If Tommy Tucker sang for his supper,” quoth the then undeclared Great Satan in the 1979 George Odlum, “who am I?” And sing he did—as he alone could sing, having at last landed the foreman’s job. Oh, but not for the unwitting absent sponsors of the Independence feast at a famous 5-star Manhattan restaurant, to which it seemed half the New York press had been invited, along with several bibulous travel agents, not a face among them black.
The New York banquet, and the notoriously melodramatic Odlum’s buffoonery, came to mind this week as for the fourth or fifth time I perused the prime minister’s amazing speech, delivered at the most recent Government House ceremony in honor of Gilbert Chagoury, as well known to most Saint Lucians as, say, King Mongkut.
Never before had a recipient of the Saint Lucia Cross been so highly touted, albeit behind closed doors and well away from the prying press. But then this was no garden-variety investiture, as had been that of March 1. Nor was this latest recipient of The Cross your regular party hack moneybags. As had famously been stated back in 1998 by a fawning public official, all Chagoury ever wanted was the opportunity to service Helen as Helen had never been serviced by her sons and daughters. Why? Well, as recently it had emerged, Chagoury has always considered himself “a Saint Lucian at heart.” Why? Irrevelant detail, dear reader; an irrelevant detail.
Of far greater relevance is that he was stinking rich. For him Saint Lucia’s Gross Domestic Product amounted to small change. At any rate, so implied a shameless government representative to whom a visiting Chagoury had once entrusted his pampered pooches.
Chagoury it was who had picked up the tab when a former President of the United States and his entourage paid a 3-day visit that included dinner at Sandals, a ticket to which had cost some of our leading citizens what little dignity still resided in their rented souls. Conceivably, Bill Clinton’s visit was among the “special services” the island’s prime minister referred to when he sought to justify why the nation’s highest award had gone to a Lebanese-Nigerian whose history was, to borrow yet again from Derek Walcott, a transparent puzzle.
Oh, there were also the unidentified “several years of selfless service,” not to say Chagoury’s precedential “two decades as our country’s diplomat.” Throughout all these years, the prime minister assured the suitably impressed Government House congregation, “His Excellency carried out his undertakings with great respect, integrity, dignity and commitment.” (There could be no denying Sani Abacha’s sound in our PM’s speech.)
Echoing Chagoury’s earlier memory jogger, the prime minister said the billionaire businessman had borne the cost of representing Saint Lucia’s interests overseas “without any burden on the state.” Which was a whole lot more than could legitimately be said of the parasitic scores of other Saint Lucian ambassadors—all of whom this nation had given birth—and who were interested only in taking, taking, taking and never giving back.
As if he were an auctioneer advertising his chattel at an 1800s slave market, the prime minister went on: “The stature of Ambassador Chagoury has enabled Saint Lucia to achieve remarkable feats.” Doubtless he was thinking about Chagoury’s earlier revelation that “no country, mighty or meek, seeks high office at UNESCO without championing the support and blessing of Saint Lucia.” Which of course said less about our island itself than it did about its powerhouse ambassador.
By Chagoury’s unchallengeable account, when he had mentioned Saint Lucia during a conversation with an ambitious Japanese, this was the campaigning cajoler’s response: “Your island may be small, but your island is very, very, very big at UNESCO!”
His Excellency had “developed a model embassy for Saint Lucia that he has used to establish a presence in other countries and other organizations,” said the prime minister. In all the years they had known each other, however, what had most impressed him was his ambassador’s “humility and humanitarian response.” No surprise that by our prime minister’s elastic measure Saint Lucia owed a special debt to Chagoury, without whose “diplomatic finesse” the honor would not have been conferred on Saint Lucia’s Pitons as a “PMA World Heritage Site in 2004.” So much for the local glory seekers and their self-advertising assertions!
The prime minister closed by naming the several European institutions that had benefitted from Chagoury’s billions, much of it mined in Africa. At any rate, by Internet accounts. Alas, none of the beneficiaries had been so grateful as to have placed around Chagoury’s neck their country’s most prestigious awards.
Certainly not Nigeria!
By reliable account, when the prime minister ended his speech that echoed much of what the Lebanese-Nigerian had crowed about himself the applause from their starry-eyed audience rattled the pampered timbers of Government House.
As for the current occupier, when it comes to Chagoury she cannot plead ignorance of his various overseas associations or his history with the local administration. Our Central Library could not contain half of what there is on the Internet about Gilbert Chagoury. Another irrelevant detail, you say? Then how about the following?: At a 2014 retreat for the heads of our countless overseas missions, this is what the governor general had said in the presence of the foreign affairs advisor Vaughan Lewis: “I do appoint the heads of missions on conditions discussed and negotiated with the executive, but I have to admit I have no idea as to what those terms and conditions are, and whether there is any consistency in the terms and conditions across the range of officers appointed to serve overseas. Neither can I speak with any confidence when representatives of foreign countries engage me in conversation . . . I know that very often what I say lacks the substance I know the representatives of foreign countries are looking for.”
It remains murky how Gilbert Chagoury’s name landed on the 2015 Independence Awards Investiture list. By all this writer has been able to uncover, it was not submitted by the National Awards Committee whose special function it is to consider submissions by the public before passing on a sanitized final list to Government House. By all accounts, committee members were as flummoxed as were other regular Saint Lucians upon hearing the prime minister’s announcement that one of the year’s two recipients of the Saint Lucia Cross was Gilbert Chagoury, the other being the much cherished native son Dr. Martin Didier. Alas, for undeclared reasons, the billionaire Lebanese did not attend the March 1 investiture.
He accepted his cross (for distinguished and outstanding service of national importance to Saint Lucia) two weeks later, at another ceremony arranged at his convenience. His name does not appear in the 2015 investiture booklet!
A final possibly irrelevant detail: shortly after his party’s election in 1997 Prime Minister Kenny Anthony confirmed a visiting Chagoury in his position as our nation’s UNESCO representative and installed him as our ambassador to the Holy See. Doubtless Chagoury’s invitation to his son’s nuptials in Majorca not long afterward afforded the prime minister and his deputy the perfect opportunity to get better acquainted with the Saint Lucian in Gilbert Chagoury’s Lebanese-Nigerian heart!