As is customary for me, before I settled down to write this column I brewed myself a mug of coffee then sat down at my laptop perchance to discover no new catastrophe had struck Planet Earth while I slept. For the most part the early morning news centered as usual on civilized man’s unprecedented inhumanity to man—the worst examples coming from the birthplace of the Prince of Peace and a host of other divine figures—save for Donald Trump, considered by some their personal savior and by others the worm at the heart of the US of Anger!
And then I happened upon an item closer to life on the Rock of Sages. Its focus was a particularly ostentatious Caribbean HOG whose bespoke suits and hand-stitched patent leather shoes reminded of Grenada’s always splendiferous Eric Gairy in the late 1970s. On the other hand, while the deceased “spice isle” prime minister had calculatedly endured the vagaries of LIAT, his living counterpart prefers to do his island-hopping by helicopter. Speculators on his personal assets have often placed him in the company of Amin and Haiti’s Duvaliers, which may be a stretch. But this week’s disclosures appeared to include proof of his immense wealth, reportedly amassed since taking office a little over two decades ago, when he was close to penniless. Identified were ostensible relatives who had helped him stash mind-boggling sums in various foreign accounts, all revelations that hinted at meticulous investigation, not the rantings of some garden-variety grudge-harboring yellow journalist. Or, for that matter, an out-of-touch red one.
Nevertheless I remain suspicious of too often anti-social social media. Especially their investigative reports that feature unfamiliar bylines and more often none at all. Yes, I dismissed this week’s uncredited sample as bad fiction; too many excuses for uncorrobated revelations, obvious speculation and leaps of faith for my liking. But then I also pondered the remote possibility that some of what I’d read just might be true. Well known is the fact that keeping tabs on our elected officials is, for countless reasons, including fear of reprisals, a mission impossible. Over and over, and on island after island, iron-fisted rulers continue to hold themselves above the law, so far with impunity.
In Saint Lucia, for instance, we have a half-baked Integrity Act that pretends to demand, in the name of public accountability, government officials annually declare their assets. But our lawmakers—on whom the carefully recruited commission depends for shelter, rent, office staff, legal advisors, and other basic requirements—are notorious for upholding at their convenience the laws they enact, often for no apparent reason. Although the Integrity Commission has once in a while published their names in the Gazette, no defaulter has appeared before a magistrate.
We’ve not had a single government since adult suffrage that might legitimately be described as unstained. All have in various ways violated our constitution. And while officials have impressively talked and talked about transparency and accountability, especially over the last twenty years or so, few Saint Lucians can say with any degree of confidence what actually transpired between their elected government and its UN representative that in May 1995 had resulted in the Sir Fred Phillips commission of inquiry. Its often hilarious sessions had abruptly ended after several weeks in a miasma of suffocating questions unanswered to this day.
We learned nothing from the expensive experience. None of the recommendations at the end of the so-called UN-Funds Inquiry—a misnomer, since the UN had neither initiated, funded nor participated in the proceedings—was ever adopted, a sorry fact that permitted the 2004 comedy of errors starring UN ambassador Earl Huntley, some of his favorite New York cronies, a notorious Brooklyn loan shark and a multi-million dollar property held in trust for the people of Saint Lucia by their elected representatives. Then there was the earlier illicit affair between a prime minister and an under-age schoolgirl. Their true-life version of Nobokov’s Lolita attracted the attention of the BBC and landed on the front pages of newspapers from London to Hong Kong. Alas, in Saint Lucia only one of our four newspapers dared go near it.
Lest I be reminded by all the wrong people that politicians are the same wherever you go, that is to say, corrupt, let me quickly acknowledge the misconduct of two American presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. The first landed in hot water when he dismissed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and replaced him with Lorenso Thomas without senate approval. The other . . . well, no need to wade through the smoke of Bill Clinton’s multi-purpose cigar and the retained stains on the world’s most famous LBD. (In this instance B stands not for black but for blue!) What is worth keeping in mind, however, is what separates our politicians from the mentioned two US presidents who both paid for their lapses and infelicities.
The US House of Representatives impeached Johnson in 1868, and Clinton in 1997 (both were saved by the senate). Then there was Richard Nixon who on August 9, 1974 resigned to avoid the likelihood of impeachment and conviction on several charges connected with the historic Watergate break-in, for which several of the president’s top aides served lengthy prison terms!
Some may by now be wondering: How might some of our home-grown HOGs have fared in America following investigations that left them with their pants around their ankles and their hands stuck in some cookie’s jar? What might have been the consequences of their uncovered misdeeds in the UK, where several MPs have been sentenced to prison terms and forced to quit office for lapses not nearly as egregious as theirs? What would be the fate of a male Saudi official caught canoodling with a schoolgirl sans abaya? Or an Iranian, Chinese or Taiwanese official found to have secretly engaged in a suspect arrangement with, say, an American oilman? We need not speculate about North Korea or even Singapore.
China’s ex-security chief was last June sentenced to life imprisonment after he was convicted of abuse of power and bribery. In 2013, Communist Party official Bo Xilai was given a life sentence and barred for life from Chinese politics, all of his assets confiscated. Four years earlier the former president of Taiwan was also sentenced to life imprisonment for corruption. (Some local gourmet food for thought: Recently Senator James Fletcher, holder of several ministerial portfolios, revealed—on the senate floor, if memory serves—that when he inquired of a Taiwanese high official why his country had so little official corruption he received the following response: “Because we pay them well!” By which I understood the senator to say the way to eliminate official corruption in Saint Lucia is to hand MPs heavier pay packets . . . but then since I tend to misunderstand senate-speak—ask Kentry Jn Pierre!—chances are Senator Fletcher’s oratory flew over my head.)
The right to impeach public officials in America is secured by the US Constitution in Article 1, Section 3 and in Article 11, Section 4. “The President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” As my friend the president of the Saint Lucia senate likes to remind me: “It’s one thing talking about what our constitution says the prime minister shall or shall not do. But where are the sanctions for any wrongdoing on his part?” He has a point. Take the section of our constitution that requires prime ministers to fully inform the governor general of all matters relating to the conduct of government . . . What if the prime minister chooses to pretend Section 65 of the Constitution of Saint Lucia exists only in Dame Pearlette’s mind? What if he should decide to take onto himself the power given the governor general under the Mineral (Vesting) Act? What if . . . but then I believe you get my drift by now, dear reader. Besides, I imagine you are quite capable of asking your own what-ifs.
While some may conveniently have imbued me with talents I can only wish I had, still it is true that premature were the death announcements of Rochamel, Frenwell, Grynberg, Helen Air, Helenites, Chagoury, IMPACS and Juffali. Covered up though they may be under tons of hypocrisy, lies and contempt, still they breathe. And while they breathe they will continue to haunt those who had buried them alive in the name of an unsuspecting, trusting people destined one day to rise and mutiny.
Indeed, I cannot help but wonder if fear of that inevitability had motivated the premature disposal of Justice Suzie d’Auvergne’s soul—also referred to as the people’s Proposals for Constitutional Reform, the main proposal being a healthy reduction of the prime minister’s power. And now it is being announced that “an official delegation has left Saint Lucia for London to discuss the Juffali case.”
Surely, the delegation’s interest would have less to do with “the Juffali case” being pursued by the multi-billionaire Saudi’s former wife of some thirteen years than with the immunities afforded him by his hush-hush appointment a year ago as Saint Lucia’s diplomatic representative at the International Maritime Organization—just four months before their divorce.