Another Day Another Inquiry!

A three-day Commission of Inquiry will begin next Monday into the operations of Saint Lucia Fire Service. A notice from the Ministry of Home Affairs and National Security announced the Inquiry which will be held from December 17 to the 19th.

Read the statement: “The public is hereby informed that, pursuant to the Commissions of Inquiry Act. Chapter 17.03 of the 2008 Revised Laws of Saint Lucia, there will be an inquiry into the conduct and management of the Saint Lucia Fire Service and the conduct of Senior Fire Personnel and the Laws relating thereto. The terms of reference of the Commission of Inquiry have been settled by Cabinet in Cabinet Conclusion No. 611 of 8th October 2012.” According to the notice the inquiry will have one commissioner, Dr Francis Alexis, Q.C., with the legal counsel to the commissioner being Ms Renee St Rose. The secretary of the Commission will be Ms. Lyndell Gustave. The sittings of the Commission will be held at the House of Assembly starting on Monday from 11am and on Tuesday and Wednesday from 9pm.

The Commission is inviting written submissions and is also asking persons interested in appearing before the commission to contact the secretary at Parliament. The Saint Lucia Fire Service has been embroiled in controversy since 2011 over a longstanding dispute between the St Lucia Fire Service Welfare Association and the Fire Chief. Letters back and forth, threats of industrial action and countless meetings with government officials have no doubt led to the inquiry; the terms of reference of which have not yet been released. Earlier this year the Chief Fire Officer Leslie Fontenelle held a press conference where he responded to what he said were attacks on his character. Fontenelle also at the time served legal papers on some media personnel.

Chief Fire officer Leslie Fontenelle at a press conference earlier this year.

The Fire Chief said that his office has been the subject of much negative publicity “occasioned by what appears to be a personal agenda by the Fire Service Welfare Association.” He told reporters: “I have been publicly accused of fraud, crime and corruption. These accusations are baseless, malicious, slanderous and defamatory. This no doubt has caused a lot of damage to my character and a dark cloud of doubt now hangs over my integrity.” One of the main accusations against management of the Fire Service was violations of Public Service Policies and State Laws. Also speaking earlier this year on the issue, Secretary of the Fire Service association, Shane Felix said the troubling matters were hindering the performance of fire officers. Fontenelle for his part said that the productivity of the department had been harmed as well as the image of the service.

At the time he said: “The secretary claims to have some documents to prove allegations; documents which I suspect, were obtained by questionable means and has challenged anyone to prove him wrong.” “Wisdom dictates that I should be patient in dealing with this matter. There are established structures in government to deal with such matters—while the system may be slow, this is the established system for that purpose and it should be respected.” He went on: “The Association has chosen instead to attack my character and disrespect my high office in public. This is completely out of order. It is unprecedented for junior staff to publicly grandstand the head of their organization.” Now that a Commission of Inquiry has been initiated hopefully there will be some clarity on this issue and the relevant parties will come forward to testify.

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