More Millions ‘Belatedly Guaranteed!’

Words! Where would we be without them? Lost, I suspect. Words are as much vital to our mental well being as is food to our physical development.

Let it also be said that just as our appearance speaks volumes about what we put daily into our stomachs, so too words expose the way we think. We are indeed what we consume, whether or not off a platter.

My own mental nutrition is derived from the immortal words of such as Horace, James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Derek Walcott and several revered other gold mines, not least of them (surprise! surprise!) the Bible.

I take this opportunity also to acknowledge my weakness for dark chocolate and desserts, first among them being Big Chef’s bread pudding.

I also read a fair amount of junk and listen too often to too many speeches by individuals obviously bereft of shame. Yes, journalism makes killer demands on the human spirit. But, as they say, someone’s gotta check the sewers.

At the House this week, as was the case last week and the week before (as has always been the case, it occurs to me) words took center stage. Words like “guarantee” and “prior” and “liability,” and “approval.” Sometimes used in combination.

Countless times during Monday’s session words were mispronounced; a House commonplace. Via NTN, the more impressionable among us heard devastate coming out of certain mouths as dee-vah-state. European also took a battering, with at least one MP placing the accent on the second, not the third syllable: U-ro-pean!

Sometimes the words were misused; another commonplace. And despite that the Interpretation Act insists on the ordinary meaning of words, whether in court or in parliament, it seems our MPs are constantly bending over backwards to imbue the simplest words with arcane definitions. Remember when “as soon as convenient” provoked in parliament behavior that would make a drunken sailor wince?

Three or four weeks ago, the prime minister (a former educator) introduced to the House a new phrase: “Belated guarantees,” the ordinary meaning of which, I dare to suggest, would be guarantees given too late.

But that’s my own proffered meaning. The dictionary says   “belated” means “coming or happening later than should have been the case.” Moreover, “belated” is synonymous with late, overdue, behindhand, behind time, behind schedule, delayed.

As for guarantee: “An agreement by which one person assumes responsibility for paying another person’s debts or fulfilling another person’s responsibilities.”

So what did the prime minister have in mind when he sought House permission yet again on Monday to “belatedly guarantee” loans secured by the previous UWP administration without parliamentary approval? Contrary to normal procedure, the prime minister failed to state the authority by which he sought to guarantee loans taken three years earlier without House approval.

Even if Stephenson King was correct, that the cited circumstances had not required parliamentary approval, that was hardly the point.

The day’s resolution had little to do with how the particular loans were spent.Its sole purpose was to secure for the prime minister the legal authority to do what he said his immediate predecessor had failed to do three years earlier—thereby contravening Section 41 of the Finance Act. Nothing more, nothing less.

As if to make matters worse, more than one government MP, including the prime minister, expressed the view that the illegally acquired funds had benefitted an unnamed MP and his relatives.

For the umpteenth time, I present Section 41 of the Finance (Administration) (Amendment) Act: “A guarantee involving any financial liability is not binding upon the government unless the minister grants the guarantee in accordance with an enactment or with the prior approval of parliament by a resolution of parliament.”

The government claimed the King administration had contravened the law and now the new prime minister, while underscoring the illegality, was seeking House permission to condone it.

What followed this week was a repeat of last week’s pathetic performance: accused over and over of improprieties, blatant nepotism and the misuse of public funds illegally acquired, the opposition MPs sought to explain their actions, as if to a jury that already had handed down its guilty verdict! The real argument should have centered on the government’s authority to not only overlook the alleged misuse of public millions but also to guarantee the already spent funds. Confused? Dear reader, you’re not alone.

Somewhere along the line the prime minister reminded the opposition that “the author of ‘Lapses & Infelicities’ had written several newspaper articles about Clause 3 of the amended finance act.”

Shockingly, this is what Clause 3 renders legal: “The minister may grant a guarantee on such terms and conditions as he or she may think fit.” Not a word there about parliamentary approval.

Conceivably a finance minister is, according to the amended finance act, legally free to guarantee million-dollar loans for himself—as the prime had stated two weeks ago—“without parliament knowing anything about the transaction!” (You know, something like Rochamel and Frenwell!)

At Tuesday’s session, the prime minister might also have added that I also had brought to the attention of the 24 February 2011 senate the palpable stupidity, or reckless disregard, that Clause 3 represents. In their own interests, they ignored my appeals that the Clause be revisited.

This the prime minister also said this week: he had been “deliberately silent” when the amendment first came before the House in 2011 and that he knew well the changes were being made with Rochamel in mind.

“But all they did was make things worse,” he said—belatedly! So much for “looking out for the people.” Following the lunch break on Monday, the prime minister lectured the House about the difficulties associated with making speeches on a full belly—as if there were a single MP not altogether familiar with the condition locally known as “niggaritis.” Doubtless someone will in the years ahead discover a word more politically correct. For certain, it will not be a made-in- Saint Lucia invention! The prime minister also recalled a point during the pre-lunch session, when the MP for Castries Southeast had referred caustically to “retroactive guarantees.” Not bothering to rise from his chair, the prime minister and former constitutional-law lecturer had retorted with undisguised contempt: “Are you saying the House does not have the power to make retrospective laws?”

Evidently that flew over the heads of both the House Speaker Q.C. and the Castries Southeast MP. At any rate, they did not react. Yes, so having delivered his piece on the hazards of gluttinous postprandial lectures, the prime minister read from the Constitution of Saint Lucia, at Section 74 (4): “No law made by parliament shall come into operation until it has been published in the official Gazette but parliament may postpone the coming into operation of any such law and may make laws with retrospective effect.”

The Speaker saw no good reason to interrupt his client, as he had earlier in the day when he inquired whether the prime minister was about to “cross-examine” another MP.

As for the Castries Southeast MP, he merely smiled his usual Cheshire cat smile. Meanwhile the hungry-bellied rest of the nation must’ve been wondering what the hell was going on.

How did “retrospective legislation” relate to anything before the House on Monday afternoon? What did “retrospective legislation” have to do with whether the House should bless the prime minister’s resolution, by which he sought to “belatedly guarantee” suspect loans unapproved by parliament?

As a Castries market-steps savant once said of George Odlum in full flight: “Messieurs, words! Sa say words.” If you can’t convince them with facts, then dazzle them with such fancy phrases as “belated guarantees” and “retrospective legislation.” Phrases inaudible to Speakers, poodles and other House pets!

Oh, did I mention that once again the people lost—even as the politicians had their usual profitable way?

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