Timothy Poleon: Liar or Comedian?

Allen Chastanet: Did the Appeal Court really declare him a liar?

Allen Chastanet: Did the Appeal Court really declare him a liar?

Despite that in Kenny D. Anthony versus the Attorney General (2009)—popularly referred to as “The Tuxedo Villas Scandal”—Judge Brian Cottle had ruled in favor of the plaintiff, this is what he had nevertheless said about the losing side’s chief witness:

“The minister was frank and open. He impressed the court as a reliable witness who gave his evidence in a credible and forthright manner. In cross-examination the Minister of Tourism was candid.”

The day’s government appealed the decision. So did then leader of the opposition Kenny Anthony, who challenged inter alia Cottle’s glowing endorsement of the defense witness. As usual, Kenny Anthony was represented by senior counsel Anthony Astaphan, assisted by Peter Foster, Renee St. Rose and Leslie Mondesir.

Just weeks before the 2011 general elections, the Appeal Court announced its unanimous dismissal of the government’s appeal, while allowing Kenny Anthony’s, with costs.

Then there was the decision to “set aside” Cottle’s references to the tourism minister’s candor on the witness stand, based on the following:

“When, as often happens, much turns on the relative credibility of witnesses who have been examined and cross-examined before the judge, the court is sensible of the great advantage he has had in seeing and hearing them. It is often very difficult to estimate correctly the relative credibility of witnesses from written depositions; and when the question arises which witness is to be believed rather than another, and that question turns on the matter of demeanor, the Court of Appeal always is, and must be guided by the impression made on the judge who saw the witnesses. But there may obviously be other circumstances, quite apart from manner and demeanor, which may show whether a statement is credible or not; and these circumstances may warrant the court in differing from the judge, even on a question of fact turning on the credibility of witnesses whom the court has not seen.”

The above was credited to Lindley, MR in Coghlan v Cumberland.

Astaphan had asked that the Appeal Court overturn the trial judge’s assessment of the tourism minister, on account of “inconsistencies between his affidavit evidence and his cross-examination; some of his answers were evasive and so outrageous as to be false; and because he said he was not at the 26 June 2008 meeting of Cabinet” when the record said otherwise.

The court did not acknowledge the cited “inconsistencies.” As for his responses being “evasive and outrageous,” the judges suggested that while they had not painted a favorable picture of how the witness conducted his business as a minister, his answers “were obviously accepted by the trial judge and this court would not interfere—if he was otherwise a credible witness.”

In short, but for what was recorded in the Minutes of Cabinet concerning the crucial meeting of 26 June 2008, the court might’ve upheld Cottle’s view of the minister.

Despite his protestations, he had offered no evidence indicative of his alleged absence from the cited Cabinet meeting or of his claim that on the day in question he was “scheduled” to travel overseas.

The Appellate court had every good reason to “set aside” Cottle’s opinion that the minister had been frank and open and candid, enough to be considered a reliable witness.

Having stated all of the above, I now come to the reason I’ve resurrected what many might have preferred me to leave dead and buried. Actually, the issue has never been allowed to die, not when so much was riding on its being kept alive.

It’s a safe bet that should Allen Chastanet say today that Wednesday follows Tuesday, some starry-eyed wonder would attempt to contradict him on the predictable premise that a court had declared him a liar.

It’s near impossible to hear Allen Chastanet’s name from a Labour loudspeaker without an accompanying attack on his credibility, a direct consequence of what the Appeal Court allegedly had determined.

The irony is that the Court of Appeal judges never said Allen Chastanet was a liar. Only that the evidence before them had not supported the trial judge’s expressed opinion of him as a reliable witness. The Appeal Court had declared his testimony not credible but only because he had not produced proof contrary to the Cabinet record.

The dictionary defines a lie as: “A false statement deliberately presented as being true; to present false information with the intention of deceiving.”

Nowhere in their Tuxedo Villas judgment did the appeal court judges say Chastanet had presented evidence that proved false. Which may be why he was never charged with perjury.

But was his evidence credible? Now that’s altogether a different kettle of fish. Before we move on, let us yet again consult the dictionary for the meaning of the word credible. Mine offers the following: “Capable of being believed.”

Is it possible to issue a statement that, though not credible, does not make its source a liar? Should I say, for instance, I know a woman who can hoist above her head a weight that an average man could barely lift off the ground, chances are most reasonable people would find that hard to believe. Could I then be legitimately declared a liar?

The TV show “Incredible But True,” and the book that preceded it, showcased thousands of stories not obviously credible—until evidence proved them true.

A naïve, sloppy, over-confident, maybe even arrogant Chastanet had not bothered to submit to the court evidence that the all-important 26 June 2008 entry in the Cabinet Minutes may have been made in error—and had paid the price. He knows now that when a witness swears in court to tell the truth he had better be ready to verify such truth on the spot.

The judges ruled correctly. They had no reason to agree with Cottle’s expressed opinion of Allen Chastanet. But was he a liar simply because what he claimed in court did not jive with a particular entry in the Minutes of Cabinet?

Let us now consider the American invasion of Iraq that was preceded by persuasive evidence that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction he planned imminently to unleash on some of America’s Middle East friends and maybe on America itself.

When no such weapons were uncovered despite lengthy and meticulous searches, the George W. Bush administration—with no expressed concern for the price paid—sought to justify its actions with the claim that their intelligence had been faulty.

So, now, my question is: was Colin Powell’s persuasive presentation before the UNSC all a lie? Did he deliberately set out to deceive the world with information he knew to be false or at the very least unreliable? Or was someone else the liar?

Let’s return home: When a certain prime minister persuaded   the House Speaker to order another MP to withdraw a particular remark, on the basis it was a fabrication of the press and an unfriendly opposition, even though he knew it was not, was he lying?

Did he deliberately misinform the House and embarrass an MP, in the belief—mistaken, as it turned out—that the truth would never come to light?

Just last week the same prime minister casually informed the nation via a televised House meeting that his old enemy the press had misrepresented his statement about a loan guarantee to benefit LIAT.

Saint Lucians would soon hear the truth from the prime minister’s own televised lips, the information he claimed yet again the media had fabricated. On the basis of Voltaire’s “once a philosopher, twice a pervert,” should the prime minister’s every word now be considered a lie—as some would consider Allen Chastanet’s every utterance?

Was Stephenson King lying when he claimed the economy had grown by over four percent, a major exaggeration, as it later turned out? No need to cite John Compton’s more famous whoppers. Space does not allow.

We may talk about our need for trustworthy politicians but if only secretly, we want our leaders to have “a little gangster in them,” according to scholars Thomas Cronin and Michael Genovese in the recent book ‘The Parodoxes of the American Presidency.’

“We want a decent, just caring and compassionate president, yet we admire a cunning, guileful and, on occasions that warrant it, even a ruthless, manipulative president.”

Observes James Hoopes, an ethics in business professor at Babson College in Massachusetts: “The most sublime execution of presidential deception comes when a president discovers he doesn’t have to lie to deceive. Why lie when a simple misimpression will do?”

Remember Bush the Elder’s “read my lips, no new taxes?” How about Bill Clinton’s “I’ve never had sexual relations with that woman, Ms Lewinsky?” Or the same president’s “it all depends on what you mean by is?”

“Every president has not only lied at some time, but needs to lie to be effective,” says Ed Uravic, a former Washington lobbyist, congressional chief of staff, and author of ‘Lying Cheating Scum.’

While preparing the country for World War II, Franklyn D. Roosevelt told Americans in 1940 that “your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”

JFK declared in 1961: “As I have previously stated, and I repeat now, the United States plans no military intervention in Cuba.”

Meanwhile, he was planning an invasion of Cuba.

Even Abraham Lincoln was not above lying to Americans. Says Meg Mott, a professor of political theory at Marlboro College in Vermont: “Honest Abe was a skillful liar. He had to be devious with the electorate. He played slave holders against abolitionists. He had to lie to get people to follow him. Lincoln is a great Machiavellian.”

And what did Machiavelli say in ‘The Prince?’ A great leader “must be a great pretender and dissembler.”

But lest the preceding suggests we should let all lying dogs sleep, bear in mind that lies fall into two categories: forgivable vs unforgivable.

Forgivable lies are those meant to keep the nation from harm. Some Americans consider the NSA’s lies about the scope of domestic spying to be in this category because they protect the nation’s citizens from terrorists, says Uravic.

Unforgivable lies fall into the Nixonian “I am not a crook category.” Those are the lies to cover up crimes, incompetence or protect a leader’s future.

Says the author of ‘Lying Cheating Scum’: “The American people remain forgiving of their politicians, as long as those politicians put the people first and deliver tangible benefits for all of us.”

He adds: “The ultimate test of whether the American public will accept a lie from a president is if the nation determines that the lie serves the national interest.”

Says Allan Cooper, a political scientist and historian, the distinction is why Bill Clinton remains popular and why George W. Bush remains reviled for his lie.

“Clinton’s lies about a sexual affair were understandable, given his interest to protect his marriage and shield the nation’s children from having to ask their parents to explain the phenomenon of oral sex,” says Cooper. “Bush’s lies led to the death and injuries of thousands of Americans.”

And now I’m thinking again of the home front, about what lies may or may not be forgivable in Saint Lucia. Was the famous association of a local prime minister with an under-age schoolgirl and his related lies “understandable”—given his need to protect his marriage and spare parents the job of explaining to their kids his abuse of state power for reasons purely prurient?

What about the lies to various embassies in pursuit of visas for his tootsie-wootsie? Were Saint Lucians harmed in consequence?

What about the published allegations by one prime minister that another prime minister was a vindictive drunk and should not be trusted with the people’s money?

More forgivable lies or not?

I’m also thinking of the back stories of Grynberg, Rochamel, Spiricor, (research it, dear reader, research it!), NCA, HelenAir, those famous “obligations to the hotel formerly known as Hyatt,” not to mention the “oppressive, anti-poor, anti-worker” VAT.

Understandable lies—or, as Uravic put it, “lies meant to cover crimes, incompetence or protect a politician’s future?”

When during a killer recession a campaigning politician promises “jobs-jobs-jobs” and a multi-million-dollar investment in private sector employment, then upon getting into office hires a multitude of consultant-hacks at public expense, should he be labeled a liar or a mere purveyor of “simple misimpressions?”

Then there are the presumed unforgivable lies in the now famous Internet article by person or persons unknown. Some offended political hotshots have claimed that by reading the anonymous lies on air Timothy Poleon became their author and something of a lyin’ king. Which, to my mind, is quite a stretch. After all, Tim is neither a king nor a prime minister, nor, so far as I know, president of even a domino association.

Then again, who would have guessed, before he took to reading out those five-times-a-day ghosted apologies for lies he never wrote, that Tim was a comedian capable of putting a whole nation in stitches.

And that ain’t no lie!


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