Aday before Neville Cenac would be sworn in as Saint Lucia’s new Governor General, Opposition Leader Phillip J Pierre and a coalition of four other Saint Lucia Labour Party members held the first of, according to Mr Pierre, weekly press briefings for 2018. Up for discussion was, of course, the aforementioned: our government’s recent decision to appoint Neville Cenac to the position of Governor General. While the declaration has since made waves across the island, with some locals expressing disdain towards the appointed one, who infamously ‘crossed the floor’ during a parliamentary meeting thirty years ago, Opposition members chimed in with heavy reprimanding.
Philip J Pierre, who first addressed the press after New Year well wishes, began: “Let me thank Dame Pearlette Louisy, on behalf of the Saint Lucia Labour Party and the many well-wishers across the political divide, for having served with poise and distinction as governor general over the last 20 years. She remains one of the longest serving governor generals in the commonwealth. Dame Pearlette Louisy was one of the few remaining unifying forces in our country, having served both Labour and UWP administrations. Her value will become even more apparent in her absence.”
He immediately followed this up with the Opposition’s grievances adding, “While I thank her for her long and dedicated service to country, I believe she is owed an apology for the less than dignified way she was treated in her final months by the UWP administration. The former governor general should have been given far more time to prepare for her departure given a 20 year period of service. By all accounts, she was pushed out of office and made to plea for her pension benefits for which she was lawfully entitled. It is another indication of the callous and insensitive government that has no sense for propriety of dealing with the matters of state.”
When asked by a member of the press how it was he arrived at these claims, and the reason for such accusations, Pierre responded adamantly, “I can assure you, Dame Pearlette had to bargain for her benefits. Dame Pearlette even had to look for help to ascertain her benefits. And I challenge the government to say, ‘That’s not true.’”
The benefits he listed were “her pension and her gratuity” before lamenting, “I’m putting an open challenge to the government to declare that I have not spoken the truth when I say that Dame Pearlette had to bargain, had to argue; she had to seek help and support to get the benefits that were due to her . . . that’s a challenge to the government to say that I lied.”
Amongst the Opposition Leader’s other criticisms was the claim that no consultation was carried out with the Opposition before the decision was made. “Prime Minister Allen Chastanet has so far displayed a callous disregard for the customs and conventions that characterize a civil society and ensures good governance and respect for the rule of law . . . had the prime minister followed the convention of good governance practice he should have consulted the leader of the opposition on the appointment of the governor general, “ said the Opposition Leader.
Not only was the party’s displeasure highlighted but the supposed thoughts and feelings of Laborie residents privy to the 1987 incident in parliament were also emphasized. Mr Pierre stated, “I am aware that supporters, and particularly the constituents of Laborie, remain disgusted and hurt by events surrounding the switching of political allegiances by the current governor general for the 1987 general elections.”
Parliamentary Representative for Laborie, Hon. Alva Baptiste, who was also present at the briefing, added during his address, “I invite you to come down to Laborie . . . the only set of persons in Laborie who probably would give you an interview saying it was a good appointment are those who, if God Almighty lead the Labour party and lucifer would lead UWP, would still support UWP. And, they are in the minority, maybe one or two. The people of Laborie condemn that particular act of treachery.”
Among other speakers at the meeting were Parliamentary Representative for Castries South, Hon. Ernest Hilaire, Parliamentary Representative for Vieux Fort North, Hon. Moses Jn Baptist and Opposition senator Guibion Ferdinand.
Ultimately the party’s feelings toward these recent incidents remain clear. They can be summed up in Mr. Baptiste’s closing lines when he said of Neville Cenac’s ‘crossing of the floor’: “Never was such an act of political treachery perpetrated on the people of Saint Lucia, and it, along with its perpetrator, will live on in infamy in the political history of this country; so will the appointment of Neville Cenac as the governor general of Saint Lucia. I reiterate that Prime Minister Allen Chastanet’s appointment of Neville Cenac to the position of governor general is to desecrate the inner sanctum of this high office. Thank you.”