GRYNBERG! : Was Ausbert Suckered?

Last Friday, in the wake of a dizzying government announcement about Jack Grynberg’s US$500 million breach of contract suit against the broke and dispirited people of Saint Lucia, Newsspin’s Timothy Poleon read on-air a listener’s e-mail: “If Jack Grynberg truly believed his contract with the Kenny Anthony government had not expired, why then did he seek a renewal by the Stephenson King administration?”

Has the sun gone down on Saint Lucia’s oil prospects? Or is Earl Huntley’s Dauphin dream destined to be Kenny Anthony’s worst nightmare?

Has the sun gone down on Saint Lucia’s oil prospects? Or is Earl Huntley’s Dauphin dream destined to be Kenny Anthony’s worst nightmare?

I’m afraid I too quickly called to endorse the validity of the question that on reflection was really just another consequence of disinformation contemptuously disseminated among a people disinclined to seek their own answers; a people encouraged to read only what has anonymously been planted on Facebook and on unverifiable cuckoo’s-nest blogs; functionally illiterate graduates of schools without libraries; a people painstakingly brainwashed to believe in hit-and-miss quackery, not in proven cures.

At this point (some of the above having preposterously concluded this reporter would like nothing better than a court victory for Jack Grynberg) permit me to place on record the following: even if Jack Grynberg had discovered oil, gas and gold in the silver sands of this Rock of Sages, still I would expect the prime minister to account for the widely publicized shocking revelation that he had convened business meetings with the oilman from Colorado, witnessed only by Earl Huntley—the bragging diviner of oil in the sea at Dauphin and the proud importer of Jack Grynberg.

I would also have wanted to know why the prime minister had directed Huntley, not the Cabinet secretary, to retain all records pertinent to the clandestine get-togethers, about which the prime minister’s fellow MPs and the governor general knew absolutely nothing.

I would have been particularly curious about the individual’s identity who had reportedly rewritten Article 3 of the original Grynberg agreement, effectively enabling the prime minister to wear his own hat, as well as that of Dame Pearlette—and by what authority.

The seemingly logical question to Newsspin was posed by someone obviously self-convinced he (assuming he was male) was on solid ground. The journalist at whom he directed his brain teaser had more than once famously confessed his own limited knowledge of the day’s topic. Little did the e-mailer suspect he was in his own peculiar circumstances just another programmed propaganda parrot, altogether oblivious of the fact that wrong subtractions cannot be corrected by right additions.

Though he knew it not, the e-mailer (and the rest of uninformed Saint Lucia) had twice been victimized: in March 2000 when the current prime minister entered into a secret arrangement with a foreigner of oil repute, and again in 2011 when he easily convinced his own party supporters and the rest of the electorate that the controversial engagement of Jack Grynberg’s RSM was more tangible proof of how otiose was the beleaguered Stephenson King administration. Along with the barrels of snake oil the campaigning opposition leader had sold the electorate sight unseen was the canard that the agreement he signed in 2000 and at Grynberg’s behest more than once later amended, always without the knowledge of his Cabinet colleagues, had long ago expired.

During a 2009 televised address to the nation that was loaded with libel threats, this was how the leader of the opposition and former constitutional-law lecturer at the University of the West Indies defended his involvement in the issue of Grynberg:

“It is ingenuous to say Saint Lucia is disadvantaged by any binding license for an extended period of years. The government of Saint Vincent has continued its relationship with Grynberg Petroleum . . . If Grynberg was a con artist, why was his license renewed in St. Vincent? The only issue the government of Saint Lucia has to resolve is whether the license to determine if oil exists in our waters is extended.

“The government retains all of its power to renew or not to renew as it deems fit. Grynberg Petroleum has argued that it should be extended, that certain acts of God normally referred to by lawyers as force majeure prevented Grynberg Petroleum from completing the work it has commenced. Grynberg Petroleum has not sued the government of Saint Lucia, and in any event if it did it would not succeed, because of the Grenada precedent.”

Referencing a related initiative by the day’s administration, the opposition leader went on: “Because of the decision in the Grenada case, there never was any need to obtain a legal opinion from any American firm as done by the government. It was a colossal waste of money. The propaganda surrounding this issue raises yet again the question: whether these ministers and their prime minister truly have the interest of our country at heart.”

Additionally: “In these exceedingly turbulent and difficult times one would have thought this government would’ve continued the search carried out by the Saint Lucia Labour Party government for alternative economic resources to sustain the future of our people. The present government can choose whoever it wants to do business with, provided that business is in the interest of Saint Lucia.”

He explained his own reasons for doing business with the oilman from Colorado: “The government of Grenada was the first to engage Grynberg Petroleum. The governments of St. Vincent and Saint Lucia followed suit. The three prime ministers were persuaded to work with a single company because of the fact that the islands shared marine boundaries. As in the other countries, Grynberg Petroleum was only granted a license to explore and determine if Saint Lucia had deposits of oil, at Grynberg’s own expense . . . After an initial four-year period, the license was renewed for a further two years and thereafter for an additional year ending in 2007.”

He offered no explanation for the extension, neither for the absence of a related Cabinet conclusion: “If the license ended in March 2007, and renewals had to be obtained from the government even for Grynberg to continue,” he asked rhetorically, “how then can the UWP administration say the seabed of Saint Lucia was given away?”

Typically, Kenny Anthony answered his own question, in the borrowed style of Humpty Dumpty: “The agreement provided that consideration would be given to an extended license to extract oil only if oil were discovered in Saint Lucia.” Even the Twelve Labors of Hercules never included anything nearly as complicated.

Considering what we know today about the opposition leader’s renowned prowess as a judge of character, his assessment of the American oilman in 2009 speaks volumes: “If Jack Grynberg was a con artist, then why was his license renewed in St. Vincent?”

Doubtless Kenny Anthony is today better equipped to answer his question than he had been in 2009, when whatever was good enough for the Vincie goose was evidently better than good for the Looshan gander—due diligence be damned. (It is worth pointing out that when it comes to the so-called “economic citizenship program” the Vincentian leader and his local counterpart are hardly on the same page!)

Nowhere in the opposition leader’s 2009 address does he offer the smallest reference to the authority that had issued Jack Grynberg his precious permit to explore for oil in Saint Lucia. What the opposition leader said during his televised speech to the nation was the closest thing to an endorsement of Grynberg’s RSM. But then, quite characteristically, he seemed quickly to reverse himself: “No one is suggesting the agreement with Grynberg should’ve continued.”

Let me now address the Big Question, even as I kick my butt for failing last Friday properly to do so—when for three years the answer had been staring us in the face. The following is taken from a communiqué from the office of the prime minister, marked for “immediate release on April 20, 2012” but actually issued on May 2:

“According to RSM Production Corporation, former prime minister King’s planning minister, Ausbert d’Auvergne has publicly confirmed that prime minister King did in fact sign a renewal of the agreement in 2007 . . . These matters were publicly discussed prior to the 2011 general elections.”

Over two years later, again from the prime minister’s office, came the following, dated August 24, 2014: “RSM also claims that former prime minister Stephenson King signed a 3-year extension to the contract but then retrieved the document before it could be delivered to RSM. RSM claims that the extension is valid, even though RSM never received it . . .”

Did Ausbert d’Auvergne make the claim attributed to him by the prime minister’s office—or was he just another handy tool, a stool pigeon to be used in Kenny Anthony’s best interest? Did d’Auvergne say at any time that King had “signed a renewal” or “a 3-year extension” of the Grynberg contract? In a letter to the prime minister, dated 23 July 2011 and referencing his latest address to the nation, this is what d’Auvergne had written:

“I have just read the text to your address to the nation on the so-called Grynberg Affair, the opening sentences of which read as follows: ‘Since the 2011 Budget debate, understandably incensed Saint Lucians at home and abroad have been imploring me to address the confusion surrounding the issue that has become known as the Grynberg Affair, more than a few misconstruing my relative silence.

‘Let me say now that it had been my earnest hope that others closely associated with the details would have seen the need to volunteer such information in a united, bipartisan, national effort at undoing whatever harm that may already have been done to our good name. Sadly, my hopes were recently dashed when, instead of the volunteered information I anticipated, an injunction was sought that if allowed by the courts will serve only to further conceal the truth, possibly at great cost to our island nation.’ ”

In observing the furor over the matter, d’Auvergne revealed via his correspondence to his former boss, he had considered the prime minister’s “relative silence” the most expedient course of action. But the prime minister had “bowed to pressure” and chosen to make an address to the nation.

“In light of this, and as one who was closely associated with the details,” d’Auvergne went on, “I am concerned that despite the call for total transparency reflected in the sentences quoted above, you did not provide the nation with full disclosure of all the material facts of the matter.”

Additionally: “In this regard I am offering you the opportunity to confirm to the nation and to explain the circumstances that led you, after representations by a former permanent secretary in the ministry of external affairs, to sign a successor agreement to the one signed by the former prime minister between the government of Saint Lucia and RSM Production Corporation.”

Observe, dear reader, that by d’Auvergne’s trusted recollection the prime minister King was never asked to renew an expired contract. By all d’Auvergne wrote in his subtly threatening missive—and let us not forget that as planning minister he was “closely associated with the details,”—what Jack Grynberg sought from the prime minister Stephenson King was a signed successor agreement that his government would not abandon the March 2000 contract between Kenny Anthony and RSM Production Corporation. No changes were sought; no renewal requested.

And just what is “a successor agreement?” In the present context it is an undertaking by a new government not to discontinue a project earlier undertaken by its predecessor. (The current government recently overturned the development plans of the King administration with respect to projects in Babonneau and at Hewanorra Airport.) In all events, nowhere in d’Auvergne’s publicized letter to King does he suggest his former boss had resurrected a dead deal, then secretly reburied it alive.
I would conjecture that as close as the former planning minister claims he was to the “details,” he would’ve been all too familiar with the fact that at no time had Grynberg considered his 2000 contract with the government of Saint Lucia dead, let alone buried.

In a letter to King’s external affairs ministry dated February 18, 2009, the notoriously litigious company CEO states: “RSM has never believed, or alleged, that the agreement itself is suspended. Force majeure suspends only the obligations of RSM under the agreement and so, in order to show good faith, RSM has submitted rental payments and undertaken such work as was possible, given boundary disputes that existed and still exist. We urge the Saint Lucia government to resolve it.”

This is how Grynberg ends the particular correspondence: “We regret the government intends to initiate a competitive bidding and respectfully remind you that under the agreement, Article 26, any dispute shall be resolved amicably. But if it cannot be resolved, the dispute shall be submitted for settlement by arbitration to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes . . . We intend to rely on this clause of our agreement.”

For your further elucidation, dear reader, this is how Business defines force majeure: “A standard clause found in construction and supply contracts; it exempts the contracting parties from fulfilling their contractual obligations for causes that could not be anticipated and/or are beyond their control. These causes usually include act of God, act of man, act of parliament, and other impersonal events or occurrences. French for ‘superior force.’ Also called ‘irresistible force.’ ”
Recently the prime minister’s office announced ICSID will in February 2015 determine whether Grynberg’s breach of contract suit is well founded or a gargantuan, five million times costlier version of Rochamel-Frenwell-Helenites-Helenair combined.

Tick . . . tock . . . tick . . . tock . . .

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5 Responses to GRYNBERG! : Was Ausbert Suckered?

  1. Rick Wayne rick wayne says:

    Toot, I don’t know who wins. But this I know, we lose on every count, including getting into this mess in the first place. We lost with Rochamel too, even though Kenny claims it was worth breaking our laws so that Butch could own a hotel to offer St Lucians work. We could easily have bought the bankrupt hotel ourselves and owned it . . . then again, who’s interested in reality when there’s Alice in Wonderland

  2. Rick Wayne rick wayne says:

    Kentry I don’t get you. It’s Kenny who said it was a colossal waste of money by King, hiring lawyers to look into what Kenny had kept secret for nine years and even after he was discovered refused to cooperate with the government. He extended the contracts and the rest of it because that’s what Grynberg requested . . . demanded? Why does this story seem to confuse a bright guy like you? Actually it’s quite simple if you have eyes that have not decided they will not see

  3. kentry charles says:

    If you are correct Rick, why then did Kenny Anthony have to sign two additional extensions? Like I have said before, Kenny Anthony messed up big time with this, but please stop trying to excuse King and his administration from this mess. The fact is that they became aware of the contract and hired lawyers to look at it. If it became necessary for Kenny Anthony to renew the contract twice because of the expiration date, it is reasonable to conclude that the same needed to be done upon the 2007 expiration. I ask again, what was the recommendation of these lawyers? In any event, what allowed RSM to invoke force majeure was government not settling its boundary disputes. So even if we were able to get some other company to agree do the exploration, would they be able to? The King administration became aware of the contract, did nothing to settle the boundary disputes and are the ones responsible for breach of contract by putting up the area for open bids.

  4. TOOT TOO BOOSHE' says:

    So…who wins ?

  5. Very well explained, Mr Wayne, and some people were crazy enough to say you and The Star Newspaper were a spent force in your journalistic prowess of bringing the truth to light. Well I commend you in shedding the real light on this Grynberg debacle.

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