The Minister of Commerce, Business Development, Investment and Consumer Affairs on Wednesday April 29, used the House of Assembly to address the Lambirds Academy Affair. In February of this year, local police had arrested, for human trafficking, four men believed to be running the school. The school had been sanctioned by the Ministry of Commerce to do business here, as well as the Ministry of Education to operate a school.
By way of introduction, Hippolyte said on Wednesday that the Ministry of Commerce, Business Development, Investment and Consumer Affairs has overall responsibility, amongst other things, for private sector development and investment in St. Lucia.
“The responsibility to attract, facilitate and monitor investments (both foreign and local) rests with Invest St. Lucia who reports to the Minister for Commerce, Business, Investment and Consumer Affairs,” Emma Hippolyte told the House.
“Further, one of the processes used to regulate trade in the private sector is the issuance of a trade licence. This is administered by the Ministry through a Trade Licence Board.” She then went on to explain the Act governing the board as well as the composition of the board.
“A Trade Licence is issued by the Secretary to the Advisory Board, with the approval of the Minister. The Trade Licence is an annual licence which expires on 31 December every year and is required by foreign companies or foreign individuals in order to conduct business in St. Lucia,” the Minister said.
On the Lambirds issue the Minister pointed out that her statement is intended only to bring clarity and not to prejudice or compromise the ongoing police investigations and court cases.
“On May 4–6, 2014 Invest St. Lucia held a first Investment Forum in St. Lucia. Dr. Shams of Lambirds Academy attended the Investment Forum in response to an open invitation. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first interface between Dr. Shams of Lambirds Academy and Invest St. Lucia,” Hipployte said.She then outlined what transpired in chronological order:
“On June 2, 2014 an application for a Trade Licence was lodged at the Ministry of Commerce on behalf of Lambirds Academy Inc.
“On June 2, 2014 as Minister for Investment, I also received a copy of that same application with a cover letter from Invest Saint Lucia recommending that I approve the Trade Licence. The investor was apparently in urgent need to transact business and the Trade Licence was needed in order for this to occur.
“On June 3, 2014 I instructed the Chairman of the Trade Licence Advisory Board to call an urgent meeting of the Board to review the application. The urgent meeting was necessary to enable the investor to proceed with facilitating the other requirements for setting up a business in Saint Lucia, such as setting up of a bank account and commencement of processing for approval by the Ministry of Education. The meeting was not convened.
“On June 6, pursuant to Section 7 (1), (b) of the Invest Saint Lucia Act, No. 14 of 2014, I reviewed the Trade Licence application with its relevant supporting information and approved the application for Lambirds Academy Inc.
“Subsequently, prior to instructing the Secretary of the Trade Licence Advisory Board to issue the Trade Licence, the Chairman of the Board and I had further discussions on the application. A decision was taken to have the application undergo a further review by the Trade Licence Advisory Board at its next meeting scheduled for June 10, 2014.
“On June 10, 2014, at a duly convened meeting of the Trade Licence Advisory Board, the application was considered. The Board requested further information on the area of “consultancy services”, as well as verification of accreditation by the Ministry of Education. In addition, the Board requested all the relevant supporting information regarding the due diligence on the company.
“On June 12, 2104 Invest Saint Lucia submitted correspondence addressed to the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Leo Titus Preville indicating that the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education supported, in principle, the establishment of Lambirds Academy Inc., and that Invest Saint Lucia is working with the Ministry of Education to ensure that Lambirds Academy Inc. meets the requirements outlined in the Education Act, No. 41 of 1999.
“On June 12 the Permanent Secretary, in his capacity as the Chairman of the Trade Licence Advisory Board, recommended the approval of the Trade Licence application to the Minister.
“On June 12, in my capacity as Minister for Trade, I approved the application for the Trade Licence for Lambirds Academy based on the recommendation of the Trade Licence Advisory Board. The area of business consultancy was not approved.
“On June 16, 2014 Lambirds Academy was granted a Trade Licence, No. 48/14 to trade only in Education and Training. The Trade Licence was issued and duly signed by Nancy Francis-Charles, Secretary of the Trade Licence Board pursuant to Section 6 of The Trade Licence Act, Chapter. 13.04 of the Revised Laws of Saint Lucia.
“On December 19, 2014 Lambirds Academy applied for a renewal of its Trade Licence.
“On January 13, 2015, the Trade Licence Advisory Board recommended the application for approval.
“On 23 January, 2015 a Trade Licence #3 of 2015 was issued to Lambirds Academy.
“On 8th October, 2014 Lambirds Academy made an application for incentives to the Ministry of Commerce. The application was processed and a draft memorandum was prepared for submission to Cabinet when we heard of the arrest of Dr. Shams and others.
“On 9th March, 2015 the Cabinet of Ministers appointed a sub-committee comprising Ministers of Education, National Security and Commerce to review the matter and report to cabinet.
“On March 12, 2015 the sub-committee met with ACP Frances Henry and Officer Mason who were responsible for the Lambirds Academy investigation. The police gave information on the reasons why the four individuals were arrested and charged and that the case was presented to the DPP whose office had provided legal advice and sanctioned the laying of charges.I then questioned why the Ministry of Commerce was not informed. The officers informed that they had been trying to contact one Nancy Charles but had been unsuccessful. I informed the police that Ms Charles was the Secretary to the Trade Licence Board and an employee of the Ministry of Commerce.
“About a week later, I was concerned that no one had contacted the Ministry and called the Minister of National Security expressing that concern,” she went on.
Hipployte said that on 23 March, after Cabinet, her secretary informed her that the police visited the Ministry with a search warrant.
“On Tuesday, 24 March, which was the date of the last sitting of Parliament, while I was in Parliament, the police again visited the Ministry and on that occasion requested the Lambirds Academy file that was in my office. I was informed that the police threatened to break down the door of my office to retrieve the said file. My secretary handed the Lambird’s Academy file to the police and they copied whatever documents they needed,” the minister said, adding that she was further informed that the police took copies of e-mails from her computer.
She continued: “On Wednesday 25 March, and on at least two other occasions, I called the Acting Commissioner of Police and objected to the Ministry being treated as a hostile witness as the Ministry was always willing to cooperate on this matter. The Acting Commissioner informed me that he had informed the officer leading the investigation. To date, no one has spoken to me on this matter.
“On 30 March, 2015 the Cabinet of Ministers took a decision to conduct an independent enquiry on the matter in due course. I welcome this decision.
“On 26 March, Mr. Mandille Alcee –Investment Services Officer of Invest St. Lucia issued a sworn statement to the police on the matter.
“On 30 March, Ms. Nancy Charles, Director of Investment coordination and Secretary to the Trade Licence Advisory Board issued a sworn statement to the police on the matter.”
In conclusion the Minister of Commerce stated that she had acted within the authority of the law, and at all times acted on the advice of the technical staff/public officials.
“Equally, officials from Invest St. Lucia and the various Ministries could only make recommendations based on the
information at hand, none of which, at the time, gave any valid and compelling legal reason for denying Lambirds Academy the licences which it required to operate in Saint Lucia,” she ended by saying.