At Tuesday’s House sitting the usual predictable debate followed yet another resolution designed to legalize what several times in the last several weeks the prime minister had declared wrong, illegal, not according to the law. This week, however, his one concern was “doing what is right, correcting mistakes of the past.”
The prime minister cannot control the sleeping school principal in his belly; not after he has heard the unique sound of the MP for Castries Southeast. The voice of Guy Joseph similarly affects the normally pacific MP for Castries East. But perhaps because he has never been a lecturer, only the dedicated representative of a demanding and especially depressed constituency, Philip J. Pierre nearly always sounds like a man burning with contained hot air.
This time around he seemed close to tears as he defended his righteousness against attributed false motives, when all he had ever sought to do was make public such irreproachable evidence as had been supplied him by irreproachable experts at his irreproachable reconstruction ministry.
That he had never once dared to expose such evidence in an environment unprotected by House privileges was hardly the point. That much of it implied, at the very least, misfeasance on the part of Guy Joseph when he controlled portfolios for which Pierre now holds responsibility, was obviously no fault of the MP for Castries East. That all-important truth, to Pierre’s expressed disappointment, the press had chosen not to report!
It is no mere coincidence his House deliveries are Oscar worthy. As he underscored several times on Tuesday, he was a fourth-term MP, therefore had had ample time to finesse the fine art of persuasion, to be the most effective role player in the House—whether as prime minister of this unholy Rock of Sages or as a selfless disseminator of hope to the hopeless.
On Tuesday Pierre avoided the deep end of the political cesspool. Just in case some doubted his sincerity he reminded colleagues, red and yellow, that fourth-term parliamentarians are above indulging in “back-and-forth.” At his stage in the game, he said with the smallest cry in his voice, all he was concerned with was public accountability.
Meanwhile I couldn’t help wondering about poor Hannah Defoe and whether it was true, as believers maintain, that until unnatural deaths have been resolved the victims’ souls can find no peace. On countless occasions the deceased’s relatives had told the whole world via the internet how their own lives suddenly had been turned topsy turvy by what happened to the vacationing 21-year-old that unforgettable day more than two years ago when she stepped into an inviting and presumed safe swimming pool at a Vieux Fort resort conceivably licensed by the government. For more than a year the result of a Pierre-initiated one-man inquiry has remained classified—which is not to say its damning details are actually the government’s best-kept secret, a distinction that indisputably belongs to Grynberg.
On Tuesday the heavy cannons proceeded from the mouth of the prime minister. His demeanor before every shot reflected the confidence of a shooter of fish in a barrel. But first there was his now obligatory nod in the direction of the former “worst prospect confronting Saint Lucia.”
In almost unctuous fashion the prime minister concurred with the Castries Central MP who earlier had suggested finance ministers be less secretive about public business, government loans in particular. The MP had also gone to great lengths to explain in the simplest English that promises given at Budget time depended not on the promisor’s integrity but on what there was in the government’s kitty and what the government hoped to receive from friends, traditional and otherwise. Government promises, the MP emphasized, were never written in stone.
As I say, the prime minister publicly congratulated the opposition MP on his recently-acquired perspicacity (a televised endorsement that must have short-circuited the attendant UWP leader’s nervous system) and favorably compared him with a local bank owner who, when he was a permanent secretary in a 70s John Compton administration, was widely excoriated by the Labour opposition for truthfully acknowledging what finance ministers say during their Budget presentations is flim flam.
Pity the starving innocents who continue to treat as gospel whatever falls out of the pharisaic mouths of politicians, including their election promises of $100 million for private-sector investing and jobs-jobs-jobs. The prime minister certainly knew whence he came when in 2011 he had admonished his docile immediate predecessor for investing trust in the advice of public servants!
Turning to the MP left of the Castries Central representative, the prime minister, seemingly all aglow, acknowledged the arcane highs he experiences from “responding to the MP for Castries Southeast.” He then proceeded to shower a seemingly receptive Guy Joseph with faint praise: he said he was elated beyond measure that after some ten years (eleven, actually) the Castries Southeast MP had finally understood what was at the heart of the infamous Martinus Francois and The Attorney General, also known as “the Rochamel case.”
Channeling the Professor Higgins (or was it Little Richard?) in his DNA, the prime minister raved: “He’s got it! He’s got it! He’s finally got it. It took him ten years to understand Rochamel.” Which did not mean he planned to leave well enough alone; not with his internalized insatiable school principal side screaming for more attention. Invoking the Finance Act, the prime minister insisted he was fully authorized to enterinto contracts without House approval. However, like one of Santayana’s people “who cannot remember the past” he added: “What the government cannot do is pay until it has received parliamentary approval.” The prime minister spoke carelessly. Conceivably what he had meant to say was the government cannot legally pay . . .
He offered still another lesson: even though attorneys general were fallible, “governments must respect their opinion.” Referencing the Castries Southeast MP directly—and in the process flouting with impunity the House rules that insist on members addressing only the Speaker directly—the prime minister said: “If you had stayed silent you would not be attacked.”
Attacked? In any event, is that any way for an MP to represent his people? In silence? And anyway, how had the MP invited the “attacks?” Earlier Guy Joseph had cited sections of the judgment handed down by appeal court justices Albert Redhead, Adrian Saunders and Hugh Rawlins in February 2004, relating to the so-called Rochamel case. Evidently Guy Joseph was counting on repetitionto persuade the government side of the House that his handling of contracts when he was the communications and works minister had been according to law—contrary to all they had placed on the Internet.
Having applauded the MP for finally getting it insofar as the finance minister’s authority to borrow was concerned, the prime minister then implied that Rochamel-related withdrawals from the Consolidated Fund had been in accordance with the law. Alas the MP Guy Joseph had failed to complete his homework. Otherwise, he might’ve discovered that much of what had transpired between 1998 and 2004—including the Rochamel court cases—had by 2009 been blown away by new discoveries. I say that mindful of the possibility, however remote, that the MP knew well the full story.
For instance, that the guarantees in the development and concession agreement, the deed of guarantee and indemnity and the put option agreements as they related to Rochamel “were never put before parliament.”
Consequently, there was “no direct authority for money payable under the guarantees, which were all executed by Dr. Kenny Anthony on behalf of the government of Saint Lucia, to be taken out of the Consolidated Fund as is contemplated by sections 41 and 42 of the Finance Administration Act.”
The immediately preceding is from the Ramsahoye Report, as is the following: “In December 2002 the government of Saint Lucia, invoking Section 39 of the finance act, wanted to borrow US$41 million from the Royal Merchant Bank to meet expenditure on capital works which the government had undertaken but it was also stated that the other part should be used to refinance government’s obligations in respect of the former Hyatt Hotel.
“The truth was that the [unspecified] obligations which the government intended to meet were the loan monies which Frenwell had borrowed and the interest which the government was obliged to pay to the Royal Merchant Bank under the deed of guarantee and indemnity and the put option payments . . .”
The commission concluded that “the nature of the proceedings by virtue of which the resolution was passed
were irregular . . . but not unlawful.”
The financial consequence to the people was massive. But the Castries Southeast opposition MP did not go there; neither did the prime minister. Instead, the last mentioned congratulated his accommodating colleague on his late understanding of Rochamel, before he quickly switched to “attack” mode.
He said Guy Joseph had at last “understood the act but not what actually happened.”
The prime minister generously allowed that all MPs, as well as ordinary mortals, were prone to mistakes. He had himself committed an unspecified number, for which his deputy had privately chastised him. (Henceforth, let his back-and-forth detractors never utter their blasphemous “Pip’s a pussy” mantra!)
What was a government with its own baggage to do upon falling upon another government’s mistakes (earlier deemed illegalities!)? The prime minister suggested the only option was to keep in mind the nation’s on-going lucrative relationship with investors—a relationship that had to be protected at all cost—regardless of what the law, the courts or commissions of inquiry might say to the contrary.
Without a single contrary word, the prime minister implied that even when a government transaction turns out to be not in accordance with the law the government had no other option but to pay up and move on. At which point I am again reminded of Sowell’s: “It’s hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong!”
The prime minister talked (but at no great length) about the Constitution and its provision for retroactive legislation. But not one word did he utter about the particular retroactive law his government had enacted with respect to “belated guarantees.”
He also avoided any reference to the F-word. Frenwell, that is. As for his respect-your-AG campaign, evidently the prime minister had long put out of his mind his now famous treatment ofPetrus Compton’s opinion of Jack Grynberg and the secret arrangement involving some 83 million acres of ostensibly oil-laden Saint Lucian seabed, destined collectively to be known as the Kenny G-spot .
Saint Lucians in the field with only their radios may well have formed the impression on Tuesday that the silent LOO and the rest of her preoccupied opposition crew were themselves surreptitiously involved in another special arrangement with the prime minister.