By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
FREE National Movement (FNM) deputy leader Peter Turnquest yesterday accused the government of delaying its tabling of the controversial Auditor General’s report into Urban Renewal 2.0 to “buy itself the time to clean” the programme’s records.
However, Urban Renewal Co-Chair Algernon Allen, dismissed the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) member’s assertion, telling The Tribune the remarks were “scandalous and filth that could only come from an evil mind”.
Mr Allen went on to defend Urban Renewal as he insisted that regardless of what is uncovered as the PAC investigates was done for the good of the poor who need relief.
The former FNM Cabinet minister said now that the report has been laid on the table he had no reservations over appearing before the PAC when called to do so.
The comments came after Prime Minister Perry Christie tabled Auditor General Terrance Bastian’s report into Urban Renewal 2.0 and its Small Homes Repair initiative during the morning session of the House of Assembly.
As Mr Christie tabled the audit report, which unearthed a litany of issues leaving the initiative open to abuses, he said the PAC could now summon whoever it needed to defend the government and to ensure transparency. He said the government was prepared to facilitate the work of the PAC.
This is the same report which had been leaked to the press in April and sparked heated public discourse over the operations of the programme.
Mr Turnquest said: “This gave them an opportunity to clean the records because it has just been way too long. Certainly they have their own reasons for delaying it because there was no reason for it to be delayed.
“If, in fact, in their view it was out of order for us to have delved into that report, they certainly could have tabled the report right then and there because our information was that they had full access to that report before we had access to it.”
Mr Turnquest maintained that the PAC had always acted within its parameters. He expressed hope that the committee’s work could quickly get back on track, now that Mr Allen and his fellow co-chair Cynthia “Mother” Pratt no longer had an “excuse” to dodge the PAC.
“I am certainly happy that the government has finally seen fit to table this report, which has been available since last year. As far as the PAC is concerned, we always felt that we had access and the way that we conducted our investigation thus far had been appropriate and within the rules of the House. We never felt we were out of order in respect to the way we conducted the investigation.
“Now that this has been tabled, it clears away the excuse the co-chairs had in not being able to come forward. We were prepared to summon them. In fact the summons is pending. Now that this has been tabled, hopefully we will not need to use that power anymore and they will come forward willingly.”
Mr Allen insisted yesterday that with the report’s tabling, it now placed the PAC within its right to compel him to appear before them. He said both he and Mrs Pratt objected all along because they always felt the PAC was acting improperly.
“Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely (I will now appear before the PAC),” Mr Allen said. “We said once the report of the Auditor General had been tabled we would be happy to appear. That is the position we took.
“The co-chairs at all times were committed to appear once the report had been laid and now that it has been we are eager to appear,” he emphasised.
“Mother Pratt and I, we eat, breathe and sleep Urban Renewal. We are more than anxious to appear now that the law and Constitution has been followed. But to say otherwise is absolute nonsense. There was nothing more than that. If anything is uncovered it was done with a view to improving the lives of the poor and downtrodden.”
Mr Allen said if there are areas of the initiative that are wanting, officials were prepared to address the issues.
Last month, PAC Chairman Hubert Chipman said he was “angered” that the committee remained at a “disgusting” stalemate regarding its probe of Urban Renewal’s operations as he suggested that the Speaker, Dr Kendal Major, had prevented the work from progressing.
According to Mr Chipman, the PAC forwarded to Chief House Clerk Maurice Tynes new summonses to be signed and served on co-chairs for them to appear before the committee.
However, the St Anne’s MP said in seeking counsel from Dr Major, Mr Tynes was told to “hold off” on sending the co-chairs the orders to appear. These documents would have compelled Mrs Pratt and Mr Allen to appear before the committee on Thursday.
In May, Dr Major ordered the PAC to “stay its hand” in investigating Urban Renewal until Parliament could decide on a way forward. At the time, he expressed optimism that the government would table the report in the House of Assembly.
The PAC previously asked Mr Bastian to investigate Urban Renewal and its Small Homes Repair Programme. His report found numerous areas of concern and weaknesses related to management and expenditure.
After the report was leaked to the media Mr Allen and Mrs Pratt refused to appear for a scheduled hearing of the PAC. They said the audit had not gone through the proper parliamentary procedure and was therefore illegal. The co-chairs said they would appear at an appropriate time, once the audit was off the table of questioning.