Monday, 11 February 2013 02:30
By caribarena news
Antigua St. John's - Antigua Labour Party stalwart Asot Michael has accused the government of exploiting the Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS) funds to cater to expensive buildings and posh offices.
He said the government had made good to cover its tracks by withholding any public scrutiny of MBS funds since the ALP’s exit in 2004.
Speaking at last week's ALP rally, Michael said the MBS Board, prior to the UPP taking office in 2004, had contracted an actuary under the direction of the previous government to design the MBS programme. And it was the UPP government that killed it.
His comments come as discussions on the ALP's alleged misuse of Social Security funds appear to have subsided.
"They wanted to use Medical Benefits money to rent palatial offices, to buy expensive new buildings, to pay for central Government normal health expenses, so they can raid medical benefits for all types of political wasteful expenditures," Michael said.
He added that the government has refused to publish the accounts of the fund, even after Nurse Ann Edwards, as Chairman, put online an unaudited financial statement for which she may have been removed from office. Efforts to reach Nurse Edwards for a comment proved to be futile
"Since her removal no more accounts have been made public and the raiding of the fund has increased exponentially," Michael said.
Further, he pointed out that based on that unaudited statement, the Medical Benefits had realized an excess of some $30 million annually.
"This government squanders this money while they leave sick children to languish begging," Michael said.
Attempts to reach Finance Minister Harold Lovell for a comment on the opposition members comments were unsuccessful.
In the meantime however, Opposition Leader Gaston Browne has rejected any notion that Michael’s sentiments are in any way a smokescreen to shift public discussions.
He said the track record of the UPP until recently as far as the treatment of the SSS has been similar to that of the ALP, having not paid for several years the required public service dues, and borrowing also tens of millions of dollars from the Scheme during this time.
“I want to make the point that there is no need for any distraction. The facts are there. The UPP government contributed to the problem by virtue of their own negligence and chalking up arrears and debts over the years,” Browne said.
He added that the government is not excused from blame for either the Social Security or the Medical Benefits Schemes, having for several years failed to pay their own contributions. And not servicing the loans left by the previous government.
“Government is continuous,” Browne maintains. “It doesn’t matter who contracted what… it is the responsibility of the government of the day to make those things right.”
Sticking to the matter of the Social Security Board, Browne pointed out that the government added almost $100m to the outstanding sum of loans, contributions and penalties since holding office.
“Clearly ALP made mistakes, and I am saying that going forward those mistakes will not be repeated. But the government is there now and they don’t have to make promises, all they have to do is fix it,” Browne said.
He advised that the government get on with the work of the people and “stop the blame game.”