Doesn’t Anybody Talk Straight Anymore?

Deceased former prime minister Allan Louisy: He is especially famous for one particular parliamentary exchange with then opposition leader John Compton (at right).

He penned neither poems nor plays. At any rate, not for public consumption. On occasion he cited Scripture but never Shakespearean sonnets. He was not obviously blessed with the gift of the gab, as was say, George Odlum. Remarkably soft-spoken, he had spent the greater part of his professional life dispensing justice from his high perch at the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. What a shock to the nation’s psyche, then, when in 1979 he confirmed rumors that yes, he had indeed turned his back on the law to lead a newly radicalized St. Lucia Labour Party in its no-holds-barred war against a United Workers Party that had been elected to office at least three terms without defeat. Even more discombobulating was that he had whipped the previously perceived unbeatable UWP and replaced its deified leader as prime minister. But nothing I’ve so far written explains why, whenever I find myself in need of a celebrity quotation about words, the name that springs to mind is Allan Louisy.   

The following may be the reason: The new prime minister was presenting to parliament his very first budget since his party’s victory at the polls, replete with the usual impossible promises and exaggerations. The recently relegated Leader of the Opposition, John Compton, sat directly opposite on the other side of the horseshoe-shaped House table, clenched right fist propping up his pleated chin, boredom carved into his craggy visage—until something the prime minister said awakened the dozing campaigner in his soul. With a wave of his free hand, John Compton growled: “Talk, nothing but empty talk.”

At first Louisy ignored the heckler. But Compton was nothing if not persistent. Over and over, following every pledge by the prime minister that he fully intended to deliver on his campaign promises Compton groaned, loud enough to be heard outside the chamber: “Talk, talk talk!” Finally, the normally diffident prime minister had had enough. Flouting the debate rules that forbid MPs from addressing their colleagues, save via the House Speaker, Louisy pointed a rigid forefinger at the pesky horsefly and unforgettably thundered: “Words-words-words, you say? Words got you where you are . . . and words will keep you there!”

The packed House exploded. Even Wilfred St. Clair Daniel, the no-nonsense stone-faced Speaker, cracked a smile. The only unaffected face in the building belonged to John Compton. A somewhat lengthy recollection, I admit, but I dare to say worth revisiting, if only for the record. The House diarist obviously thought such incidents not worthy of Hansard. In all events Louisy came to mind as I sought a celebrity quote with which to open this piece that has much to do with words and their vulnerability to convenient interpretation.

At the second of two press conferences convened by the St. Lucia Labour Party last week (to dismantle the prime minister’s “framework agreement” with Desert Star Holdings) leader Philip J. Pierre let fall, in answer to a reporter’s question, that a letter to an ostensible foreign entrepreneur named Robert Ainsworth, dated February 9, 2016 and signed by then prime minister Kenny Anthony “had nothing to do with the government.” As I recall, Pierre repeated his statement at least three times, as if to satisfy himself the reporter understood his meaning. Pointless to discuss the full content of the letter to Mr. Ainsworth; there’ll be time enough for that.

Pierre’s response was later put to Prime Minister Allen Chastanet during a televised press meeting. His reaction: “Oh, wow!” He went on to say he was at a loss what the opposition leader could’ve meant to convey to the interested public when he claimed correspondence addressed to a foreign entrepreneur and bearing the then prime minister’s signature had nothing to do with the government of which he was the leader. I strongly suspect Mr. Chastanet was play acting.

Meanwhile, dear reader, consider the following, from the former prime minister’s letter to Mr. Robert Ainsworth: “I would like to confirm that at a meeting of Cabinet on 8th February 2016 it was agreed by the Cabinet that upon receiving written confirmation from Lifestyle Group plc of the level of investment being made by it and each of its subsidiaries incorporated at the date hereof, and those incorporated in the future (where it is deemed appropriate to do so), their joint venture partners and licensees, for the completion of the entire proposal put before Cabinet, including the purchase or acquisition of the Le Paradis lands or DCG company, and proof that the medical products you intend to manufacture in Saint Lucia meet FDA and or similar standards, you will have the full support of the Government of Saint Lucia in order to meet your objectives within the proposed time frame.”

Of course, Philip J. Pierre is no newcomer to his game. Several times he’d been around the political block. On more than one occasion he told reporters he did not have responses to their questions, whether about his government’s cosy relationship with the Dominican lawyer Anthony Astaphan or about Rochamel. To be fair, the Ramsahoye Commission of Inquiry had revealed a number of decisions by the prime minister without the involvement of his Cabinet. When Pierre thrice denied his government’s connection with a letter signed by his prime minister to Robert Ainsworth and dated February 9, 2016—a letter that referred to Cabinet agreements on February 8, 2016—was he insinuating what appeared over Kenny Anthony’s signature misrepresented facts as Pierre knew them? Key members of the Chastanet government claim they have found nothing in their files concerning discussions between Anthony and Ainsworth; no related Cabinet conclusions.

At the recalled SLP press meeting Ernest Hilaire dismissed the cited Ainsworth correspondence as merely “a letter of comfort,” meaning “a communication from a party to a contract to the other party that indicates an initial willingness to enter into a contractual obligation absent elements of a legally enforceable contract, the object being to create a morally binding but not legally binding assurance.” So, was all that appeared in the former prime minister’s letter to Ainsworth an indication of the prime minister’s willingness to deliver on the promises contained in his letter—without the smallest involvement of his Cabinet, the governor general or the opposition?

If so, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time. By Dame Pearlette’s documented account she had played no part in the contractual arrangements signed in 2000 by Jack Grynberg and the day’s prime minister. Indeed, that she had never been informed of the arrangements, despite that she alone was authorized by the Minerals (Vesting) Act to issue the American oilman a license to explore 83 million acres of the Saint Lucia seabed. It turns out the only other person privy to the deal, besides then prime minister Kenny Anthony and the CEO of RSM Productions, was former public servant Earl Huntley. Anthony’s Cabinet, the House opposition, the Cabinet secretary, all of them had been kept out of the loop. And once again, there was no Cabinet record of negotiations between the American oilman and the day’s prime minister. It need be said that the Ainsworth deal failed to materialize, largely because Ainsworth turned out not to be whom he had convinced the prime minister he was. As for the Grynberg operation, that, too, never got started. The matter is now before the ICSID, Jack Grynberg having sued the government of Saint Lucia for breach of contract. He is demanding some US$500 million in damages. The tribunal is expected to make a decision in March this year.

Meanwhile there’s the matter of Chastanet’s “framework agreement”; what exactly is that? A simple definition: “An agreement between businessmen or organizations, the purpose of which is to establish the terms governing contracts to be awarded during a given period . . . [writer’s emphasis]. So have the government of Saint Lucia and DSH signed a
done deal or a deal in the making? We’ll come to that next issue.

As for that earlier elusive celebrity quotation about words, suddenly two spring to mind; the first from the mouth of Humpy Dumpty: “When I use a word it means whatever I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.” I particularly like the second by Sir Walter Scott: “Many a word at random spoken may soothe or wound a heart that’s broken!”

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