Knowledge crucial to informed decisions!

To base arguments on words supposedly spoken by the famously wise or on lines from the most respected of books is risky business. Consider the otherwise  meticulous millions worldwide that without the smallest investigation consider it holy writ that “God helps only those who help themselves.” Or that “money is the root of all evil.”
Then there is “God works in mysterious ways.” And “cleanliness is next to godliness.”
Actually, the source of “God works . . .” is not the Bible but the very human English poet William Power, whose original line was “God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.” As for the “cleanliness” passage, credit the 18th century evangelist who founded Methodism, John Wesley. Which reminds me that the Bible neither claims a whale had swallowed Jonah, nor that “three wise men” had visited the newborn Jesus. So there!
People rarely challenge such assertions, largely because Biblical ignorance is so perverse even among those who should know better, in particular our roadside preachers and plastic televangelists. Small wonder, then, that we so often hear our genius small-pond sharks and wannabe comedians reassuring their impressed bibulous audiences that to be constant is to openly declare yourself a snore monger or a stuck record, and that no less a luminary than Ralph Waldo Emerson had said so. What the legendary lecturer and poet had irrefutably observed was that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds!” With the emphasis on foolish!
Now, I am certainly in no great position to speak persuasively about the measure of our prime minister’s intellect. As his party never tires of reminding us, he is lead among our best brains—with all the embossed papers to prove it. So the question to be asked is, Why does he seem consistently and persistently to repeat acknowledged boo-boos with great expectations? Yes, yes, I know Einstein had a word for that!
As inconvenient as it might be for some, I have yet again little choice but to place under the spotlight the disgraced former minister in the Kenny Anthony administration that for years had permitted—some say he insisted on it!—himself to be referred to as Walter Francois PhD.
It is quite likely his election victory in 1997 had little to do with academic qualifications, real or imagined. This, after all, is the Rock of Sages where everyone’s a genius in his own mind. Nevertheless, Kenny Anthony and his party had taken   every opportunity during their campaign to brag about Francois’ higher intelligence, in a fashion that made their opponents appear absolutely dimwitted and consequently unqualified to hold public office on The Rock.
Francois’s ubiquitous election posters featured prominently his PhD. He unfailingly signed his official correspondence as Dr. Walter Francois and directed that he be introduced as Dr. Walter Francois, even when addressing impressionable school children on character development, discipline, honesty and truth.
Following the Labour Party’s second triumph at the polls on 3 December 2001, the good Catholic archbishop Kelvin Felix congratulated “the prime minister and all who were successful at the polls.” He also blessed the electorate “for the orderly manner” in which they had conducted themselves “during and before Polling Day.”
The archbishop ritually joined the victorious politicians in praying the country would recommit itself to “building a nation grounded in solid Christian values and principles, a nation of justice and fairness, a nation of compassion, love and peace.”
As for the prime minister, his personal faith in fellow academic whizz kid had remained rock solid. He confidently placed in the talented hands of Walter Francois PhD responsibility for the commerce ministry, despite incessant rumors that reached fever pitch following a well-chronicled scandal involving an irate car dealer, a vehicle unpaid for and the minister.
Later, confronted by overwhelming evidence that had rendered Francois’ doctorate totally counterfeit, the prime minister admitted to me on TV that he, like thousands of other Saint Lucians, had “heard the rumors” as far back as the 1996 general elections and throughout the 2001 campaign. On at least one occasion, Francois had assured him “political mischief makers” were behind the rumors.
By his own admission the prime minister was never particularly bothered that the circulating rumors might cast dark shadows on the whole government, and especially on the affairs of the commerce ministry. Neither had it occurred to him,   evidently, that good governance demanded better.
“The whole thing sounded so farfetched,” the prime minister told me during a TALK interview. “I couldn’t conceive of someone as intelligent as Walter actually being so stupid as to imagine there was the smallest chance he might get away with faking a PhD.”
The prime minister, as if it were possible to make true what so many already knew was a lie, went on to tell me: “Had Walter come to me and said he needed time off to complete his studies I’d have happily accommodated him.”             Yes, yes, only on the Rock of Sages would a newly elected MP be permitted such liberty!
But then time had never been the issue, anyway. Indeed, everything Walter Francois said about his doctorate had finally proved false, including his confession to the nation via TV, when he tearfully announced his resignation, “so as not to embarrass my party and my prime minister.”
Meanwhile the STAR had been for some time in possession of a letter signed by Professor Jagdish Handa and addressed to Walter Francois that challenged every word the minister had publicly uttered on the issue. The letter from Francois’ professor read in part: “Over the past eighteen months we have at several times discussed the need to supplement the research on money demand (along the lines of your former drafts) with research on another topic. This addition is required since the theory and the econometrics employed in your research on money is no longer adequate for a doctoral thesis. Unfortunately your current draft does not include any research on a second topic. Therefore I doubt whether the current draft constitutes an adequate body of research for an acceptable thesis.” [My italics]
Additionally: “At this state, before you put in more time and effort in this thesis, you should make a realistic assessment of the likelihood of your completing a satisfactory doctoral dissertation. You know your experience of the past progress of your thesis and your current commitments. I have become very doubtful of this thesis ever reaching a satisfactory level. I realize that this is not the news you were looking for but my being frank seems preferable for you to make the realistic assessment that you need to do.”
Professor Handa could not have been more diplomatic! And now comes to mind George Santayana’s often-misquoted warning: “Those who cannot remember the past”—by which he referred only to babies and imbeciles—“are doomed to repeat it.”
Is our prime minister actually incapable of recalling his own history in public office? Is he today still more concerned with the image of his party and government than with proper governance? It is a matter of record that Walter Francois, when interviewed by a certain HTS reporter, had assured the nation his resignation was of his own volition.
The statement seemed to receive the highest support when shortly after Francois’  public announcement, the prime minister with his party convened a street rally in Soufriere during which he showered praise on Francois. Not once did the prime minister utter the word “stupid,” let alone “counterfeit.” He chose instead to say from his platform  he would lose all respect for Francois “should he fail to sue George Odlum for having published in his newspaper certain details related to the former minister’s academic qualifications.
And now Walter Francois has conveniently been rescued from the cobwebs of obscurity and returned to the spotlight, his integrity conceivably restored by time, the panacea for all seasons.                 He has been rewarded with a new job as head of the contentious Soufriere Foundation, the life of which is an open book!
While the preceding might serve as further proof that the more things change, the more they remain the same, it is actually intended as a reminder to the government and the people that a man’s reputation can either enhance or diminish the credibility of his office. Only this week the president of the Saint Lucia Senate was underscoring the fact that the sanctity of public office must always take precedence over personal considerations. Claudius Francis could not have been more correct. Indeed, Walter Francois had himself underscored the point when he self-servingly gave as his reason for quitting office his concern for the image of his party and the government. After all, his primary concern should’ve been for the people whose trust he had betrayed!
Additionally: The prime minister himself, when he was leader of the opposition, had on several unforgettable occasions correctly appealed to the day’s leader of government to investigate allegations first heard from the lips of known SLP callers to Timothy Poelon’s Newsspin—in the
people’s best interests, of course.
There was, for instance, the televised occasion when he revealed from a public platform that an election opponent had reportedly avoided arrest in Miami or Puerto Rico by claiming diplomatic immunity. By all the then campaigning opposition leader told the nation via TV, immigration officials had discovered in the minister’s possession undeclared hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars.
Characteristically twirling his red towel over his head, the opposition leader, evidently having a grand ole time, bellowed: “It’s only a rumor but the prime minister owes it to the nation to investigate it. The people of this country have a right to know they are not electing drug barons and other criminals!”
And again, Kenny Anthony was absolutely correct.
So, how can it now be wrong to insist a senator who recently identified himself as the focus of certain disturbing documents circulated on the Internet and among the local media clear the air? Busy as his press secretary says he is conducting the nation’s business in South Africa, Chile, China, Venezuela and elsewhere, the prime
minister may or may not himself have seen the cited documents. But surely he must know about their existence!
Certainly the senator in question would’ve mentioned it. Has he convinced the prime minister that what the documents seem to say about him is simply vicious fabrication? What did it take to convince the prime minister—besides the senator’s uncorroborated word? Has the prime minister forgotten that Walter Francois had
pretended for several
years he actually held a PhD and that those claiming otherwise were mischief makers?
In any event, it is not the prime minister alone who must be convinced of the senator’s pristine character? Even more important is the people’s perception of the senator. The public has every good reason to expect local party leaders to stand by their men and women regardless of widespread disturbing allegations. That’s the way it’s always been on this Rock of Sages.
I should also remind concerned Saint Lucians that much of what was said and continues at every opportunity to be repeated about Bruce Tucker’s immigration and other problems were, for the most part, gleaned from the same sources that had delivered the documents now under discussion. That
did not stop Rufus Bousquet’s political opponents from accusing him of criminal behavior, for which he allegedly served time in a California penitentiary.
The recently elected Bousquet was left little choice but to publicly account for the rumors. There are others I could name. The more important point to be made that by virtue of how acquired documents may be rendered inadmissible in court, what the lawyers usually refer to as “a technicality.” Inadmissible here does not automatically translate into untrue. Indeed, good defense lawyers normally do their best to keep damning evidence from the court on the ground that it is inadmissible.
It is altogether another kettle of fish when the issue centers on accountability on the part of public servants. Rumors, speculations, even lies—when it comes to holding public office—must as quickly as possible be disproved. And while the official may choose to bite the bullet and hope the speculations and rumors will blow over, there is to be considered the impact on the more important sanctity of his office, as  Claudius Francis not-so-subtly suggested this week.
The latest situation is exacerbated by the fact that when they had the opportunity in 2011 to elect their parliamentary representatives, the people had spoken loudly in their rejection of the senator in question. Alas, evidently not loudly enough to reach the prime minister’s ears. For not only did he make the rejected candidate a senator, the prime minister also embraced him in his Cabinet, and handed him responsibility for the very portfolios once held by his opponent in the general elections, now an opposition MP. Coincidence or vindictiveness?
That there is no love lost between the particular opposition MP and the prime minister is hardly the nation’s best kept secret. Neither is the relationship between the self-identified senator and the same opposition MP, the senator’s once upon a time close friend and from whose law chambers the senator had once operated his own law practice. I need not at this time go into further details of the political histories of the prime minister, the particular opposition MP and the senator who now operates the portfolios the MP once controlled. I will, however, appeal to the prime minister, in the name of transparency and accountability, to require that the senator provide evidence that the information now in circulation is absolutely untrue. His word alone hardly cuts it. That much the nation has learned the hard way!
I have been informed that a particular customs official was recently sent home while an investigation into his tenure is underway. He is on full pay, I’ve been told. Just last week I referred to an Inland Revenue Department official who recently passed away some twelve years after he had been suspended, with full pay, while under investigation.
Even at Bordelais, staff members under investigation have been sent home  with full pay. Indeed, the list of suspended public servants receiving full pay while under investigation is quite long and I daresay should be published in the public interest, especially with our economy as it is. So why not the senator, who, let us not forget, was never elected by the people?
On a personal note: When I was an open campaigner for the removal of the dastardly UWP from office back in 1996, this was how I addressed the issue of bad governance. Judging by my language alone, it is obvious I was in no mood to be charitable: “When you wake up and discover in the prime minister’s chair a grunting pig, you have a duty to kick him out. Pigs belong in sties, not in the prime minister’s office that
must at all times be sacrosanct!”
Standing but a few feet to my right was the elated SLP leader and obviously soon-to-be the new prime minister of Saint Lucia. He, like everyone else on the over-populated Castries market steps greeted my statement with sustained applause. As many sea changes as he may have undergone since 1996, I choose to believe Kenny Anthony still strongly believes in the idea of transparency and accountability—enough to insist his ministers always be ready to stand up and be counted.
As for the threats of libel, subtle and otherwise, consider the following by Lord Bridge of Harwich in his judgment delivered following “a leading human rights case” referred to as [Tim] Hector v. attorney general of Antigua and others, 1990:
“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 stifle or 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 their political opponents would make a better job of it than those presently holding office. In the light of these considerations 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.”
As for our once vibrant press, for the most part now permanently out to lunch, consider the following by Alexander Meiklejohn, legendary philosopher and free speech advocate: “The press has a preferred position in our constitutional scheme, not to enable it to make money, not to set newsmen apart as a favored class, but to bring to fulfillment to the public’s right to know. The right to know is crucial to the governing powers of the people and knowledge is essential to informed decisions.”
Which takes us to the effective gag order that prevents open discussion of Jack Grynberg’s case against the Government of Saint Lucia, involving control of our seabed, potentially our nation’s most important resource . . . but maybe next time!

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