I cannot be certain about the genesis of the recent seismic eruption in the House that begat the oddest question I’ve heard in a long time from an incumbent MP.
Earlier the normally feisty opposition MP for Castries Southeast, Guy Joseph, in tones uncharacteristically placid (it turned out he was preoccupied with matters of the heart) had babbled something that included two absolutely verboten words: Jack Grynberg. (As I recall, he mispronounced the second.)
Several months earlier our no-nonsense House Speaker Peter Foster QC had laid down the law: it was quite in order during the conduct of the people’s business for MPs to say Jack, followed immediately by Shyte. Or Jack followed immediately by Straw. Or by anything else, save you know what!
Depending on the Speaker’s mood on a given day, the people’s elected representatives might even be allowed to get away with saying Jack, followed by criminal, money launderer, renegade, liar and so on.
But “better safe than sorry” had always been the House rule most closely adhered to, with “let sleeping poodles lie” a close second. Yes, so if an MP were to lay at the horseshoe-shaped table of the House an hour of gibberish about Jack Sparrow or Jack Spratt or Jack Frenwell, chances are no one would rise, whether or not on a point of order.
The 2014 Budget debate was precedential. While a year or so earlier the Speaker had placed a gag order over the garrulous mouth of the Castries Central MP after he referred to a certain American oilman, this time around the Speaker had permitted the Castries Southeast MP to question the prime minister about a related deal that had been calculatedly classified for close to a decade.
It is doubtful Guy Joseph anticipated a reaction. He received one anyway, albeit only an echo of what the now suddenly uninterested Speaker had handed down in 2013: “This matter is sub judice.”
Of course this had never been the case; not a year ago and not now. No law on our statute books stands in the way of discussing matters before our courts. The sub judice rule applies more to what you say about a pending trial than when you say it.
In all events, lawyers, especially those whose specialty is constitutional law, know only too well how to walk safely around sub judice minefields.
“But I’m not asking for details,” Joseph chuckled, obviously not quite himself, high as he was on the arcane juices of academic accomplishment. An unnamed American univer-sity had recently awarded degrees to not only him but also, as the prime minister put it, to “his new wife.”
Indeed, immediately after delivering his address the MP had taken his leave. He must’ve been well on his way to the United States when the Castries East MP interrupted his own predictable endorsement of the finance minister’s Budget. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “I just want to make a quick point about Grynberg. We are being attacked all the time for not saying anything about Grynberg.
Mr. Speaker, the fact is the United Workers Party were in government for five years. Everything related to Grynberg was there for five years; why was nothing done to Grynberg for years . . .”
“If there was something to be done,” groaned the MP immediately on his left, who alone knew all there was to know about the issue but had kept it to himself.
The Castries East MP went on: “Why do you want me when you had the opportunity five years. Everything that’s in government was known five years ago, why suddenly Grynberg has become an issue for this government when in the last government Grynberg was there and nothing was done about it? Why do you want me to get involved in something that you did nothing about for five years . . .”
Again the prime minister interrupted the street English: “But that’s for the member for Castries Southeast.”
The Castries East MP had indeed been silent on Grynberg. And for the same reasons he had earlier remained lock-jawed on other government scandals, among them Rochamel, Frenwell and the exorbitant fees paid the prime minister’s Dominican lawyer-for-all-seasons.
Then again, it would not be correct to say the Castries East MP had always been tight-lipped on matters of public interest. When asked by Timothy Poleon how much taxpayers had paid Tony Astaphan for defending the prime minister in several court cases, the obviously discomfited MP had blurted out: “I’ve told you before I don’t know. I have no idea. Do you want me to lie?”
He might well have spoken similarly about the deal between Jack Grynberg and the nation’s prime minister, details of which were known only to the day’s foreign affairs permanent secretary Earl Huntley—in his personal capacity.
Huntley was also the ostensible finder of oil under the Dauphin seabed. He boasted on TV that he had head-hunted Jack Grynberg, with a little help from his friend the Washington-based Saint Lucian ambassador Sonia Johnny. Whether Huntley had collected a finder’s fee has never been disclosed, notwithstanding his copious writing and several televised interviews on the controversy.
But to answer the Castries East MP’s first question: What did the King government do about Grynberg during its five years in office?
For one, they had uncovered the arrangements between the Denver, Colorado oilman and Prime Minister Kenny Anthony—for almost nine years a secret.
Thanks to Huntley, it had not been easy ferreting out such information as eventually came to light. He claimed in at least two newspaper articles that the prime minister had instructed him to keep under lock and key all the details of the Jack Grynberg arrangement.
Several pleading letters from officials of the King administration had failed to persuade Huntley to hand over the official documents in his custody. Even when he was no longer a public servant, Huntley refused to cooperate with government officials.
Meanwhile Jack Grynberg was referring to him in his communications to the cabinet secretary as “my associate.”
In desperation, Prime Minister King turned to Kenny Anthony, then leader of the opposition, to no avail. Not even an Address to the Nation, wherein King repeated his pleas, was enough to get a reaction from Kenny Anthony.
All of that the King administration had done in its efforts to get to the bottom of the sea at Dauphin deal.
Finally he sought the governor general’s assistance. She alone is constitutionally authorized, under the Minerals (Vesting) Act, to license oil explorations in Saint Lucia.
Dame Pearlette informed King when he was no longer prime minister, that what little she knew about the Grynberg matter had been gleaned from sometimes conflicting media reports—never mind that the Constitution demanded she be kept abreast of all government activity.
Before delivering his final word on his Budget the prime minister seemed to say King, when he was prime minister, had given Jack Grynberg cause to sue the government of Saint Lucia for breach of contract and damages amounting to US$500 million.
It certainly would not be the first time he had confused his own policies with the policies of another prime minister.
Amazingly, he his latest salvo attracted no response. With so much on his mind these days, maybe “de lyin’ King” was too busy thinking about the best time of year to bathe in the water under our most famous bridge.
Not for nothing had he given 35 years of his life to dog-eat-dog small-island politics. He had learned the hardest way that for everything there was a season: a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together!”