Monday, 16 January 2012 02:30
By caribarena news
Antigua St John's - Former finance minister Molwyn Joseph and host Shelton Daniel discussed the new Chinese power plant during yesterday's edition of the Big Issues.
Joseph, from the beginning, expressed his disapproval and discontentment about the condition of the power plant when he toured it, along with MP Robin Yearwood, General Manager of APUA Esworth Martin, Max Hurst, and the Caribarena news team last month. He estimated that for the number of oil leaks he observed, the engines are probably 10 years or older.
Joseph said he questioned an engineer from APUA at the plant, and the engineer was unable to confirm or deny the engines' condition.
Joseph chastised those who would like to hide behind the excuse of "Chinese generosity," and said simply because the Chinese government had offered Antigua generous concessionary loans, the laws and procedures of Antigua & Barbuda should not be set aside.
He then accused the government of deliberately breaking the laws of Antigua, and not following the procedures of the Financial Administration Act, which the same UPP government passed in 2006.
The Financial Administration Act states that "no money shall be raised on the credit of the government, except under the authority of an act of Parliament or a resolution of the House." According to Joseph, the loan was never presented to the House of Representatives for a resolution or an act to be passed. He then presented an example of how government projects should be carried out, and described the procedure through which the Nevis Pier project got started.
"We brought the loan agreement to Parliament for resolution, and we had to bring the projections of the business to justify the feasibility of borrowing $22 M," Joseph said. "We had to show that we are going to create the business to pay back the loan. I recalled that at the end of the project, that the permanent secretary and the financial secretary in my ministry prepared a report, and submitted to Parliament, which is now a record of Parliament. We had to go through tendering, which we did. Now here we have spending of almost US$50 M. There's no purchase agreement that has ever come to Parliament, and no loan request of this government for authorization."
The MP then referred to another part of the Act, which states, "A resolution referred to in subsection 1 shall have effect for a period not exceeding 12 months." He interpreted this to mean that if the government enters into a loan agreement, the loan agreement should be brought before Parliament for approval within 12 months. And even now, four years following the government's entry into the loan, Joseph claimed that several members of Parliament are yet to see the loan agreement.
At this point, Joseph referred to yet another section of the Finance Administration Act, which states that any loan is a contingency of the Consolidated Fund, and as such, both the minister of finance and the accountant general must play a role. This role was not known by Joseph, and is seemingly unknown to the public.
Joseph then voiced concern about the person in charge of the disbursement of the loan. "Who is disbursing this loan, on this contract. Who in Antigua?" he asked. "Or who has been appointed as agent, to disburse this loan? Nobody knows! Obviously there has to be some agent in China, or someone in Antigua. Does the financial controller of APUA know anything about it? The general manager appears to know very little about this transaction. The issue here is that the government failed to come to Parliament, the government failed to explain to the people whether or not these are new or rehabilitated engines."
Shelton Daniel then commented on APUA General Manager Esworth Martin's handling of the matter. He said, "Up to now, the general manager is insisting that these are new engines, or that they are supposed to be. In fact, he seems to be hedging well in saying that we did everything in our judgement and competence to ensure that the power plant engines were new. Now this is different from saying categorically that I can vouch that the engines are new. When you start saying things like we did, everything in our judgement means you are leaving open a hair as a possibility that they are not new."
Shelton Daniel also noted that APUA has all kinds of resources and engineers available. With this level of expertise, he questioned how no one knew the engines were not new.
Near the end of the show, Joseph highlighted the fact that even if APUA's engineers had seen new engines being constructed when they visited China, it is possible that a different set of engines was loaded on the boats headed to Antigua. "I am absolutely sure that no Antiguan representative was in China when those plants were being prepared for shipment," he said.
Both MP Joseph and Daniel pointed out serious questions regarding the power plant. So far, only one thing is certain: At a time of great economic struggle, the people of Antigua & Barbuda will have a hefty concessional loan to pay off for the next 20 years.
See related stories:
Antigua Power Plant - No Straight Answers
Chinese Power Plant or Antigua's White Elephant
Power Plant Production Costs Explained
PM Says ALP Distorted Power Plant Info
No Plan Behind the Power Plant
Yearwood Presents Figures on Chinese Power Plant