshirv is the private partner in the THA’s first Private-Public Partnership arrangement under a Build-Own/Operate-Lease-Transfer agreement. The company was responsible for constructing the THA’s Division of Food Production headquarters at Shirvan Road.
During a campaign trail meeting on January 10, the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) had asked the THA to account for the “missing” funds.
But on Saturday night, Dennis said no People’s National Movement official stole the money as alleged by the PDP. He said the missing documentation from the Auditor General’s accounting package was available.
He said the THA’s former chief administrator, Dr Ellis Burris and former finance secretary Dr Anslem Ricards set up an account at First Citizens and transferred “the $21 million and interest to Milshirv account.”
Explaining the absence of the document from information tendered to the Auditor General’s department, Dennis said: “…If you coming to look for 2016 books in 2020 and you asking public servants to go back into dusty rooms and to go into far locations … that is always going to be a challenge.”
He also said the THA did not have sufficient time to present the paperwork to the Auditor General.
“If you issue the management letter on November 12 (2020) and you finalise the report on the 10 of December (2020) … that gave the administrators of the Tobago House of Assembly, along with the public servants, less than one month to respond to all the queries of the auditor general.”
A release from the Dennis’ office also explained the issue further.
“It must be noted that the document that has been publicised and quoted as the Auditor General’s Report, was in fact the Management Letter of the Audit of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) for the year ended September 30, 2016,” it said.
The release said the final report also did not include the much-publicised about $2.5 million million zipline project.