In his weekly Crusader columns, indeed at almost every opportunity, George Odlum would refer to Saint Lucia’s parliament as “our House of Dissemble.”
More often than not the sniggering pejorative preceded a caustic account of demonstrated ignorance and incivility. But George’s dispatches served also to underscore the chimpanzee characteristics that had become commonplace in the House.
Odlum had himself contributed more than his own fair share to the recorded chaos, especially in the mid-70s and early 80s when he had instigated such behavior at the “honorable” venue as had forced the Speaker to beat a hasty retreat to less hazardous quarters.
One honorable member had threatened to “shoot from the hip and make shit come out of your mouth” if his opposing honorable colleague did not put a cork in his privileged gob.
Meanwhile other honorable members engaged in a boisterous game of catch with the mace, the ceremonial staff that purportedly symbolizes parliament’s authority. Following the particular episode, and at the shaky Speaker’s directive, MPs were required, before entering the House chamber, to leave their guns with the sergeant-at-arms.
The repercussions from such barbarous shenanigans continue to rattle the timbers of this nation. Local parliamentarians have since the mid-70s sought not only to sound like Odlum, with hilarious results, but they have also appeared hell-bent on out-performing the deceased one-time radical. Alas, where Odlum had been witty, his would-be emulators came across as crass; déclassé.
Where Odlum had seemed tough in the name of the people, the masqueraders now appear uncouth, unread and downright ridiculous. Egregiously rude and insulting comments, not to say lousy English, today bounce from both sides of the table onto the pages of Hansard—to the shame of future generations.
Notwithstanding their own well-chronicled shortcomings, earlier MPs—from George Charles to George Odlum—when compared with today’s lot were saints. And lest I be deemed presumptuous, holier-than-thou and judgmental, let me remind the would-be defenders of mediocrity that the latter-day politicians had by their own well oiled motor mouths declared themselves utterly undeserving of any association with the word “honorable,” regardless of what the House Standing Orders may to the contrary say.
There has hardly been a House sitting since the passing of John Compton that has not fed off the carrion above referenced. Speaker after Speaker has been treated as if indeed they were public-toilet perverts deserving of wall-to-wall contempt. Especially in relatively recent times, MP after presumed honorable MP has effectively declared parliament a den of thieves, at which point I am reminded of Odlum’s earlier cited descriptive.
“Dissemble” is a verb defined thus: “To disguise or conceal behind a false appearance; to make a false show of; to disguise or conceal one’s real nature, motives, or feelings behind a false appearance.”
And now for this week’s House session, at which the prime minister and minister for finance, social security blah-blah-blah—by Jadia Jn Pierre-Emmanuel’s advance notice—“was expected to present a number of motions seeking the authorization of parliament to guarantee various sums for the resurfacing and rehabilitation of roads commissioned under the United Workers Party dministration, for which payments had already commenced.”
Now comes the doozy that any fool could have foretold would serve only to underscore the fish market status of the nation’s most honorable House: “These guarantees have become necessary because the projects undertaken were financed by loans which did not have parliamentary approval.” She went on to name the projects to be presented for “belated guarantees.”
“Belated guarantees?” By what law is parliament authorized to approve “belated guarantees?” Where in the Constitution are “belated guarantees” referenced? What in heaven’s name are belated guarantees? Once again, let us consult the dictionary for the ordinary meaning of the word “belated.”
According to the three that I checked, belated is defined as “having been delayed, done or sent too late.” And what is it that had been done or sent too late? I’m not sure.
Whatever they were, we need not look up “guarantees.” Everyone, from Gavin French to the folks at RBBT, Frenwell, Petrus Compton, every market vendor, could rattle off with their eyes closed the ordinary meaning of the word “guarantee.”
But then how does parliament approve the guarantee of a bank loan already received and spent by the borrower? As miracles go, the Marriage of Cana was child’s play compared to what our homegrown miracle workers pulled over the people’s eyes on Tuesday.
Said the prime minister, setting up his bag of tricks: “If you are going to enter into an agreement to design, finance and construct, does it not constitute a loan to the government and should these loans have come to parliament since in effect payments to them were from the Consolidated Fund?”
No one knew better the answer. Still the prime minister reminded his colleagues that the attorney general had given an “opinion on the matter in 2009”—when Stephenson King still ruled the roost, if not the cocks.
On Tuesday King confirmed “the opinion of the attorney general’s chambers is quite clear and I am not challenging it!” On the other hand Guy Joseph, whose ministry was closely connected with the sought “belated guarantees” dismissed the alleged illegal borrowing of $60 million as “a non-issue.”
He further implored the government “to focus instead on the real issues confronting the country.” By which he referred to this nation with a close to $90 million deficit!
I am not all that interested in King’s opinion that “once a project is presented in the Budget there is no need to seek approval for borrowing,” as disastrous and expensive as that has already proved.
For his own part, the finance minister described King’s “notion” not only as “fallacious”—which is to say, based on a fallacy, tending to mislead, deceptive—but also “wrong.”
At one unforgettable point the prime minister thanked providence for having provided the Finance Act, amended in February of 2011 by the King administration. Without it, he added, a finance minister could guarantee loans for whomever he pleased without parliament even knowing about it. And he was absolutely right. Oh, how right he was!
I echo the prime minister and add the following, taken from the Finance Act of 2011, under the heading Restrictions on Guarantees: “A guarantee involving any financial liability is not binding upon government unless the minister grants the guarantee in accordance with an enactment or with a prior approval of parliament by a resolution of parliament.” [my emphasis]
Moreover: “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.”
Can illegality be rendered legal by another illegality? By what authority is the prime minister empowered to perform miracles detrimental to the people?
Lest we forget: “There’s no real making amends in this world anymore, nor can you mend a wrong subtraction by doing your addition right.” The observation was as true in the time of George Eliot as it is today and will continue to be long after we’ve all sank beneath this Rock of Sages!