There was hardly a news outlet—social and anti-social media included—that did not over the weekend underscore the importance, not to say the popular anticipation this time around, of the prime minister’s New Year Message. Cackling commuters, callers addicted to Newsspin, Ninety Minutes and What Makes You Mad, babbling party hacks of all hues, half-sozzled denizens of watering holes north to south . . . especially since the Stanley Felix-Philip La Corbiniere-DPP brouhaha . . . it seems all we’ve been talking about lately—and not without good reason—is in one way or another related to those unforgettable “gross violations of human rights.”
According to the prime minister himself, way back in 2010 the issue had attracted the focused attention of the U.S. State Department. Since then the European Union, Canada and representatives of at least one human rights organization in London have been clamoring for a judicial investigation and resolution. It is no secret (although some here would seek conveniently to say otherwise!) that we have long depended for our survival on the largesse of the above-mentioned countries. Until quite recently we referred to them categorically as “our traditional friends.” How quickly that relationship is souring.
Just two weeks ago representatives of the EU had convened a precedential meeting here, mainly to underscore for the media their increasing concern about the breakdown of Saint Lucia’s justice system and the frightening possible consequences. For reasons often partisan, many prayed the prime minister would reveal to Saint Lucians why he had invited ambassadors Eric de La Moussaye, Mikael Barfod and Victoria Dean to meet privately with him. Great was the popular expectation that he would on Monday evening update the nation on the status of the killer sanctions imposed by the United States more than two years ago on the bereft Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. Which is not to say the nation’s only concerns were linked to the fall-out from the prime minister’s handling of what is now generally referred to as IMPACS.
Indeed, the nation fully expected to hear what lies ahead for local business and the 73 percent of the workforce that the prime minister himself had curiously declared “unable to access available jobs.” There were also the matters of the inoperative crime lab at Tapion, the woefully encumbered DPP’s office and the concomitant repercussions, particularly on citizens who have for too long, over ten years in some cases, waited without word for their day in court—a horrid violation of their constitutional and human rights.
Then there is the mystery-laden secret appointment of our third Arab ambassador, currently embroiled in a London court battle with an ex-wife that even now continues to generate bad news for tourism-dependent Saint Lucia. Many overseas observers consider the case another example of the egregious abuse dished out to Saudi women by their male counterparts, whether or not multi-billionaires; whether or not resident in the Middle East.
Several hours before Saint Lucia’s prime minister delivered his New Year message, the local equivalent of America’s State of the Union report, an article entitled Abuse of Diplomatic Immunity Has to Stop featured prominently in one of London’s more prestigious newspapers (reproduced in this issue). At the heart of the Telegraph article by Mark Stephens, a human rights lawyer and a former president of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, is the plea that British courts should not permit “wealthy people such as Saudi diplomat Walid Juffali to take advantage of this privilege to protect themselves from the law . . . It is scandalous that the Saint Lucia government is facilitating Mr. Juffali’s attempts to avoid justice, and the very fact they have chosen not to waive his immunity makes a mockery of the Vienna Convention. Waiving his immunity would clearly not affect his ability to carry out any diplomatic duties.”
As for the Daily Mail, on Sunday it featured court testimony that Juffali has for several months been hospitalized with cancer. Little wonder that this New Year address by the prime minister had generated more public interest than had most of his predictable Budget exaggerations. It began with a somewhat perplexing statement that should’ve warned his audience of where he had chosen to take us but quite possibly did not. I certainly was taken off guard by his insulting assessment of the national intelligence.
His opening statement, delivered with the face of a judge delivering the death penalty: “I do not know whether many of you are aware that this year is another leap year. There are of course many myths, tales, aphorisms and dire warnings which abound about leap years. There is a particular aphorism which says that if you do not properly till the soil in a leap year there will be a poor harvest.” He expressed the hope that “we will till the soil well this year to reap a good harvest for our country and our people.” Moreover: “We are well placed to reap a bountiful harvest. I say this because I am becoming increasingly confident about our economy and its future prospects.”
The last line brought to mind the late John Compton in his time as our nation’s minister. Seldom had he delivered a speech, whether at Budget time, the conclusion of an Atlantic Rally for Cruisers race, or from his party’s William Peter Boulevard platform, that did not feature an amusing marine metaphor. It was common knowledge that at heart Compton was an old salt, as was his adoptive father Mailings Compton, as is his lifetime best friend Sir James Michel. (Sir John Compton also considered himself an engineer and other things too numerous to mention—but that’s for another show.) On the other hand, lord knows what this present prime minister is at heart, or what he secretly imagines himself.
My dictionary defines aphorism as “a concise statement of a scientific principle, typically by an ancient author.” So, where is the scientific principle supportive of the prime minister’s suggestion that only in a leap year is it crucial to till the soil before planting? Was he saying that in years comprising 365 days, as opposed to the 366 that make a year leap, the untilled soil delivers bountiful harvests regardless?
The media-phobic prime minister volunteered to “share” with his unseen TV audience “details on the performance of our economy” for the first three-quarters of the financial year: from “very tepid growth,” domestic output had “strengthened.” The construction sector had “gained momentum.” There had been “continued buoyancy in tourism, agriculture and other services.” He nevertheless cautioned that “significant risks remain in managing our debt and in ensuring debt and fiscal sustainability over the medium to long term.” Additionally: “We have to inspire confidence in the management of our economy and contain reckless increases in our debt level.”
Who is “we,” Tonto? Did the prime minister use the word as traditionally used by queens? How do Mr. and Mrs. Average Citizen “contain reckless increases in our debt level?” Silly me, I had always been under the evidently flawed impression that the people held the leader of government in double trust: as prime minister and minister of finance he is the manager of Saint Lucia’s economy, with first responsibility for his government’s fiscal policies, debts and the level of confidence in our economic status. What we the people contribute to our island’s economy is to a large extent dependent on how well it is managed by the prime minister and minister of finance! If I may say so, the majority of Saint Lucians are not all that interested in fiscal data, especially when the prime minister himself had warned, when he presented his 2012 Estimates of Expenditure to parliament, that figures supplied finance ministers by public servants “cannot be trusted.”
We judge the health of our economy—whether weak, struggling, comatose or walking dead—by the state of our businesses great and small; whether or not we are employed; how difficult it is to feed our dependents; send our kids to school and so on. Pointless, then, telling the prime minister’s unemployable “73 percent of the workforce” that “the latest employment figures produced by the Department of Statistics and the data provides [sic] cause for optimism.” In all events, when did optimism become acceptable as cash in kind? If only you could take optimism to the supermarket and leave with a load of groceries. If only our hospital accepted optimism as payment for doctors’ prescriptions. If only . . .
By all the prime minister said on Monday evening, it would seem his optimism derives from his “offer to the citizens of other countries the opportunity to share our citizenship by investing in our country.” The prime minister allotted much time to the admittedly worrying issue of climate change, particularly his government’s contribution to the so-called Paris Agreement. He half-remembered Kendel Hippolyte, at any rate Hippolyte’s somewhat hyperbolic “point on social media, that we must practice in our country what we preach to the world,” which the prime minister read as a reminder that “we must begin to take better care of our own environment.”
By his own account the prime minister had concurred “without reservation.” As presumably do the rest of us. Then again, how long before residents of Bexon and Fond St Jacques can sleep peacefully when it rains? He touched, too, on the 80-year monopoly of Lucelec (a grateful sharer of the spoils is our government) but offered no hint of when the monopoly will end and better days dawn on consumers—rock-bottom fuel prices notwithstanding.
And then there was the “Map Saint Lucia” project, Senator James Fletcher’s brainchild, according to the prime minister obviously in a mood to be overgenerous. “The project was launched last week,” he advised, and come February 28, as an “official activity in our Independence celebrations, there will be our national Mapathon.” (Did the same brains responsible for the vague Nobel Laureate Week—as opposed to a more specific Lewis-Walcott Week—invent “Mapathon?” Surely there must be at least one good reason why Martin Luther King Day was so named, even if it is that Freedom Ring Day would’ve been a tad nebulous!)
Doubtless Saint Lucians with their attached cell phones and tablets will in gratitude offer special novenas in our prime minister’s name for “this project that will generate information that young Saint Lucian entrepreneurs can use to create mobile applications valuable to Saint Lucians and visitors.” And so we arrived at what even the prime minister considered “the two matters which have attracted our attention and may have caused you uneasiness and anxiety in recent times. The first is the IMPACS report and the insistence of the United States that those who are accused of the extra-judicial killings of twelve persons between 2010 and 2011, when the United Workers Party was in office, be brought to justice.
“I assure you that we will continue to work closely with the United States to bring closure to this matter. To assist us, the government has engaged the services of a firm of lawyers operating in Washington to represent us in discussions with officials of the State Department.” Presumably Tony Astaphan and the long contracted Grynberg team are also on board! Only a don’t-give-a-damn desperate prime minister in denial would as easily dispose of the nation’s worst nightmare. (The mindless dismissal reminded of the Constitution Reform Proposals, earlier dumped at the speed of light!) It was as if this prime minister had never delivered a particular address on 20 August 2013. Or another on 8 March 2015 that had confirmed the existence of a death list and its relationship with the fatal shooting by local police officers of “twelve persons deemed to be criminals.”
Yes, it was as if the prime minister had never promised to follow the rule of law as enshrined in our Constitution . . . vowed to “do this, not for the Americans but for ourselves . . . My government will remain fully committed to the maintenance of the rule of law and order, by all citizens, irrespective of their position or status, civilian or others.” Indeed it was as if he had never accused anyone publicly of willful blindness in the face of murder; never said crime in our country was “facilitated by government officials, politicians and businessmen.”
On Monday the prime minister made no reference whatsoever to his recent sit-down with an EU delegation to discuss the future of the IMPACS report. Not a word, not a word, not a word did he speak about the Leahy Law sanctions. As for his recently “welcomed” clarification of the U.S. position on the issue, nada! There will be time enough to discuss the still unfolding Juffali mystery. Suffice it to say Saint Lucians are as much in the dark about this headline-making controversy as are most about Grynberg. Conceivably, the prime minister is hoping his tax-funded lawyers can get him off the State Department’s hook and put an end to its insistence on due process for “those who are accused of the extra-judicial killings of twelve persons between 2010 and 2011.”
As for the invited EU delegation and the promises made them by the prime minister, let us not forget his promise to his fellow countrymen of better days—also made in 2010 and 2011. For our own sake, let us hope our prime minister demonstrates greater respect for the 28 EU member states than he seems to have for the national intelligence!