On June 17, 1997 this was how governor-general Sir William George Mallet formally opened the first session of the seventh parliament of Saint Lucia: “On May 23, 1997 an unprecedented wind of change swept Saint Lucia, creating political history as the people voted decisively for a new government representing a new vision for the new millennium. This overwhelming verdict represented an affirmation of a more inclusive, more people-centered and more technocratically competent governance.”
The campaign that had delivered 16 of 17 constituencies into the untried hands of Prime Minister Kenny Anthony was, according to Sir George, “the most intensely contested electoral struggle ever waged in Saint Lucia since adult suffrage”—to say the least, something of a stretch. But the governor-general was not to blame for the calculated hyperbole. The words he parroted had come out of the minds of individuals who in due course would be lauded by Kenny Anthony as “the nation’s best brains.” As hectic as had been the 1997 electoral campaign, the truth is it never came close to the unforgettable debacle that had laid waste William Peter Boulevard on the evening of July 3, 1979. That year’s campaign had claimed at least two lives; several participants in a UWP rally—one of them an MP, blood gushing from his stoned head—were hospitalized; there was rampant looting. John Compton barely escaped a group of young men armed with rocks and only evil on their minds. It took almost two weeks before the stench of human feces was finally removed from the boulevard atmosphere. Estimated damage to the city’s center of commerce was over two million dollars!
In the course of his Throne Speech delivered on the morning of June 17, 1997 the governor-general reassured Saint Lucians that with the elections now behind them the new government would exercise its duties “without fear or favor and with compassion for all.” The time had come to move away from “the fractured partisanship” of the last few months. We were one nation, one people and our survival depended on our acceptance of this simple truth: “It is necessary now to look beyond the things that divide us to the necessities that bind us; to look beyond the differences that separate us to the ties that unite us.”
The packed House had not anticipated what followed. His eyes focused on the script handed him as he entered the chamber, the governor-general read: “Corruption has been identified as the number-one issue in the minds of Saint Lucians. The extent of public sentiment has found expression in the popular culture, in calypsos such as Jaunty’s ‘Bobol List,’ which expressed in no uncertain terms the revulsion that the ordinary Saint Lucian felt at the abuse of public office for private gain. The commission of inquiry established by the former administration to investigate the so-called UN Scandal exposed to public view the sordid dimension of this phenomenon. Although the work of the commission was never followed to its logical conclusion it showed Saint Lucians how the levers of power could be manipulated, and punctuated the need for tighter accountability.”
More hyperbole; more contradictions. How could an inquiry abandoned long before vital questions had been asked the main witness, let alone answered, have delivered any useful conclusions? The governor-general announced that the new government would, in conformity with its campaign promises, establish a commission to investigate all cases of alleged corruption and to establish which cases warranted further legal action and prosecution. “We are resolute to pursue this course of action because the people have cried for justice. And once a blind eye is turned to corruption the institutional environment is created for its unchecked proliferation.”
Bear in mind, dear reader, the following: The 1997 Throne Speech was delivered by the governor-general Sir George Mallet. Until a year or so earlier he had been deputy prime minister in the United Workers Party government of John Compton. And now it had fallen to him to announce publicly that he and his former government colleagues—including their prime minister—would be subjected to a commission of inquiry based on the new government’s suspicion that for close to 40 years they had operated a corrupt administration. While the poker-faced George Mallet performed as duty demanded, surely his stomach must’ve been cooking in bile.
“We need to recognize, however, that a commission of inquiry is not enough; the passage of new laws is not enough. It is not enough simply to examine and seek to punish those guilty of past misdeeds. We must develop a culture of outrage against corruption. We must cultivate an intolerance for venality and to prevent any possibility of future recurrence.”
The promised inquiry got underway in September 1997, with Sir John finally facing just one charge: “That you, knowing Nicholas Glace had been dismissed from the Public Service of Saint Lucia, ought not to have recommended Nicholas Glace to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Planning as Project Supervisor to the Shanty Town Road Project having regard to Staff Order 2.3 of the Public Service of Saint Lucia.”
Commissioner Sir Louis Blom-Cooper’s written judgment was short: “Not upheld.”
Allegations against Vaughan Lewis, who in 1995 had controversially replaced Compton as prime minister, were “withdrawn.” During his testimony before the one-man inquiry, Sir John claimed the Kenny Anthony administration had simply embarked on “a political witch hunt and a personal vendetta against me.”
His head held high, he said: “As a taxpayer of this country I fail to understand why millions of dollars of the taxes of the people of this country should be employed in a commission of inquiry to determine whether it was contrary to staff orders to recommend the employment on a temporary basis, at a salary of EC$3,000 a month—a maximum expenditure of EC$9,000—of a Saint Lucian from the Vieux Fort area to supervise the construction of a road in the Vieux Fort area which was part of a project approved by the parliament of Saint Lucia. I consider this an abuse of the Commission of Inquiry Ordinance and a wanton and indefensible waste of the money of the taxpayers of Saint Lucia!”
One year following the Blom-Cooper inquiry, the new governor-general Dame Pearlette Louisy underscored in her Throne Speech the Kenny Anthony government’s “clear commitment to human rights.” The government intended “to give greater recognition to the Charter of Civil Society for the Caribbean Community,” she said. The government was also “anxious to endorse the enshrined principles of good governance and respect for the fundamental rights of all citizens.” The government would activate a national committee for monitoring and ensuring implementation of the provisions of the charter that sought “principally to establish a binding covenant by government to the promotion of human rights consistent with the UN Charter on Human Rights and to extend the safeguards of our constitutions in the protection of these fundamental rights and freedoms. Commitment to the provisions of the charter will be a reaffirmation of confidence in the process of accountability, morality in public affairs, the safeguarding of democracy, and securing the human rights of the individual as the basis for any modern society.”
Dame Pearlette’s Throne Speech ended on a promissory note: “In this country each and every one of us is important. Each of us has a unique contribution to make to the rest of us. The hotel workers, the taxi driver, the banana farmer are not foot soldiers; they are vanguard fighters in this collective battle for equality, for excellence, for survival. Our communities are diminished by the loss of one. Our standards and our reputation are lowered by the mediocrity of any. Whenever hope falters, possibility is weakened. Whenever resolve fades, capacity is diminished. Whenever vision weakens, direction is lost and the nation begins to perish . . .”
Following is how Kenny Anthony on the Sunday evening of 8 March, 2015 opened a much anticipated televised speech: “In all the years I have had the honor to serve you as prime minister the issues on which I am about to address you have been among the most challenging and difficult, for three reasons: they call for extremely tough, courageous but necessary decisions; the matters in question have tarnished the reputation of our country and brought considerable dishonor to our police force, at home and abroad; the issues touch a raw nerve, our battle against crime, violence and lawlessness in our midst.”
The prime minister retraced the steps that had taken him to the “most challenging and difficult” issue of his political career. He recalled that between 2008 and 2010 the country had experienced “an unprecedented wave of homicides and violent crimes” and on 30 May, 2010 then prime minister Stephenson King had launched Operation Restore Confidence—“ostensibly to restore confidence in the police force and to provide a safer environment for the citizens of Saint Lucia.” Kenny Anthony emphasized that King had threatened the island’s criminals that “there will be no refuge, no stone left unturned and no hiding place for anyone.”
King had also announced the formation of a Special Task Force, the prime minister recalled. Also a change in the command structure of the police force that “quickly became operational under the direct command of the deputy police commissioner Mr. Moses Charles.” Ministerial responsibility for the police was assigned to home affairs minister Guy Mayers “who briefed the public on the changes effected by his government. Between 2010 and 2011,” said Prime Minister Anthony, “twelve persons met their deaths following encounters with officers of the RSLPF. The largest number of civilian casualties occurred in the Castries Basin, allegedly during the execution of duly authorized search warrants. These deaths attracted the attention of the US State Department.”
By the prime minister’s account the USSD had stated in its 2011 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Saint Lucia that “the most serious human rights problems included reports of twelve potentially unlawful police shootings during the year.” He said the US government, in consequence of the report, “proceeded to apply to Saint Lucia what has become known as the Leahy Law,” after Senator Patrick Leahy, its particular purpose being to keep in line governments that appeared complicit in cases of human rights violations.
The US had ceased all financial and technical assistance to Saint Lucia’s coast guard, said the prime minister. It had suspended the sale of ammunition for the American-made weapons issued the local police, now barred from participation in any training program sponsored by the US. Members of the RSLPF were also denied the benefits from training activities of the Regional Security System, largely US-financed. The prime minister confirmed that at least one US visa issued a leading member of the RSLPF had been revoked. The commissioner had himself been prevented by Hewanorra personnel from boarding a flight to the US.
“The stark reality we confront is that the United States will only lift those sanctions if in their judgment all necessary corrective steps have been taken . . . If the sanctions are to be removed,” the prime minister concluded, “we must show proof that we are taking corrective steps to deal with the situations.” He recalled his public announcement on 20 August, 2013 that he had secured the services of CARICOM’s Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) to investigate “all instances of alleged extra-judicial killings by the local police.” His government had gone so far as to amend the Police Complaints Act to permit the appointment of “one or more persons from within or outside of Saint Lucia to investigate any matter involving a member or members of the police force.”
According to the amended act: “Where in any investigation authorized by the minister it appears to the investigator or lead investigator that there is prima facie evidence of criminal conduct, he or she shall transmit to the Direct of Public Prosecutions all evidence, statements and other relevant materials arising from the investigation.” It mattered not that there might already have been a previous hearing or finding by the Complaints Unit; neither the prior conduct of a Coroner’s Inquest concerning the matter to be investigated.
In his earlier cited 20 August, 2013 address, wherein he claimed he had “seen a hit list of targeted persons deemed to be criminals,” the prime minister referenced inquests into the suspect fatalities that had returned verdicts of “death by lawful act.” By his word, inquests were scheduled in relation to five killings by the police in Vieux Fort. Since the US had decided to impose the sanctions regardless, the prime minister said, it was reasonable to assume “it does not have confidence in the outcome of inquests to bring those responsible for the killings to justice. The presumption seems to be that the killings were unlawful.”
The prime minister ended his 2015 TV address with news that “a copy of the report has now been made available to her [then DPP Victoria Charles-Emmanuel].” Following a December 2015 public announcement that she had perused the report received from the prime minister’s office and had found only serious allegations and summaries—nothing that would stand up in court—the then home affairs minister Phillip La Corbiniere seemed to concur when he said during a radio interview that such was the sensitivity of the evidence that his office had determined not to include it in the report submitted to the DPP’s office. As for the prime minister, it was his shared view that the DPP’s statement was out of line; that she should’ve privately informed him of whatever was missing from the report.
In the meantime the persistent US and the EU continued to offer the Kenny Anthony government whatever assistance was required to bring about “a credible judicial solution” to the issue—under the laws of Saint Lucia. From time to time the prime minister offered the public often contradicting explanations for the apparent reluctance to prosecute the IMPACS Report.
On June 6, 2016 the people of Saint Lucia decided they’d had enough. They removed Kenny Anthony and handed the prime minister’s chair to Allen Chastanet, along with all of his predecessor’s outstanding accounts, among them the unresolved matter of IMPACS.
Several weeks ago the DPP assured the media he would be ready “soon” to issue a public statement on IMPACS. Since then there has been little from his office that the public has not heard before. Indeed, many Saint Lucians imagined the matter as dead as the twelve citizens allegedly shot by the police some six years ago. Evidently they imagined wrong. This week EU diplomats and other overseas personnel paid the prime minister a visit at his office. Reportedly their agenda included a discussion centered on IMPACS. Meanwhile, the United States continues to deny all assistance to the grossly underequipped and demoralized local police force. Two weeks ago they were denied participation in a Trade Winds training activity held in Grenada. The more things change . . .