At Monday’s sitting of the Senate of the Apes (otherwise known as de SOTA) there were more than the usual number of simian pronouncements—laughable but for their killer impact on life as we know it on this Rock of Sages. For the third or fourth time in as many consecutive weeks, the soi-disant august (that was the first belly laugh!) but woefully talentless body was required, for the arcane purposes of accommodating citizens, to turn fine wine into sewer water.
With altogether predictable consequences, the world’s most arrogant government had placed before its rubber-stamping senate another preposterous resolution, this time demanding permission to “belatedly guarantee” officially unapproved multi-million-dollars borrowed three years ago and long ago controversially spent.
The cited transactions involving the previous administration were in conflict with the law that makes certain undertakings “not binding on government” unless supported by “an enactment or with the prior approval of parliament by a resolution of parliament.”
At similar sittings over the last month, representatives of the previous administration had repeatedly attempted to justify the alleged abuses of office, on the basis that the contractual arrangements associated with the multi-million-dollar loans never required House approval in the first place; therefore, there was no need for so-called belated guarantees (a cart-before-the ass nonsensical Kenny Anthony creation of recent vintage).
At this week’s déjà vu SOTA sitting the same bewildering cast presented the same mind-boggling arguments and counter arguments. This time around, however, Senator Ezekiel Joseph was combat ready.
Alas, miscalculation was his middle name. The agriculture minister in the beleaguered, now accused Stephenson King government, Joseph had permitted a particularly frumpy female, current health minister Alvina “you are what you eat” Reynolds to kick his butt out of his Babonneau seat, with just two votes separating them. A related court petition has reportedly been pending since 2011!
Alas it would not be the last time the gentleman from Babonneau was caught with his long johns around his ankles. Citing correspondence from the attorney general’s chambers dated 16 July 2009 to the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Communications, Works, Transport and Public Utilities (inexplicably renamed despite its purposes remaining largely unchanged) the senator confidently read as follows: “The fact that government is not the borrower in this case obviates the necessity to seek parliamentary approval under Section 39 of the Finance (Administration) Act. Additionally, the fact that government is fully obligated to pay back the sums raised by A&M, a guarantee is not required under Section 41 of the Act.”
At this point the renowned researcher and SOTA president interrupted to ask the gentleman from Babonneau whether what he had just read before the honorable gathering was the attorney general’s legal opinion on the matter of guarantees—and not merely the AG’s reminder of what someone else had proposed. The senator assured his questioner that he had just read the AG’s legal opinion on the matter being debated.
It soon turned out that the senator from Babonneau had goofed or he had misunderstood what he had chosen to read or he plain and simply had set out to mislead his Senate of the Apes colleagues—and by extension we the people. At any rate, the few who continued to care!
The hardly shocking reality was that for undeclared reasons the gentleman from Babonneau had skipped over several lines immediately preceding and following what he had just read out loud, among them: “The documents provided to Chambers indicate that government is seeking to enter into a form of public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement with Asphalt and Mining Co Ltd (A&M). The agreement suggests one of private financing where A&M is obligated to fund it. A&M will thereafter receive repayment by government in the form of a stream of payments in accordance with a proposed financing arrangement.
“The question that is raised in this situation is whether the government is required to seek parliamentary approval before it enters into the financing arrangement with A&M. We note the opinion of the Director of Finance that the fact that government is not the borrower in this case obviates the necessity to seek parliamentary approval under Section 39 of the Finance (Administration) Act. Additionally, the fact that government is fully obligated to pay back sums raised by A&M, a guarantee is not required under Section 41 of the Act. [Emphasis mine]
“Both assertions are undoubtedly correct. However, this is not the end of the matter.
“In our opinion [“our” meaning the AG’s Chambers] the starting point in resolving this issue is the irresistible and obvious reality that pursuant to the financing agreement, government is committing itself to repay a sum of money to A&M. At the risk of seemingly oversimplifying this issue, it seems clear that the government’s commitment to repay the sums raised by A&M amounts to a debt owed by the government to A&M.”
Easily discernible are the conflicting conclusions of the Director of Finance and the Attorney General’s Chambers. The confusion, if indeed any existed, was not explained at Monday’s SOTA meeting. Pointless featuring in its entirety the AG’s letter of 16 July 2009, save the following: “A simple restatement of the applicable legal principle is that except where a law precludes it, government is generally entitled to enter into agreements with persons or entities which involve the present or future expenditure of public finds without the need to seek parliamentary approval before contracting. Such contracts are, however, unenforceable until funds are approved by parliament to fulfill the financial obligations.”
Citing the 2003 court case of Martinus Francois v the Attorney General of Saint Lucia—still controversial after all these years—the AG had quoted in his 2009 letter the now departed Justice Redhead: “What is clear is that the executive cannot withdraw any funds from the Consolidated Fund in fulfillment of that contract obligation without parliamentary approval.”
In relation to the same case, this is what then attorney general en-rouge Petrus Compton had on the evening of 29 May 2009 bellowed from the steps of the Castries market, with reference to a Rochamel Development loan guarantee:
“The prime minister [Kenny Anthony] always said, ‘I do not wish to put any money forward. I do not wish to go to parliament for any guarantee at this time. . .’ The lawyers of the company came to the government and said they were proposing something called a put option. It was a device that allowed us to say we, as a government, were prepared to guarantee certain debts in the event certain things happened . . .”
In his next breath, however, the diplomatic attorney general had famously let the following caveat slip from his lips: “That guarantee is not worth the paper it is written on until it is approved by parliament!”
Truly, those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. On Monday the independent senator and fine physician Stephen King, as he had at last week’s SOTA session for the purpose of authorizing “belated guarantees,” opened the opposition assault on the day’s resolution. Again he based his nay decision on his belief that what the government had asked for was according to Section 41 of the Finance (administration) Act altogether unlawful.
Once more, at any rate from this writer’s vantage, Senator King seemed more concerned with easing the government’s pain by whatever means necessary, including gwen en bas faie voodoo: he prescribed non-starter investigations by a comatose audit director’s office five years or so behind with its own accounts; probes by government departments notoriously dysfunctional, under-financed and under-staffed other agencies, and so on. (Curiously, he did not recommend the attention of the Vision Commission, of which he is a leading member!)
If only the doctor-senator had stuck to the day’s disease. The undoubtedly well-intentioned but politically naïve Dr. King brought to mind David and Goliath. Alas, when our much-respected King-David left home on Monday to battle on the people’s behalf our hero had forgotten to pack his slingshot! The always impeccably turned out independent senator Berthia Parle, SOTA’s Wonder Woman, was precise and to the point. She chose not to dwell on her own interpretation of Section 41. Instead, she underscored the vital importance of publicly accountability, underscored the disgusting impact of several unsubstantiated allegations randomly tossed from all sides of the lower and upper Houses, and the effects on the nation’s frustrated young and impressionable.
“If there has been wrong-doing,” she challenged, sounding much like Hillary Clinton with the accent of an educated Saint Lucian, “then take the matter before the courts and let the guilty be sent to jail.”
She was preceded by fellow independent senator Debby Tobierre. With other Vieux Fort businesspeople, the last mentioned had famously gifted their district representative with an expensive Prado following his party’s loss in the 2006 general elections, because, as she put it, “he has done such great work for Vieux Fort and the country and we thought it was such a shame he should now be driving around in a beat-up old car.”
Evidently it had not occurred to demonstrably ill-informed Ms Tobierre and her well-heeled claque that there are laws against such displays of baited generosity. The Integrity Act clearly states it is unlawful for officials to accept reward for doing or not doing what taxpayers pay them to do. At the time, this is what I had written about the affair: “Should the Labour Party return to office in 2011, it will be particularly interesting to see what happens to Ms Tobierre.”
We need no longer speculate!
For over 20 minutes (a seeming eternity!) Senator Tobierre babbled in the voice of a 14-year-old about her professional affairs, the ever-rising cost of building materials, the weather, her hopes and fears, her mindless predictions for the economy, her fellow lumbered lumber dealers, her conversations with God, just about everything but the day’s resolution.
Even her Red-Zone fellow resident and SOTA director, especially famous for his tolerance of appropriately costumed mediocrity, was forced finally to ask the senator from Vieux Fort what the hell she was talking about (in language befitting his high office, of course). At which point the senator slowly resumed her seat-to-seat position, smiling like only a shorn sheep can smile.
Then there was Senator Montoute, last week’s last-minute SOTA deserter. He spoke eloquently, in the fashion of Dr. King, but he too was largely concerned with defending the indefensible—as it turned out—decisions taken in his time as sports minister. Had the senator from Gros Islet spoken after his colleague from Babonneau, chances are he might’ve taken an altogether different tack!
How best to describe the holder of such important official titles as Minister for Public Service; Minister for Information and Broadcasting; Minister for Energy; Minister for Science and Technology?
Some might suggest God Almighty, on the not unreasonable basis that a man in control of so many important portfolios just had to be capable of doing the moon walk on water; just had to know all there is to know about everything—a distinction posthumously bestowed by the oracular deputy prime minister on the erstwhile tourist board honcho Desmond Skeete.
In the first few seconds of his address on Monday, Senator Fletcher dropped several bombs that must’ve confirmed long-standing suspicions in all sections of Rock of Sages where yellow birds fly!
Said the senator whose PhD confirms he knows what only plants can possibly know about fellow plants: “I am an expert on [sic] nothing. I am just someone who reads.” He actually cited Senator Ezekiel as a source of inspiration!
He also revealed that for most of the morning he had imagined himself in the Twilight Zone. (Of course, Senator Tobierre might’ve whispered softly in his ear that his correct location was the Planet of the Apes—but then who knows whether it was her contribution to the day’s debate that had put the overburdened senator in a Twilight Zone state of mind?) Senator Fletcher made a big thing about the advice given the government by not just one but two AGs on the matters before de SOTA. And, as expected, their collective advice was that government was doing the right thing via belated guarantees. Evidently the senator with an acknowledged penchant for reading was blissfully unaware of the several laws enacted by the House of Kenny & Company, only later to be declared unconstitutional. One infamous example was popularly referred to as “the no-bail law”—with which our tourism has every good reason to be familiar!
The multi-faceted senator from Cap Estate preached as he had on several previous occasions, about the importance of public accountability and concurred with Senator Parle that certain official controversies needed to be settled by a court of law and the guilty parties sent to prison. Alas, the particular miracle would require a functioning DPP’s office, not to mention the political will that everyone talks about while running away from the required walk.
As earlier stated, no one saw the need to query the constitutional provision for “belated guarantees.” Indeed, over and over Section 41 was offered without question as the authority for retroactive guarantees, never mind that the section demands “prior” House approval.
In the end the vote was 5 for and 5 against the intelligence-insulting resolution. The SOTA president, in tones reminiscent of a pissed-off judge, broke the tie. “I vote yes,” he said, “because the other side did not make their case!” Alas he did not explain what was “their case,” let alone how they had failed to make it.
If he referred to those who had argued against the need for “prior parliamentary approval,” on the basis of a twisted interpretation of an attorney general’s letter, well, fine. But what about senators King, Parle and Daniel whose main contention had centered on the “illegality” that “belated guarantees” represented.
As we used to say in a time before Ebola: film at 11!