The topic of PetroCaribe Funds seems to be one that has taken on a life of its own. It has become a household name and an issue that has come under heavy criticism over the last few months. Those criticisms continued today on a local talk show where the withdrawal of PetroCaribe monies were said to be used to help Government fund salaries for the public sector. This conclusion came about after documents from the Central Bank surfaced showing a deposit into the Consolidated Fund of twenty million dollars in 2014 and another twenty million dollars in 2015. The crux of the issue, however, is that the documents were not properly understood and therefore the public was misinformed and misled. Love News spoke to the Financial Secretary, Joseph Waight today to get some clarity on those PetroCaribe figures.
“In essence, the story is this: the Government spends money out of its operating account at the Central Bank. That operating account is used to pay for wages and salaries, operating expenses, debt service, capital projects including those that are to be financed under the PetroCaribe program. From time to time we replenish the accounts by drawing from the deposit accounts into which we put the PetroCaribe fund. So, the PetroCaribe funds go first into a deposit account, it’s held there and then government draws out of that account to replace or replenish to reimburse expenditures laid from the government’s main account which is its operating account. In fact what happens is that we spend first out of one pocket and then we draw out of another pocket to replenish. When we do the replenishment what we ask the Central Bank to transfer in this case $20 million over. There were two amounts of $20 million by the way there were $20 million in March of 2013 a second $20 million in March of 2014. So we drew money from the PetroCaribe account to put back in the Government Operating account to pay future expenses in this case the future expense was salaries and wages and debt service. All that we were doing really was to reimburse ourselves for money spent out of the operating account so that we would have enough to meet end of month salaries and debt service.”
According to Waight, while one account is used for public service wages and operational expenses as well as contract payments for the PetroCaribe programs the transactions are done based on the particular monies allotted.
“We have one main operating account at the Central Bank and we draw from that account for payments of wages, things like light and water and other payments; everything comes out of one single account. What goes into the account are revenue, loan funds including PetroCaribe money from time to time.”
“So it’s not a case where PetroCaribe funds were financing public service wages?”
“No, it was basically reimbursing the government so that it would have money in its hand; reimbursing for money already spent so that we can pay the wages and salaries.”
While there were other amounts listed in the documents, the concerns were over the two deposits of twenty million dollars made as it was subsequently, speculated that Government was not really being transparent on the use of the monies and that there were some cover ups. In a release issued today from the Ministry of Finance, it stated, in part, “GOB’s record of transactions keeps full track of the monies moving in and out of both the operating account and the PetroCaribe account. It is therefore easy to reconcile and square those movements and show that transfers of PetroCaribe funds into the consolidated operating account are always only to replenish, in that consolidated operating account, what GOB has already spent from it on PetroCaribe projects.” End of quote. Waight stressed that the monies are being properly documented and accounted for as can be seen in the supplementary presentations that go the House of Representatives. We asked Waight if any member of the public would have access to see the records of PetroCaribe spending.
“Yes you’d be able to have access; remember we go to the House of Representatives, we do supplementary appropriation bills on the PetroCaribe spending. Each bill has an annex showing in detail what the project is, how much is spent, it’s all there available for the public view. We’ve done three supplementary so far; another one is coming up at the next house meeting which is at the end of this month; so yes, information is readily available. Supplementary is ex-post – It’s what has been spent; we go back to the house and say we want approval for what has been spent. Now, I should hasten to say that the new amendment to the PetroCaribe act puts a provision for future spending; we’d have to account for future spending but that isn’t in law but we hope it would be in law shortly. “
Monies from the PetroCaribe funds have been used for various projects around the country with a keen focus on infrastructural works.