Remember Walter Francois? The former SRDF chair does!

Recently the Soufriere Regional Development Foundation announced the appointment of former Soufriere MP Walter Francois as chief executive officer. An SRDF press release bragged about what the MP had brought to the position, and that Francois had “very ably served the constituency and country.”
Formed in 1991, the SRDF is a non-profit company whose raison d’etre is the development of initiatives to benefit Soufriere. The SRDF has not been without its ups and downs. The board’s appointment in 2007 was challenged in court, on the complaint that board members had not been installed by the relevant organizations. There have also been numerous accusations of political meddling in the affairs of the foundation, the loudest from the area’s current MP Harold Dalson. As a member of the opposition Dalson had accused the SRDF’s former chairman Lyton Lamontagne of operating the organization as if it were an extension office for the United Workers Party. In an open letter to the chairman in May 2011, Dalson further accused the foundation of favoring UWP supporters and of victimizing others.
“The Foundation has had many great successes and achievements but they are being diluted and even erased because of the infiltration of politics,” the then opposition MP wrote. “Let us work together to do all we can to maintain the good name and reputation of the Foundation before the situation gets out of hand for us. Let us keep partisan politics completely out of the operations of the Foundation and let us all work together in non-partisan ways to make the organization a better and more responsible and accountable entity in order to pursue even greater achievements so that we can met the needs of its beneficiaries while cementing a common bond among our people.”
Following the Labour Party’s December 2011 election victory, the SRDF board was dissolved and a new one appointed early in 2012, with new chairman Michael Gustave.     Then came the appointment of CEO Walter Francois, most famous in St Lucia for resigning from the Kenny Anthony government in July 2002 following his public confession under duress that he had for several years misrepresented his qualifications.
This is how the prime minister Kenny Anthony referred to the national embarrassment in an address to the nation: “Walter Francois’ failure to clarify the situation with respect to his formal qualifications has exposed him to relentless and intense media scrutiny and speculation. The disclosure that he had not been formally conferred with a PhD has caused tremendous anguish to his colleagues in government, his friends, and his constituents in Soufriere . . . It is without question that his actions rendered his tenure in the Cabinet of Ministers untenable and unacceptable.”
Francois did not contest the 2006 general elections. Instead he had dropped off the political radar. But as the saying goes: He’s baaack! And not everyone is happy about that.
The manager of Fond Doux Holiday Plantation and former SRDF chairman Lyton Lamontagne claims Francois has been forced on the people of Soufriere.
“When Walter Francois was the MP for Soufriere,” he points out, “Dalson was the foundation’s chairman. He held the position and that of town council chairman for the whole nine years that Walter was the MP. And now Walter is the CEO of the foundation. Payback time? Is this musical chairs? This was a man who took us nowhere when he was MP and now you are putting him on our backs again? This is an insult to the intelligence of the people of Soufriere.  What has Walter Francois been doing for the last five years? Any man who cannot work unless his government is in office cannot be of much use to any of us. He is a man who failed the people of Soufriere, gave us a bad name internationally with his fake doctorate. Yet you have him heading the Foundation just as it was starting to give the people hope.”
Lamontagne paused for air: “Once people see Walter Francois they know what to expect from him. He was MP for nine years. Up to now his new role has not been explained to us. If I am wrong, then prove me wrong. What did you bring him in for? He was in a better position nine years ago to do something for Soufriere but failed us. This is nonsense. We have been brought down to such a bad level by politicians that they now think all of us are stupid. It saddens me.”
Lamontagne questioned MP Dalson’s motivations, suggesting that his actions contradict everything he has said on the campaign trail.
“I mean look at the recent appointment of councillors by the minister. You took us to court for two years over the appointment of the SRDF board and then you do worse.  They talk the talk but never walk the walk. Who are the losers? We are.”
The former foundation chairman said that the organization has made several strides and should be an example to the Caribbean. While Soufriere has a long way to go, he believes the town could be the pride of St Lucia. He noted that almost 80 percent of visitors to the island at some point come to Soufriere, yet the people don’t benefit. Nevertheless, he hopes to continue to work with the foundation to sustain the projects earlier started.
“The town is suffering and depressed. People are badly divided. They have no hope. Regardless of plans, if you keep dividing the people they will come to nothing. I have great love for Soufriere. This is where I live, this is where my children were raised, this is where I have my business. If I am going to complain about what they do I cannot be seen doing worse than they do. I walk the walk. I want to be an example that our young people can emulate.   People need to be given reason for hope and faith.”
Lamontagne was also not a fan of the Short Term Employment Programme (STEP).
“As citizens we have to ask the tough questions,” he says. “You employ me for two weeks because I am desperate. After the two weeks I return to my position at the roadside waiting for another shot at STEP. What am I to do in the interim? Make trouble until my STEP turn comes again? Is that the best we can offer the young people of Saint Lucia? The chance every three months or so to cut grass for two weeks?”
He went on: “Especially in bad times, if you are going to spend your money there should be a return on your money. What is the return on STEP? It makes more sense to send them to help the banana farmers.
“Can’t we find work for them in the tourism industry?  Can’t we teach them a trade other than grass cutting? As a people we are encouraging the politicians with our demonstrated stupidity. It is time we wised up!”

Former Chairman of the SRDF Lyton Lamongtagne speaks about the recent appointment of former MP Walter Francois (below).

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