For so long have our own politicians practiced deceit with impunity that visitors, whether for business or pleasure, have returned home with the depressing impression our MPs were elected to office based on their reputations as unemployable prevaricators, talentless child molesters, shameless nepotists, alcoholics, and enablers of other such unspeakable proclivities. The possible exceptions, that is to say, the few among us who entered politics with no visible stains or odious odors, had too quickly been contaminated in the abused name of loyalty; to party, that is. Meanwhile we the people with our eye glasses of red and yellow remain self-convinced our naked emperors are from neck to toe garbed in white coats of irreproachable respectability.
Consider the following: “From [my] limited, but not unrevealing perspective I have discerned a culture in Saint Lucia of studied indifference or, at the very least, inattention to the practice, even the concept, of public accountability; a cultural climate in which administrative torpor is often the consequence, and malpractices including corruption can thrive . . . A great deal more will be needed to dispel the pervasive influence of the culture that I have identified. Otherwise, the allegations of corruption . . . will continue to flow. The suspicion in the public’s mind that the machinery of government is not working, and consequently that corruption is rife, is almost as damaging to the public weal as individual corruption itself.”
The “machinery of government” continues to be on the blink. The quoted words in the paragraph immediately above were placed on the record in 1998, barely a year after Saint Lucians entrusted to the former UWI lecturer Kenny Anthony 16 out of the nation’s 17 parliamentary seats. The one that got away was the UWP’s candidate for Micoud North, the late Louis George. A diabetic, he would spend most of the first years of the new administration in and out of hospital, in the process rendering Prime Minister Kenny Anthony without opposition, monarch of all he locally surveyed, aided and abetted by the nation’s presumed best brains. The rest of us looked on in conspiratorial silence when, just days after he assumed office, our advertised savior in whose hands so many had entrusted their collective future delivered to the day’s governor general the year’s Throne Speech, rolled up and neatly tied in the middle with a red ribbon, looking nothing like it really was—a shocking indictment of Sir John Compton, to be read aloud before a packed House by the man who for some forty years had been his close friend and deputy prime minister, now His Excellency Sir George Mallet. Brutus with a Glock in his back!
It later emerged at the earlier cited Louis Blom-Cooper commission of inquiry that the new government had charged Sir John with knowingly recommending to the Ministry of Planning an individual of questionable repute to serve as “project supervisor to the Shanty Town Road Project having regard to Staff Order 2.3 of the Public Service of Saint Lucia.” Blom-Cooper finally declared the government’s charge “not upheld.” Also accused of less than honorable behavior was Vaughan Lewis who had controversially replaced Sir John as prime minister for just one year before the 1997 general elections. In his report the commissioner marked the case against Lewis “withdrawn.” His recommendation that apologies be extended to both Compton and Lewis went unheeded.
How ironic that even as Sir Louis was inquiring into “a trio of events in public administration in Saint Lucia” the government that had initiated the commission of inquiry was itself engaged in secret activity that would result in the Rochamel and Frenwell catastrophes, and the 2009 Ramsahoye inquiry that blamed the irrecoverable loss of multi-millions of tax dollars on the prime minister Kenny Anthony.
To quote from the Ramsahoye report, Frenwell was allegedly formed at the request of the government of Saint Lucia “as a device to deal with payment of the sum of US$12,750,000,” the total amount the government agreed to guarantee on the company’s behalf in December 1997.
More from the report: “We did not discern any attempt to protect the government and people from this loss. The Prime Minister and Minister of Finance had the responsibility for this transaction whereby the money was lost. There was no supervision or control of the government over the construction, equipping and management of the resort [known today as Sandals Grande]. There was no evidence that high-level public servants who were engaged in the office of Dr. Anthony were involved in the decision-making process concerning this transaction. All the relevant documents that supported the liability of the government and people of St Lucia to pay monies in connection with the resort were signed by the prime minister . . . [Does any of this set off bells?] We consider that the loss which the government and people of Saint Lucia suffered in this matter was the result of maladministration and we would recommend that where the government enters into contracts for the procurement of goods and services the law regulating such agreements should strictly be followed. The government paid money to the Royal Merchant Bank of Trinidad & Tobago in the sum of US$14,592,350 for the debts of Frenwell—with which it had no contractual or other relationship and the money so spent was irrecoverable.”
By the time the electorate decided to return the nation to the unsteady hands of a moribund John Compton, another slimy monster had slithered out of its hiding, if only by accident: Grynberg. It emerged that in 2000, just three years after he swore on the bible always to protect this land from harm, Kenny Anthony signed a secret agreement with a notorious oil speculator named Jack Grynberg, from Denver, Colorado. Unknown to anyone but the prime minister and the American, a public servant had discovered on his foot while swimming in the sea at Dauphin some slime that he determined on the spot was oil.
Convinced of his good fortune, Earl Huntley, assisted by overseas-based cooperative fellow public servants, had head-hunted Jack Grynberg, whose RSM was at the time engaged in oil-related litigation with the government of Grenada and other territories, according to several Internet accounts. Within weeks Grynberg had secured some 83 million acres of the Saint Lucia sea bed (later to be extended) for oil exploration—all without the knowledge of a single member of parliament or other official, including the governor general who alone is authorized to issue exploration licenses. Space does not here permit another detailed repetition of the Grynberg horror story, save to say Dame Pearlette Louisy has placed on the record that to date she has never been informed of the oily arrangement. More than 16 years later details remain largely classified.
If any Saint Lucian imagined the UWP government that replaced the SLP in 2006 would shed new light on Grynberg, reality proved otherwise. The UWP administration under Stephenson King permitted a campaigning Kenny Anthony to convince a gullible electorate in 2011 that from top to bottom Grynberg was a disaster created by the United Workers Party. He went so far as to serve legal papers on one UWP MP, for libel. Shortly before the 2016 elections PM Anthony’s office acknowledged via a sparse press release what already was in the public domain, thanks to this newspaper: Grynberg had sued the government of Saint Lucia for breach of contract.
The more things change! Despite that Grynberg and IMPACS (about the latter more in a future issue) were repeatedly cited by the United Workers Party during its successful 2016 election campaign under the leadership of Allen Chastanet; despite that he promised the electorate a government that operated like a well-oiled business, suspicious secrecy continues to shroud both issues. Taxpayers continue to fork out millions of dollars defending an allegation about which they know naught. And yes, the current government, like its predecessor, has yet to take either matter before parliament. Who knows if the millions paid out of the Consolidated Fund by the previous and current administrations to defense lawyers in the Grynberg case were legally withdrawn? No one is saying despite that some of us continue to ask.
As has long been the custom here, at nearly every House sitting since June 2016 pettiness rules. MPs accuse one another of improprieties great and small, declare colleagues criminals and canines without pedigree, threaten legal action never taken, but nary a word on Grynberg. It may be too early to decide, but even strong supporters of the government are concerned about the immediate future: Will Allen Chastanet prove to be yet another politician notable for deceptions? An actor? An illusionist? Could he possibly have meant to say he intended to run the business of government in the usual fashion that he had so severely denounced in the weeks leading up to “Election 666?”
Again I am reminded of the perspicacity of Sir Louis Blom-Cooper’s 20-year-old observation: that Saint Lucia is engulfed in “a cultural climate in which administrative torpor is often the consequence and malpractices in government, including corruption, can thrive, unhampered by detection or, if and when uncovered, by disciplinary action.”
The St Jude fiasco is further tangible proof that the root cause of our problems has always been leader-related. Admittedly this is hardly breaking news. The undeniable evidence has been spitting in our faces and kicking our behinds almost from the moment Britain decided there was nothing more to gain from protecting us from ourselves. The last important voice to underscore our suicidal tendencies belonged to the late Sir Dwight Venner, when he said that with or without the most recent world recession we’d be where we are today economically, thanks to poor leadership. The departed Sir John also issued his several warnings while carefully hopscotching over his own advice.
Leader after leader (better to say candidate after candidate for leadership) has acknowledged the obvious: to keep on spending far more than we earn is a recipe for disaster; that unless we confront reality and adjust our profligate ways we would naturally arrive at a point of no return. And by all indications we have. The especially realistic, (feel free to say pessimistic!) such as I, stubbornly believe only a miracle can rescue us from further hellish consequences of our own design: VAT was “inevitable.” So was bleeding the rendered poor in the alleged best interests of the born-poor uneducated and unskilled; so was borrowing-borrowing-borrowing beyond our ability to repay.
While the nation suffered from the mindless policies of successive governments; while they furnished our “traditional friends” with excuses to reconsider their relationship with Saint Lucia, our leaders were never at risk of going hungry—not when there were desperate billionaires from the Middle East and elsewhere willing to pay millions for the privilege of owning open-Sesame passports that declared them citizens of a poverty-stricken island they had never visited nor cared to experience.
And so we return to our out-of-control home-grown Cookie Monster that gobbles up not cookies but dollars; that already has devoured countless millions, whether begged for, eagerly donated by pure-hearted poor citizens or borrowed from still friendly foreign governments. I refer of course to St. Jude, only half completed (whatever that means!), its future in serious doubt—while sick and dying patients endure unimaginable horrors at a makeshift hospital-stadium becoming by the hour more derelict.
The Chastanet government has declared the unfinished structure unfit to serve as a hospital after six years of empty promises, including a hard-hatted Kenny Anthony’s hand on heart assurance in 2013 that he was about to deliver to his presumably beloved Vieux Fort South constituents and others in need of it “a state of the art hospital.”
Will the former prime minister be required to explain why he was so, as it turns out, irrationally exuberant about St Jude up until the last months preceding the 2016 general elections? Will he volunteer answers to the swirling mysteries of the 50 percent complete but reportedly useless St. Jude?
Will the current prime minister tell the nation precisely what went awry, can it be righted, and when? For how much longer will the patients at the George Odlum Stadium continue to suffer their egregious environment? And if, as so many seem to believe, there are unanswered questions relating to the vanished millions gobbled up by the insatiable home-grown Money Monster what exactly will the Chastanet government do about it—apart from holding secret talks with unidentified lawyers? And how soon? To paraphrase the dearly departed King Elvis: What we need now more than ever is a little less conversation, a little more action!
My own special prayer is that we did not in 2016 elect—as unforgettably we did in 1997—another Prince Charming destined to prove himself a sweet-talking ungrateful toad!