About four months ago, the Trade Licence Advisory Board deliberated on an application by Cage St. Lucia Ltd for a renewal of its annual Trade License, which expired on December 31, 2012. The board recommended the renewal of the trade license, there being no basis for denying it. That recommendation was sent to the Minister for Commerce, the authority under the Trade Licence Act to approve the issuance of a trade license. The minister rejected the board’s recommendation.
The minister’s position was simple: she had opposed the proliferation of the gaming machines during her 2011 general election campaign yet had under duress approved one for the company in 2012.
The company imported more machines that were at Port Castries and required an import license but this could not be issued, since Cage St. Lucia Ltd had no licence to trade in Saint Lucia.
The matter came to a head on August 23, 2013 when the company took its complaint over Ms Hippolyte’s head to the prime minister himself. The Minister of Commerce was at the time off-island, with the prime minister’s approval, on official government business. Perhaps ironically, she was heading a trade mission organized by the Trade Export Promotion Agency (TEPA) in the Tri State area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. She was due back on August 29.
On the afternoon of August 23, the prime minister informed the governor general that the Minister of Commerce was out of state and directed that he be appointed to act in her place from August 23 to August 28.
On Monday August 26, in his capacity of Acting Minister of Commerce, the prime minister signed the Trade Licence for Cage St. Lucia Ltd.
In the meantime the opposition UWP has been asking the following: 1) Is it a new policy of this Labour Administration for the Prime Minister to act in place of any minister in his or her absence?
And if this is a new policy, does it mean that when a minister travels on official business the country acquires two Ministers for the portfolio represented by the absent minister? 2) Does the minister have full ministerial responsibilities, authority and privileges while overseas? 3) Henceforth, will the prime minister act in a similar manner when other ministers travel on official government business? 4) Given that this prime minister has not acted for any of his off-island ministers on official government business, why was it necessary to act for Emma Hippolyte in this instance? Or did the prime effectively fire the commerce minister in the best interests of Cage St.Lucia?