As if already the near-impenetrable wall of secrecy surrounding the status of Saint Lucia’s seabed were not reason enough for public concern, speculation and suspicion of the worst kind, it now appears an injunction is being sought against further public disclosures.
It should be remembered that until the MP for Central Castries mentioned it during the 2009 budget debate, few Saint Lucians had heard of Denver-based RSM Production Corporation, let alone its litigious CEO. But Jack Grynberg was no stranger to the island’s former prime minister, now parliamentary leader of the opposition—once an avowed advocate of “transparency and accountability” in government. Earl Huntley, then the permanent secretary at the external affairs ministry, had introduced them soon after Kenny Anthony replaced Vaughan Lewis as prime minister.
It was also Huntley (by then no longer a public servant) who, following Frederick’s stunning revelation that a secret contractual arrangement had existed since 2000 between the previous government and Jack Grynberg, had taken it upon himself to publish in the Voice his own unsolicited account of how the Saint Lucia seabed came to be under foreign control. It had never occurred to Kenny Anthony to personally respond to what Frederick had asserted in parliament or even to explain to Saint Lucians why their prime minister had for close to ten years kept from them the fact that he had leased what was potentially the island’s most important resource to a universally controversial businessman about whom precious little was locally known.
In the intervening two years, and with good reason, little more was heard about Grynberg. According to Huntley, at the signing over of exclusive exploration rights to the Colorado oilman the prime minister had instructed Huntley to keep all references to the transaction confidential. So seriously had he taken his oath of secrecy that upon relocating to New York as the nation’s UN ambassador Huntley had taken with him all documents pertaining to the exploration of the Saint Lucia seabed. It was only with Grynberg’s persistently solicited assistance that the present government finally persuaded Huntley to release copies of the contract signed on 29 March 2000 and other associated documents. Thus it came to pass that at the last budget debate a more informed Richard Frederick, Guy Joseph and Rufus Bousquet revisited Grynberg, this time concentrating on aspects of his contract that by their measure was in conflict with the related laws of Saint Lucia, including the Finance and Minerals acts.
As in 2009, there was no response in parliament to what the three MPs claimed some three months ago were statements based on available official documents. To be fair, the leader of the opposition was for some of the time absent from the chamber but he heard enough on his return that might’ve moved him to speak out in the best interests of transparency and accountability in government—despite that his attendant House opposition colleagues did not in his absence. Alas, it was not until a month or so following the budget debate that Kenny Anthony addressed the subject—if mainly to attempt an explanation for why a government contract directed that royalty checks for as yet undiscovered oil be made payable “to the minister” [of planning], not to the accountant general—as required by law. There was no explanation as to why checks related to the rental of the seabed were made out to “the government of Saint Lucia.” What little the opposition leader said about the Grynberg issue had apparently been gleaned from Earl Huntley’s published account, gaping holes and all.
Oh, but the former prime minister had much to say about the MPs who had dared to revive the undead—and what he proposed to do to them should they repeat in public what they had said inside the privileged House. Not only would he sue them for sullying his good name but also anyone else who repeated what their parliamentary representatives’ remarks during the budget debate about the previously secret Grynberg arrangements.
This week, the MP Richard Frederick announced that he had been served court papers in advance of a libel suit centering on his acknowledged privileged statements at the time of the last budget debate, and their libelous connection with certain printed words on a poster that appears on the front and rear of the campaigning MPs vehicle.
Among other things, the petitioner Kenny Anthony requested that the court issue “an injunction restraining the defendant, whether by himself, his servants or agents or otherwise, from further publishing or causing to be published, the said or similar defamatory words about the claimant.” Conceivably “otherwise” includes media reporters and other campaigning politicians. Should the court grant the petitioner his wish with regard to the Grynberg story, not only will a precedent have been established but Kenny Anthony will also be spared having to account to the electorate for the present situation with Jack Grynberg, the day’s government and the seabed of Saint Lucia.
I am here reminded of the following by Thompson CJ, spoken at the Supreme Court of Illinois in the matter of the City of Chicago v Tribune Company: “It follows that every citizen has a right to criticize an inefficient or corrupt government without fear of civil as well as criminal prosecution. This absolute privilege is founded on the principle that it is advantageous for the public interest that the citizen should not be in any way be fettered in his statements, and where the public service or due administration of justice is involved, he shall have the right to speak his mind freely.”
Then there is this by the Privy Council’s Lord Bridge of Harwich, in relation to Tim Hector v Attorney-General of Antigua and Barbuda : “In a free and democratic society it is almost too obvious to need stating that those who hold office in government and who are responsible for public administration must always be open to criticism. Any attempt to fetter such criticism amounts to political censorship of the most insidious and objectionable kind. At the same time it is no less obvious that the very purpose of criticism leveled at those who have the conduct of public affairs by the political opponents is to undermine public confidence in their stewardship and to persuade the electorate that the opponents would make a better job of it than those presently holding office. In the light of these consideration their Lordships cannot help viewing a statutory provision which criminalizes statements likely to undermine public confidence in the conduct of public affairs with the utmost suspicion.”
In the best interests of all Saint Lucians, and for a multitude of good reasons, it is to be hoped that the authorities go out of their way to settle this issue before the election bell rings.