Less for what was said than not, last Tuesday’s House session was for me a spectacle most depressing. It was hardly surprising to hear the prime minister yet again accusing the opposition of corruption in office with no expressed intention to involve the courts. Citizens are no longer shocked by what passes here for parliamentary debate. MPs are today expected, at first sight of anything red, to hurl epithets and allegations at one another as used to be heard only at criminal court hearings, while the Speaker does his best to stay awake.
I was truly taken aback, however, when the prime minister and minister for finance—also a lecturer on constitutional law—laid before the House a paper by which he sought approval to make legal what he had himself earlier declared illegal.
The prime minister claimed the government under Stephenson King had guaranteed several suspect loans without the appropriate authority, at least one of them involving close relatives of a particular MP.
He said it was now left to him to do what his immediate predecessor had failed to do in 2011, and in consequence had contravened the following section of the Finance Act: “A guarantee involving any financial liability is not binding upon the government unless the minister grants the guarantee in accordance with an enactment or with the prior approval of parliament by a resolution.”
By all the Finance Act says, the particular liability incurred without House approval three years ago was not binding upon the then government, or on the current one. But for reasons yet unexplained, the current finance minister had last Tuesday sought the approval of parliament to make the “not binding” liability binding via a “belated guarantees” device previously unheard of. At any rate, by this reporter.
According to Section 2 of the Finance Act: “A resolution of parliament pursuant to subsection (1) must give full details of the amount guaranteed, the terms and conditions of the guarantee, the person or legal entity in whose name the guarantee is intended, and the object and reasons for the giving of the guarantee.”
Had the previous government followed the letter of the law relating to government guarantees, the day’s finance minister would’ve been required to persuade parliament that the now disturbing 2011 guarantees were in the national interest.
I cannot imagine parliament approving loan guarantees to personally benefit MPs and their blood relatives, which was the government’s allegation last week. But since the matter before the House was a cart came before the ass situation, so to speak, what then was parliament to do?
I humbly suggest parliament should’ve last Tuesday stood by the people and the law that makes it illegal for governments to guarantee loans without prior parliamentary approval.
Bearing in mind some people are convinced that the word “is” can be interpreted several ways while others have attempted to give special meaning to “as soon as convenient,” perhaps I should remind readers that according to the Interpretation Act it’s always “the ordinary meaning of the word” that matters.
So let’s now uncover the ordinary meaning of guarantee: “An agreement by which a person assumes responsibility for assuring payment or fulfillment of another’s debts or obligations.”
Does the Finance Act authorize “belated guarantees?” Although the finance minister referenced the act several times last Tuesday, there was no mention of a section that authorizes the House to do as the finance minister had proposed.
Indeed last Tuesday the government appeared to exacerbate an already bad situation by appealing to parliament to approve the finance minister’s attempt at making legal what the government had already deemed illegal on several fronts. Did the government succeed in pulling the wool over the eyes of parliament—or did the government render itself a co-conspirator in an acknowledged illegality? Were the ayes on the day in question self-serving?
What hit me particularly hard was the discombobulating fact (although no one actually put it in words) that ours has finally declared itself a nation populated by worms, easy meat for vultures, suited-up or plumaged. The loudest silent reminder was manifest in the opposition’s attitude to what transpired in the honorable House in the name of the people last Tuesday. If indeed there is no loyalty among thieves, then there certainly seems to be among fleecers of the people. Considering all the prime minister and his deputy said about the projects paid for by the unapproved loans, what went on in the House last Tuesday was tantamount to complicity in an unlawful act. Nothing on our statute books authorizes “belated guarantees” of loans.
So why didn’t a single member of the opposition stand to inform the House that the prime minister and minister for finance was setting out on the wrong foot; that the only remedy for the day’s malady was to be found in a court of law?
Can anyone reading this imagine Stephenson King or Guy Joseph standing up on a point of order last Tuesday to underscore the illegality of the finance minister’s proposal when in fact his accusing finger was pointed at the previous administration, particularly at King and Joseph? Can you imagine, dear reader, a member on the government side (the too-pure-to-be-true deputy prime minister?) whispering to the minister of finance that there was no legal authority for “belated guarantees?”
Can you imagine the House Unabomber actually suggesting to Mr. Speaker that in the circumstances the finance minister had only one recourse, and that was to lay charges against the entire former King Cabinet, whether for corruption, abuse of office, inter alia?
Richard Frederick would like to be perceived as an equal opportunity ass kicker. At the very least, a kicker of yellow asses. So why didn’t he help his own cause by suggesting the prime minister repeat the action taken in the Keith Mondesir-Tuxedo matter?
If the thought occurred to the MP and lawyer Frederick, did it also occur to him that the collateral damage would be too widespread and severe?
Did any of the above occur to the House Speaker, a renowned Q.C.?
It was instructive to hear the finance minister say in effect that he had not anticipated the vituperative exchanges, including allegations of over-pricing and profiteering that followed last Tuesday’s proposal.
Conceivably, he had expected the alleged contraveners of the Finance Act to be gracious enough to keep their mouths shut even as Philip J. Pierre (who takes no prisoners!) ran roughshod over “dem UWPs!”
Evidently the prime minister had also anticipated a graveyard silence during and after Richard Frederick’s virulent assertions about the ties that bound the Southeast Castries MP, his siblings and an identified controversial company.
For undeclared reasons, however, the finance minister expected Frederick’s main target, his former party colleague, to explain his sister’s involvement in the company’s arrangements with the King administration. By his own declaration, the prime minister was disappointed when the MP chose instead to steer clear of that potential hot potato.
As we have seen, things didn’t go quite as hoped for. But more of that next time around. The question remains: Is there one lawyer, one citizen with a social conscience—not to say gonads—left among us who will seek to right the wrong that was done the people last week by the very individuals who should’ve been looking out for them? That, too, we’ll consider next week.