Unpaid U.N. dues: Cause for Concern?

UN Ambassador Menissa Rambally

UN Ambassador Menissa Rambally

In or out of office, in the Big City or on Rat Island, politicians cannot be believed even when they speak the truth. Always there is to be considered their hidden motivations—more often than not removed from the best interests of the people they claim to represent. On Tuesday, Newsspin’s host took a call from a gentleman who needlessly identified himself as Richard Frederick, the opposition MP for Central Castries.

Arguably our most controversial local politician since John Compton and George Odlum, Frederick’s voice is to the Saint Lucian ear as familiar as, say, the fact that his U.S. diplomatic and visitor’s visas were revoked just weeks before the last general elections, for reasons still undeclared, at any rate, by the American authorities.

Kenny Anthony has also starred in his own unforgettable controversies, more than once sharing the unwelcome spotlight with the aforementioned Frederick. But that, as they say, is for another show. In all events, no surprise that Frederick’s call to Timothy Poleon this week hinted at egregious irresponsibility on the part of the current prime minister and minister of finance. By all the opposition MP said, Saint Lucia’s having in consequence forfeited its voting rights at the United Nations General Assembly is an embarrassment pregnant with ominous possibilities, albeit unidentified.

Asked whether he’d earlier been aware of the situation, Poleon replied that a source had tipped him off but time had not permitted a thorough investigation and possible confirmation. Actually, it would’ve taken him less than five minutes to locate the U.N.’s website and the item headed “Letter dated 15 January 2013 from the Secretary-General to the President of the General Assembly” clearly stating that some 22 other countries were in arrears under the terms of Article 19 of the Charter of the United Nations which states: “A member of the United Nations which is in arrears in the payment of its financial contributions to the organization shall have no vote in the General Assembly if the amount of its arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years.”

Additionally: “The General Assembly may, nevertheless, permit such a member to vote if it is satisfied that the failure to pay is due to conditions beyond the control of the member.” It turns out that only a handful of the membership are fully paid up, even though, I’ve been informed, the annual fee in Saint Lucia’s case is US$18,000. Nevertheless, as the earlier cited January 15 letter indicates, defaulting members are allowed “minimum payments necessary to reduce the amounts owed . . . on their contributions so that they remain below the gross amount assessed for the preceding two full years, in the case of Saint Lucia 2011 and 2012).”

It was only to be expected, an opposition politician having broken the story, that listeners to Newsspin would soon hear from a government representative. But I was taken off guard when the defender turned out to be feisty Menissa Rambally, our nation’s recently appointed U.N. ambassador, a much advertised Adventist and former government minister, especially famous for her speeches that had introduced the parliamentary bills that made abortion and casino gambling in Saint Lucia legal.

Unforgettable was her role in the so-called NCA scandal. I had expected to hear instead, in relation to the U.N. announcement, and with characteristic verbosity, the government’s locally-based foreign affairs minister—or an assigned flak catcher—if only to spare the VAT-bedeviled taxpayers the cost of yet another avoidable debt-financed windy long-distance call. As if further to aggravate the sorry situation, instead of introducing Poleon to the easily accessed General Assembly’s most informative website (perhaps following some useful introductory remarks), Ambassador Rambally chose on-air to carry on as if in a private tête-à-tête with her bathroom mirror. Or maybe she imagined herself addressing the troops from the steps of the Castries market. No sooner had she been introduced to Newsspin listeners than she took off on a rambling soliloquy that finally swallowed up at least half the time allotted the program. She uninterruptedly rambled breathlessly about the sins of the previous government, about the Beausejour Cricket Grounds’ indebtedness to Lucelec, about Lenard Montoute’s poorer-than-poor stewardship, about the consequent mission impossible confronting the current government and its leader.

She rambled and rambled and rambled, almost all of what she said as relevant to the day’s question as Beyonce’s latest dance moves to a corpse. Meanwhile Poleon tried vainly to get a word in. Once or twice Rambally paused, but only to catch her breath (wet her throat?) or to touchingly apologize—perchance she may unintentionally have talked over her famously accommodating host. She was having a difficult time hearing him, she explained. Ah, but rather than hang up and call again, perchance to engage Poleon in a two-way discourse, the ambassador chose to repeat what already she had said at least three times absolutely unchallenged. Which is not to say Ms Rambally had been all serious business without respite.

In the course of unloading yet another cluster of smart bombs, she extended to the Castries Central MP an open invitation to New York: “Mr. Frederick is free, whenever he is in New York, to drop by my office” blah-blah-blah. Did the young diplomat actually forget that in his present circumstances the last place in this world that Richard Frederick would choose to visit is Andrew Cuomo’s Fun City? An obvious glutton for punishment Poleon also featured on Tuesday’s Newsspin (or was it the next day’s?) Rambally’s predecessor. Nothing new here either, although clearly Mr. St. Aimee had learned from long experience both at ECLAC and the Saint Lucia Mission in New York the balancing trick of saying a lot without the slightest risk of disturbing the sitting prime minister or the House opposition leader. In truth there is nothing the least bit embarrassing about not having paid U.N. dues, deliberately or otherwise. Too many other nations are in the same position with no concomitant loss of sleep or status.

The Dominican Republic owes $486,715.00 and oil-rich Venezuela over US$5 million, compared to which Saint Lucia’s debt of US$35,727 is peanuts. If I may again speak solely for myself, I can think of a hundred better things right here in Saint Lucia on which to spend US$35 thousand. So what if we can’t vote on the question whether Obama should abandon his Drones program? How many times are we required to vote on U.N. matters that count anyway? What has our vote done to assist alleged friends Cuba, Taiwan, Africa, Afghanistan? How did our vote help us when it came to deciding whether to give Chiquita all that Chiquita wanted at our expense? When did Saint Lucia’s vote ever affect U.N. determination?

It seems to me we already have more debt-financed projects than we can possibly handle and it wouldn’t hurt us a bit if we should redirect a few thousand dollars away from the hardly hurting United Nation’s coffers. As for this week’s call for Menissa Rambally to step down, Stephenson King knows only too there’s as much chance of that happening as there had been in 2008 when opposition leader Kenny Anthony demanded the day’s beleaguered prime minister cut the salaries of U.N. Ambassador St. Aimee and Sarah Flood-Beaubrun to facilitate public service pay demands at home!

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