I’ve been warned by those with my best interest at heart that I should never speak or write when I am angry. “It does no good to your blood pressure Peter, and you are likely to miss the mark if you are not cool and collected.” I therefore allow time to pass by as I focus on other matters, before settling down to write about the things that impact this country, and which should make every citizen and resident angrier and angrier.
Like many persons, I was pleased to witness the friendly gesture by the US Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean upon delivering much-needed equipment to the offices of the DPP, the High Court and the Supreme Court of the East Caribbean in Saint Lucia. It is a gesture which may have surprised many since the US government has consistently made clear its disappointment that the IMPACS report has not been prosecuted, to the full extent of the law. It is a sentiment with which many fair-minded persons agree. It seems clear to observers that the US donation is meant to assist in bringing the case load of these institutions under some control. It is the implied hope that the crude handling of the entire IMPACS affair by the former government will be brought into regular process before the courts. The latter was, to my mind, the unspoken words of the US Ambassador who had travelled from her Barbados office to Saint Lucia to personally deliver the US gifts.
Notwithstanding the dire need for the office supplies and the demonstrated show of confidence in the Allen Chastanet administration that the gift implied, I could not help reflecting on the reason this island has fallen so low that it has to beg for, and accept, gifts amounting to less than a million dollars EC from its richest neighbour. Sure, the gifts were timely and targeted a most crucial element of the democratic process, namely, the rule of law.
Frankly, I was annoyed that this island has had to stoop so low, all because our national economy had been so poorly and recklessly managed by the former Labour administration.
To add insult to injury, it seemed an abuse of its privileges that the former government should have drawn so much attention to itself by its senseless walk-out from the House of Assembly last week. It turned out a blessing in some ways as it gave the government all the ammunition it needed to take the opposition to task on its handling of the Rochamel and Frenwell issue. The walk-out allowed Minister Guy Joseph, the most outspoken Member of Parliament in my books, full flight in the House on accusations of the lavish and unwise expenditures by the former regime. Those who thought that Rochamel and Frenwell had died were encouraged to think again.
To my utter dismay and growing anger over the extravagance of the former regime, Minister Joseph, as the guest of Rick Wayne on TALK television, disclosed more unbelievable abuses of the NICE programme started by the former government. To make matters worse Joseph disclosed that some $14 million was paid to Frenwell which no reasonable MP can explain. All this was taking place at the time of the opposition walk-out-show in parliament, and the presentation of office supplies by the US Ambassador to the government. As I sat dumbfounded watching TALK, I wondered how many Saint Lucians felt as furious as I did at the very expensive mess that was perpetrated in the name of this country by the former government. Surely, such abuse can’t be put down to lack of experience, can it?
But that was not all! I recalled sitting in the visitors’ gallery with George Odlum that morning when the Minister of Finance tabled a motion to borrow EC$41 million to pay the debts that the former Labour government had incurred in the Rochamel/Frenwell deal. As I sat there furious at the sleight of hand, I tried to attract the attention of a uniformed officer to deliver a note to the leader of the opposition, Arsene James. Unfortunately, there were no officers around. I wished I was an elected member on the opposition side of the House that day.
As I continued to watch and listen to Guy Joseph and Rick Wayne, I got angrier and angrier as I realized that $14 million of the borrowed sum was paid to Frenwell without the government and people of Saint Lucia receiving anything of value in return. That money could have built new offices for the law courts and furnished them with computers, printers and scanners, to the satisfaction of those who work there.
As so often happens, the loose and extravagant expenditure by the former Labour regime was painstakingly saved by the former Compton/UWP government for capital expenditure and emergencies. The process is repeating itself as I write. The UWP/Chastanet government is determined to put the nation’s fiscal house in order by taking control of expenditure and by creating a savings reserve account for wet days. It is from such savings that new government offices and after-school training of young people for the work force ought to come.
How can any citizens or residents, knowing the history of reckless spending and maladministration by the former SLP regime, and the cover-up and bare faced lies, sit quietly and say nothing? Sometimes I feel that only Rick, Guy and a handful of others bring any passion and sense of national responsibility to bear on the affairs of this state. It hurts even more to witness the opposition Labour party behaving as if it is unaware of the disgust people feel towards it. To be sure, there are many who supported and voted for Labour that are as disgusted as the rest of us by the shenanigans of the opposition.
The House of Assembly meeting also reminded me that there are two aspects of the English Legal System I have always questioned. Uppermost in my mind is the presumption that all men are equal before the law. How can a person who has read the law and is highly qualified in all its aspects be considered equal before the court as another who never had the benefit of schooling? How can people who are able to pay lawyers and witnesses be considered equal before the courts of law as one who can hardly afford a full and balanced meal?
The other aspect that concerns me is that laws ought not to be enacted with retroactive effect or retroactively. Doesn’t the idea of non-retroactive legislation mean that rogues in office who have trampled the financial rules and orders, and who went so far as to give a prime minister carte blanche to do as he pleases, in financial arrangements and other negotiated matters, go scot-free after they are booted out of office? Again, why there is often left an escape hole, a lacuna, in the framing of the laws? Don’t answer! But rest assured that these excesses, and the fact that the statute of limitations acts as a protective barrier for some political rogues, amount to nothing short of a modern day crucifixion of the people of this innocent island. But as the saying goes, every pig has its Saturday!
By the way, did Minister Guy Joseph say on Rick’s show that certain NICE workers were paid to help a hardware store in Vieux Fort as well as to assist a prominent law firm on the island? Where, oh where, will it end and who among us has the gonads to end it? Over to you civil society groups, religious leaders, business chamber, amateur political activists and other assorted hypocrites who love to lay blame at Chastanet’s feet.