Nelson Algren, in his 1956 book A Walk on the Wild Side, issued this now legendary admonition: “Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are greater than your own.”
To which I might add: “Never underestimate a man half of whose surname defines not only ‘several hoofed, long-eared mammals resembling and closely related to the horse,’” but also is, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, ‘a vain, silly or stupid person’—with a propensity for dismissing critics of his self-serving counsel as jackasses!
During his most recent sojourn, when the prime minister’s press secretary was his escort to RSL, a dizzily delighted Anthony Astaphan proffered further proof of his presumed unique talent. By the time he left town, doubtless headed for a sister OECS territory with a HOG in distress, he had convinced even Kenny haters “things were going well with Grynberg,” a premature conclusion based strictly on provisional measures laid down last December by the ICSID that had little bearing on the final result of the oilman’s pending breach of contract suit against the Saint Lucia government and nearly everything to do with the plaintiff’s less than pristine reputation.
I can’t help wondering why in the first place the prime minister had chosen, despite swirling ominous signals, to strike a deal with such a slime ball, let alone why the arrangement that had soured just a few weeks after it was signed was for almost nine years kept secret from the people of Saint Lucia.
I would not at all be surprised should it turn out that we the people pay Astaphan’s travel expenses, even though only he and his prize client know the true purpose of his frequent stopovers. Can anyone recall a visit when the Dominican oracle did not serve the nation a televised divide-and-rule lecture? Last week, not even the SLP’s favorite footstool could resist his spiked smarm.
Even more perplexing is that what little is known about Grynberg v the Government of Saint Lucia was not proffered by the man best placed to answer related questions, including who issued the claimant a license to explore some 83 million acres of Saint Lucia’s sea bed. The governor general alone is authorized by our Minerals (Vesting) Act to do so but has denied all knowledge of the 2000 deal between the Denver, Colorado, oilman and this country’s prime minister.
According to a 2013 communiqué from the prime minister’s office, the government had retained the behemoth Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer law firm to do battle with Grynberg’s lawyers, not Astaphan. So why has there been no public word on the case from the UK-based firm and so much from the Dominican blabbermouth—much of it, to say the least, uninformed, misleading propaganda? Another secret?
It is difficult not to see the man as some kind of high-priced flak-catcher for OECS HOGs. I, for one, am concerned that he may be an impediment in the way of official accountability and transparency in Saint Lucia.
Lately his programmed fellow party hacks have been making odious noises about other lawyers imported to serve administrations not headed by Kenny Anthony. (If there’s one thing all parties seem to agree on, sadly, it is the effeteness of our lawyers, both in private practice and on the gargantuan public payroll!)
I have never seen anything wrong, unethical or unusual about foreign lawyers appearing in our local courts, for or against the day’s government. But Astaphan, with his several gilded hats, serves mainly to further divide our people and to fuel speculation of the worst kind.
He is by his own admission our prime minister’s long-time close friend; he is also our prime minister’s personal attorney; his government’s, too. It is certainly no secret that he is a leading denizen of the Red Zone, our prime minister’s most important campaigner, both at election time and whenever the prime minister has stuck his political foot in his mouth.
Who can say for certain what considerations are on the table when Astaphan is negotiating his fees? Does he agree to make campaign contributions to the prime minister’s party—from money paid him out of the public purse?
Are his fees based on his generosity to the party? And while there might be absolutely nothing illegal about that, since we have no laws relating to campaign contributions, what a kick in the head to that half the nation not supportive of the Labour Party if Astaphan should demand a certain sum for defending the prime minister and then contribute half of it to his re-election fund!
Something tells me the AG’s office, set up, among other purposes, to advise and defend the government in court—was also meant to spare the
people some of the conflict of interest headaches inherent in hiring such as Astaphan at public expense.
Which brings me to the matter of the AG’s civil charges against Allen Chastanet and Ezekiel Joseph. If the AG’s office is certain the former MPs contravened particular laws, that they put to personal use public funds intended to benefit we the people, then why not permit the AG’s office the opportunity to prove its case?
In all events, it would appear the intention is simply to have the former ministers return to the government whatever amounts they allegedly misused—when we have related corruption laws that demand fines and imprisonment for parties found guilty of such abuses as the government has charged. If the stated intention is to punish the two former ministers and to discourage further corruption in office, then why the pussy civil charge?
Or is this another case of a prime minister not being satisfied with the legal advice from the AG’s office? Is it even remotely possible that this prime minister considers his friend a more competent lawyer than any at the AG’s office, and whose advice is therefore more acceptable? And what if the prime minister’s friend and lawyer stood to gain, regardless of the outcome of the case?
Why couldn’t the prime minister have waited until the police had completed their ordered investigations into the Taiwanese funds issue and on the directives of the proper authority—not the AG’s office—lay criminal charges?
An AG memorandum to the government, dated July last year, observes that: “The Constituency Councils Act No. 1 of 2012 repealed and replaced the Local Authorities Ordinance, Cap 242 of the Revised Laws of Saint Lucia 1957, the Corporation Act 1967 and the Castries Corporation (Termination of Council) (Repeal) Act, No 4 of 1982 effective April 16, 2012. By virtue of Section 32 (b) of the Constituency Councils Act, however, all rights, privileges and all liabilities and other obligations to which the councils were entitled under the repealed Acts were transferred to the councils appointed under the new act. This in effect preserves the rights and entitlements of councils to any funds to which they were previously entitled.”
The memorandum also refers to the provisions of the Finance Administration Act which “provides a regime for the keeping and accounting for public funds, which includes funds established for special purposes prior to the commencement of said Act. This will include the Urban, Village and Rural District Funds into which all monies due to the local authorities were required to be paid under the repealed Local Authorities Act . . . These funds are not designated as the Consolidated Fund, but they certainly public funds as set out by the Saint Lucia Constitution . . . and subject to the scrutiny of the Director of Audit [my italics].
“Any funds received by the Council as a donation or gift would have fallen within Section 31 of the now repealed Local Authorities Ordinance and would be vested in the Council and form part of the Urban, Village or Rural District Fund. This fund was required to be kept separate in the Treasurer’s books (notwithstanding where or in what accounts it was held). It must be noted that under Section 33 of the Finance Administration Act, such an account ought to have had prior written authority and direction of the Accountant General.
“Part 25 of the Financial Regulations makes provision for an accounting officer appointed by the Minister of Finance to administer each special fund and to control and account for the receipt of monies paid into and payments made out of such fund. These funds appear to have been lawfully received, if indeed they were received as gifts, donations, as the Local Authorities Ordinance provided for the fund to be composed of monies derived from specific activities as well as from ‘all other sources from which the same may lawfully be derived.’
“The issue of who opened these accounts, in my view, is less important than the question who withdrew funds from these accounts as even if the accounts were improperly or irregularly opened the funds therein are nonetheless the Council’s own. The permanent secretary, being an accounting officer, is certainly answerable under the law for the efficient management and accounting of public funds entrusted to him/her and may well have been appointed by the Minister of Finance to administer specific funds.
“While these public funds are not required to be paid into the Consolidated Fund, the accounting officer appointed to administer the fund has the power to control and account for the fund subject to any directions given by the Director of Finance. It ought to be noted that the Constituency Councils Act makes no provision as to the specific management of the fund, unlike its precursor legislation, and therefore recourse now has to be had to the Finance Administration Act.
“Obviously funds withdrawn without the authority of the prescribed officials needs [sic] to be accounted for but the monies however held or designated belong to the respective councils and are public funds belonging to the respective special funds, but not due to be paid into the Consolidated Fund.”
Which comes as news, of course. For some time now the nation has been informed that “all government monies must be paid into the Consolidated Fund.” In all events, why have charges been leveled only against the leader of the opposition party and his chairman?
Doubtless, in due course the Dominican oracle will tell us, as usual!