Has Benson sealed a deal with local ‘boys with toys?’

Less than meets the eye: Cellestial’s trainee certificates have been dismissed by the NSDC as unreliable and in need of official authentication.

Less than meets the eye: Cellestial’s trainee certificates have been dismissed by the NSDC as unreliable and in need of official authentication.

Please permit me the immense indiscretion of bringing up the embarrassing, shameless shaming of the accolades showered on the presumed deserving winners of last Saturday evening’s Business Awards ceremony.

I promise not to dwell on the noisome episode, save to say that from my vantage point, when it came to presenting the Prime Minister’s Award For Innovation, it was a toss-up between Sugar Beach and the night’s MC Richard Peterkin.

Let it be quickly acknowledged that Sugar Beach and Peterkin both delivered—in advance of the presentation ceremony, unlike the previous year’s PMAFI recipient. (In deference to the nation’s young and impressionable, the particularly naïve, the NSDC, not forgetting the long-hard-working but largely ignored native businesspeople, I deliberately refrain from referring to George Benson as any kind of winner.)

Viewers lazily lounging in their living rooms, or teetering on the edge on their favorite barstools, not to say gawkers at the scene of last year’s Chamber disaster, were this time around told precisely what the innovative people behind the Soufriere resort had actually done to deserve the Chamber’s famously “prestigious” award: nothing to do with tales of wonder or better days to come.

Oh, but Peterkin gave the winner of the night’s prime award a run for their honey.

If the innovative Sugar Beach representatives had stepped out of the proverbial box and guaranteed patrons memories forever sweet, Peterkin had with meticulous aim unleashed some comedic firecrackers on his audience, such as had never before been fired from a local stage. In impeccable English. You could say there was something almost celestial about his biting truths!

As for the event’s most conspicuous figure, he took the opportunity before making Sugar Beach’s night to apologize for his non-appearance last year. (Peterkin had a stink bomb for that, too!)

Seems to me the prime minister should’ve saved his apologies (words don’t come easily, like sorry, sorry!) for his hapless official stand-in, pictured for posterity presenting the 2013 Prime Minister’s Award For Innovation to the least deserving of self-nominated candidates. Philip J. Pierre had also been photographed signing the satanic verses, better known as the Rochamel agreement!

But enough of that, a detailed account of Saturday’s event appears elsewhere in this issue. For now, let us consider the press release issued by the promoters on the eve of 2014 Business Awards Ceremony, at any rate, its more telling lines:

“The St Lucia Chamber of Commerce . . . is aware that issues have been raised regarding the business operations of a particular recipient of a 2013 Business Award. The Chamber hereby confirms that it currently has no basis for querying any award previously conferred.”

The Chamber was also “satisfied that the Awards adjudication process is designed and structured to fairly and objectively assess the information presented by the candidates in respect of their Awards applications.” The organization took the opportunity to “reaffirm its confidence in the integrity of the independent awards adjudication process and the results generated therefrom. Should it be established that any award has been conferred on the basis of inaccurate or deliberately falsified information . . . the Chamber will take such action as it deems warranted at that time.”

Of course it was one thing to have formulated a process and quite another when it comes to adhering to it. In all events, it is most unlikely the release was composed by the head Chamberman Gordon Charles.

Which is not to say he is anybody’s fool. Otherwise Charles could not have done as wonderful a job of recreating WASCO—and doubtless is doing for the Chamber’s public image. The point is that Charles, to the best of my admittedly limited knowledge, has no legal training. I daresay, however, that whoever produced this release must be at least a QC. For crying out loud “therefrom?”

“No basis for query- ing . . .?” How can it be “established that any award” was without merit conferred, if there is no querying before or after? That’s what the wise lawyers mean by due diligence. Obviously the Chamber’s mindset, when it put out last Friday’s release, was whatever gets you through the night is all right, is all right—the night in question being Saturday night. Awards night!

It mattered not to the Chamber that regular folk, confronted by the “issues publicly raised,” might form the impression that its awards ceremony is a farce aided and abetted by politicians in and out of office. After all, the Chamber is supposed to be a pressure group—not a boys’ club for politicians!

Nuff said about our society’s perpetuators of mediocrity. A related word about the politicians: To hear the prime minister and the education minister at Cellestial’s June 11, 2013 ribbon-cutting ceremony, to see them staring in obvious awe at the displayed cell phones in the decorated showcases, was to be taken aback.

Indeed, as I studied the mesmerized countenances from a recording of the event, what came to mind was George Benson’s description of Dominica’s Cabinet. Having shown them some “expensive brochures,” they had carried on like “boys with toys,” all of them pleading with Benson to please-please-please construct in their constituency a plant like the one he operates in Saint Lucia—before general elections of course, which Benson suspected would take place in July.

At the recalled Saint Lucia opening last June, Benson bragged about his staff that comprised “90 percent women, 85 percent of them single mothers.” It sounds so much more impressive to talk about percentages than actual numbers. The Cellestial staff comprised no more than nine single mothers. But then Selma St. Prix has, in effect, already told all of Saint Lucia that Cellestial’s local operation had been more talk than walk.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony a wide-eyed Kenny Anthony, doubtless ever so grateful to Benson for employing his SMILE ladies, was in no mind to look past the decorative coverings. Otherwise he might’ve wondered about the innovative Benson’s claim that he had exported weekly some 4000 phones, 2000 laptops and 1000 tablets. Yes, weekly. Manufactured by eight or nine single mothers in an area hardly larger than the prime minister’s office. Pure magic. So yes, Kenny Anthony waxed dithyrambic in praise of Benson, echoed by his education minister.

As I reviewed a taping of the event at time of writing, I wondered whether there was in place a policy related to the adoption of schools, whether by resident Saint Lucians or by recently landed saviors from afar. Did the minister know, for example, that George Benson had “adopted” both Vide Bouteille Secondary and Primary schools? Did he have any idea how he treated the students to whom he had promised monthly gifts of laptops and tablets?

He certainly should have known. There were press pictures by talented Kirk Elliott, Benson image enhancer, that clearly featured Cellestial laptops in the hands of beaming students and their principals. What happened after the pictures had appeared in the accommodating press is yet another story, never queried. No local reporter was ready to chance biting the hand that fed the media, even when what was served turned out to be Benson garbage.

The Babonneau Secondary also took it in the neck when their too-good-to-be-true $300 laptop purchases crashed weeks after purchase. In all the instances of wall-to-wall disappointment, the broken items were taken back for promised repairs that finally could not be effected because Cellestial had neither the necessary replacement parts, nor the staff, nor the inclination.

Poor parents of some of the affected kids attended a meeting, with Cellestial personnel and a local finance company on hand to offer micro-loans. That too failed to deliver useful results.

Late last year, before the company closed down “for Christmas,” there were fewer items in Cellestial’s inventory than might be found at a regular office: a dozen or so laptops, one or two tablets and a bunch of suspect phones acquired from LIME “for a Haiti project” that never materialized.

The mostly busted phones were used primarily to impress sucker visitors such as Robert Lewis and Kenny Anthony, always with cameras covering the pappyshow.

As reported in last Saturday’s STAR, Benson—his money supplier, like Elvis, having left the building—now has his sights set on the elected representatives of the people of Dominica, described by Benson as “boys with toys.”

It would also appear he has set up a deal involving Cellucian, a locally registered company of which Benson is “Managing Partner and Executive Director,” and a Florida-based outfit called Market America Group. According to documents I’ve seen, MAG “has agreed to provide the capital required by Cellucian,” some US$60,000 “to finance the bidding/tendering” for two contracts.”

Guess who are apparently offering Cellucian the contracts? Still according to documents I’ve seen, they are “the governments of Dominica and Saint Lucia” who Benson claims “approached” Cellucian, “a manufacturer of computers . . . to participate in the tendering process to provide the governments with laptop computers and/or tablets up to the amounts of 14,000 and 18,000 units respectively.” More on that on Saturday.

Readers will recall that in my article published last weekend, I drew attention to the following, taken from a document bearing George Benson’s name and
addressed to one Gregg Fous, and related to Benson’s recent week-long meetings with Cabinet ministers of Dominica:

“Please note that I gave both prototypes and spec sheets to Dr. Bertin (Ministry of Information) and Joshua Vernor (Minister of Education) here in Saint Lucia on the 10th [January, 2014] and I asked for their spec feedback so we could cost out their unit. I know they need 8000 pieces immediately with the balance to follow. In both countries there was much discussion about colours and flags on the devices.”

Sounds to me less like an invitation to tender than a done deal with the winner of the 2013 Prime Minister’s Award For Innovation!

Share your feedback with us.

2 Responses to Has Benson sealed a deal with local ‘boys with toys?’

  1. Concerned Lucia says:

    This is such a shame…. Celestial..now Sugar Beach..it seems that the Chamber Award for Innovation is a political one where no local can prosper..better luck to our local business people next year!

  2. Anthony Henry says:

    Yes Rick, we need you to keep on bringing the truth to light. It says a lot about our officials charged with doing due diligence on persons like Benson and company entering St. Lucia like a thief in the night.

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