Once A Philosopher, Twice A Politician!

Taiwan ambassador James Chang and Prime Minister Kenny Anthony (right) at recent ceremony.

I received over the weekend the following terse note from a Toronto-based friendly relative (not nearly as redundant as you might imagine!). He had recently been here to finalize arrangements for his reluctant permanent relocation to Canada—promised better days notwithstanding, a fantasy shared by countless Saint Lucians of all ages marooned on this Rock of Sages. My relative is a retired music teacher who had received most of his training at the elite London School of Music back in the 60s. After graduating with high honors he and his family had moved to Montreal for a while, before settling in Toronto. Upon retirement, still in his early fifties and full of the right stuff yet inexplicably guilt-ridden, he returned home to make his ostensibly conscience-salving “contribution.”

Little did he conceive of the official suspicion that awaited. Initially it seemed the over-riding unvoiced concern was for his sanity: what else but madness would induce someone with my friend’s credentials to abandon civilization in favor of the bush, to use one of Naipaul’s favorite expressions! It had never occurred to the day’s education ministry officials that there just might be an answer other than that the returnee was planning to make the in-house UWI-graduated experts appear obtuse. At first they suggested the country could not afford him, their ministry’s meager budget allocations having already evaporated. When he shot that down by offering to work for peanuts (he had his Canadian pension, remember?) other excuses were put in his way, anything to keep him out of the nation’s classrooms—among them that there was a gross shortage of musical instruments.

Again my friend proffered a solution. Not to worry, he said, he had brought home with him more instruments than were available to the police band and the kids were welcome to them. (He didn’t bother to mention the small fortune he’d paid the customs before they would let him take home his several trumpets, guitars, trombones and so on.) It took a year or two, what with the various Cabinet meetings to discuss his too-good-to-be-true offer, and the checks to be made about the politics of his local relatives, but finally he was given the opportunity to tutor at a Castries school. Alas, although the students welcomed him with open arms and smiles from here to there, some even coming to his home after school for extra guitar and wind instrument lessons, the system got the best of him. Frustrated and not a little sorry about being forced to abandon the obviously talented kids he’d been working with, my relative and friend returned to where he was appreciated. But not before donating a truckload of expensive musical instruments to the Saint Lucia School of Music. For the next three or four years he beat himself up over the head with the rod of regret. He stayed up nights wondering: Why had he given in so easily? Why hadn’t he played along with the authorities, many of them obviously far more concerned about their egos than with the education of kids entrusted to their care? It didn’t help that some of his former students had kept in touch, updating him on their progress, or lack of. Soon he was back again in Saint Lucia, with more instruments, hoping without justification to pick up where he’d left off. Little did he know this Rock of Sages had been the inspiration for Karr’s “the more things change . . .” line.

Once again, seemingly irrevocable circumstances and failing health drove him back to Canada, having donated his instruments to grateful recipients. As I say, he returned to Saint Lucia with his family a third and possibly final time a month or so ago to put up for sale his home and other magnets, and to hand over remaining musical instruments to eager students who continue to respect his lifetime love affair with music. He doubts very much he will be back, even though he leaves room for miracles . . . Oh, I forgot to mention his faith in God and in man’s innate goodness despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, but further discussion of that’ll have to wait. Yes, so barely a week since his return to Toronto, he sends me the following e-mail: “Didn’t think you’d have read yet the Athanasian Creed. If you have and understand it, please help me to do the same. By the way, until I’ve read your article I’m giving a win to Claudius, especially after his invitation to ‘call the PM and break the ice.’ Have you done so?” His reference was to my article entitled: “Has Kenny Reversed Himself on Consolidated Fund?” Conceivably, he had heard on his bus radio while en-route to Hewanorra my exchange with the host of Straight Up, who had dutifully accused me on-air of, shall we say, specious insinuations at the expense of his friend the prime minister. Or is it Kenny who is his friend? (Sorry, Claudius, couldn’t resist!) My immediate response to my Toronto relative: “Did you actually write that? Until you’ve read my article, Claudius wins? Is that fair? You were here during the election campaign, when the Labour Party talked incessantly about ‘the Consolidated Fund’ and the government’s endorsement of Tom Chou’s criminal behavior, all because he had not placed his donations in the Consolidated Fund. Why didn’t the prime minister say he had placed recently received Taiwanese US dollars in the Consolidated Fund? Instead he announced that an account had been opened at his Ministry of Finance in which would be placed the recently received Taiwanese US$1.8 million.”

Minutes later, I received the following: “Have just finished reading your article. ‘A special account at his ministry?’ If it walks like a duck . . . Claudius was holding forth from Apologist’s Heaven. Consolidated Fund indeed. Loads of apologies. You win . . . Bigtime!” My response: “Well, thank you, kind sir, by now your faith in your bro-in-law should be absolute but then I understand your hope!” To which he quickly replied in true Christian fashion: “Then again, I know I can always count on your charity . . . Salop!” But the issue of the Consolidated Fund and money from the Taiwanese grows curioser and curioser.

All reports of the recent US$1.8 handover quote the prime minister as having promised to deposit the donation in “a special fund at the Ministry of Finance.” Thus reported this newspaper. Thus reported even Helen Television Service that never fails to get it right the first time around! In his Voice column, Peter Josie, citing televised reports of the donation, referenced the prime minister’s statement: “Viewers were informed that the funds will be deposited in a special account opened in the Ministry of Finance . . . there was no mention of the Consolidated Fund, nor were we told the signatories of that account.” The STAR reporter had recorded the prime minister’s actual words: “I want to reaffirm and to reassure His Excellency there will be a special account in the Ministry of Finance to manage the funds made available by the government of Taiwan. His Excellency will be at full liberty to request updates on the expenditure of the funds and the accountability of these funds.” Again, nary a mention of the Consolidated Fund. The STAR report appeared on Saturday, November 31, 2012. Typically, this was how the Voice editorial referred to the occasion: “In a gesture designed to demonstrate the intention of his government to practice transparency and accountability of funds given to the people of Saint Lucia . . . Prime Minister Anthony handed over the check to Mrs. Marie Monrose, the accountant general, thus symbolically indicating its deposit into the Consolidated Fund . . . (My italics) Ah, yes, I’d almost forgotten the mind readers that make up the Voice editorial department! Might the Voice editorialist have received his information from the government’s press secretary?

No other media house had reported on the “gesture” or what it had been “designed to demonstrate.” This now from the belly of the beast, part of a government press release dated almost a week after the million-dollar Taiwanese handover: “The cheque . . . has been placed in a special account in the Consolidated Fund under the direct supervision of the island’s accountant general.” Talk about rewriting history. But let us hear now from Victor Poyotte, a former Cabinet Secretary and Permanent Secretary in the prime minister’s office: “The Consolidated Fund combines the revenues of a country from different sources into one pool in order to enhance the capacity of the government to deliver products and services to its citizens in an equitable manner. The main sources of government revenue include Operations (taxes, customs charges, port charges, sale of assets) Loans, Grants, Development Assistance and so on. In the case of Saint Lucia, Section 77 of the Constitution makes provision for the establishment of the Consolidated Fund as a mechanism for depositing all revenues or other monies raises or received by the government of Saint Lucia. “Section 78 stipulates that withdrawals from the Consolidated Fund or other public fund shall be made in accordance with provisions of the Constitution or by law enacted by Parliament.”

I am not certain what the prime minister sought to convey when he assured the special gathering that particular Friday that there would be “a special account in the Ministry of Finance to manage the funds made available by the government of Taiwan . . .” For starters, I would like to know how does “an account” manage funds? But then it would seem only the PM’s press queen Jadia and President Claudius (have I got the protocol-dictated sequence right, guys?) can answer such questions—not that they will, smart cookies that I know them to be! Of course, had the prime minister actually stated what finally appeared in the government’s press release there would’ve been no need for the particular questions. He clearly did not.

As for my sometime sparring partner at Straight Up, I say this: “It is one thing to set up various accounts under separate heads in the Consolidated Fund. But let us not make setting up a special fund in the Ministry of Finance the same thing. They are not—as well it must’ve occurred to whomsoever had advised the prime minister’s press secretary after the prime minister said what undeniably he had said before news cameras and recording reporters. But then this would not be the first time the prime minister referred to the finance ministry when he should’ve cited the Treasury. Remember when he wrote that anticipated royalties oil royalties from the Jack Grynberg fiasco would be paid to the Ministry of Finance? Surely, then as now, he had meant to say “will be deposited at the Treasury!”

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