One of Rick Wayne’s favourite political recollections revisits a particular early Sunday morning several years ago, when he accompanied a friend then campaigning for a seat in parliament. As they drove along the Gros Islet highway, Wayne recalled recently, his friend honked every few feet without apparent reason. Finally the publisher demanded an explanation. “Well,” said his friend the politician, “you never know who’s in the bush. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I drove by and deliberately did not acknowledge his or her presence. People can be very sensitive!”
Such are the peculiar concerns of the politician. Rick’s story came to mind on Wednesday afternoon as I drove with the Castries South MP,
Mr. Ernest Hilaire, en route to his constituency office in Ciceron. As we approached the road leading to his office, he lowered his window, as if to bask in the friendly call-outs, the smiles of recognition, reminders of upcoming appointments, and well wishes. Obviously, politicians are always in campaign mode, forever on the make, as they say, looking to keeping old friends and possible new ones.
Upon arrival to his office, we quickly got down to business: his reaction to the prime minister’s statement on the issue long referred to simply as “Grynberg”. (See Rick Wayne’s Writings on the Wall in this issue.)
KW: What is your assessment of Tuesday’s House session?
Hilaire: In some ways the House for me is an opportunity to speak directly to the people of Saint Lucia, and for me to speak in a very detailed way about some of the issues that confront us. For the last few sittings, I think every time I try to speak, there are always attempts to stop me from speaking. Numerous points of order, objections . . . and I think its very deliberate, to throw me off course. I think that’s not really working, and just to cause confusion. I think Tuesday was probably the worst, where the Speaker literally ruled that I should only speak to the specific clauses in the Bill, but that did not seem to apply to everybody else. Everybody else took the latitude to give background information, to give context, however, I was not given that kind of latitude. I tried as best as possible to address the issue that was before us, which was the introduction of a levy, on passengers travelling to raise money to service a loan that will be used to upgrade the airport facility.
KW: What are your thoughts on Prime Minister Allen Chastanet’s statement on Grynberg?
Hilaire: I think it was coming. There’s been a lot of talk from certain circles about Grynberg, Grynberg, Grynberg . . . and there’s different opinions. We’ve not had an authoritative presentation on Grynberg. We’ve heard Rick Wayne say a lot of things about Grynberg. We’ve had Claudius Francis counter him and dispel a lot of what he said, and now we’ve heard the prime minister entering into the fray. For my own part, I’m only now researching the matter to fully understand what transpired. There are certain things that appear very clear to me. There are certain things I believe we need to have legal opinions on, and there are some things we need some more explanation on. For example, one of the arguments that has been put forward is the prime minister did not have the authority to sign the agreement. There is a counter view, that where the Act speaks of the governor general as the one who grants the license. The Interpretation Act of Saint Lucia defines who is the governor general of Saint Lucia in that context. There is a view that says you should not go to the Interpretation Act . . .
KW: What does the Interpretation Act say?
Hilaire: It’s very clearly stated. There’s a clause that states where the governor general is referred to, what is meant. It also raises an important question. If Kenny Anthony was not legally entitled to sign the agreement, it means the agreement is null and void. It means there was no agreement. I cannot see how one can argue there is an agreement, yet the person that signed it was not legally entitled to sign it. Then there’s the issue of whether or not we sold our seabed. That was not the case. It was a license of exploration given for four years . . . whatever period, that had ended, it was signed by a new prime minister, who recalled the agreement, and the developer took it to court, on the basis that he should have had a natural extension because of force majeure. It went to court, and the government of Saint Lucia won. The gentleman appealed. In appealing, the government of Saint Lucia asked that he put down a deposit to cover costs, which he did not do. Therefore, his appeal was dismissed, and he’s now appealing whether or not they should have dismissed his appeal on those grounds. The prime minister in speaking to the House yesterday did not say that. He said the gentleman only lost because he had not made a deposit. The prime minister did not say that the gentleman had already lost his hearing and was only appealing the decision of the tribunal having lost and I think, to that extent, the House was misled. I am certainly trying to get as much information as possible, and we will be discussing the matter further. It has now been placed before the House for the second time. The prime minister and other people have been saying it had never been brought before the House. The first time it was brought up was in 2009 by Richard Frederick. The agreement was made a document of the House.
KW: Why do you think it took so long for the details of the agreement to be made a document of the House?
Hilaire: The Hess agreement has never been made a document of the house. The Hess project was debated; it was passed and signed, and renewed. Up to now Saint Lucians don’t know how much Hess (Buckeye) pays for being there, and it’s been almost 50 years. There are so many agreements our country has signed. Generally when government signs commercial agreements they are not made public documents. When government signs international agreements, likewise they are not placed before parliament. There’s no requirement in our law. There are some international agreements when you sign, your legislature must ratify it. Some of them it is the executive that has to ratify. There is not a pattern, or customary practice in Saint Lucia that when government signs agreements, it will place it before parliament, or announce to the country that it has just signed an agreement. The only instances I know of are certain international treaties that require it being ratified by parliament, or the executive.
KW: There is the public perception that the matter of Grynberg should be addressed so the country can move forward. Some even say the matter is dead. What is your perspective?
Hilaire: There are a few noisy people, and there are a lot of people making noise. You can have a lot of people making noise, but you can have a very few people making a lot of noise, about a particular issue, almost forcing it to become a national issue. I think in Grynberg a lot of that has happened. There has been primarily one voice, and maybe a couple others that have fought the hardest to make it a national issue. What I am trying to find out, and that for me is what’s critical with Grynberg: What is it in the Grynberg agreement that is so objectionable? For example, with DSH, you could have said the sale of land at 99 cents per acre was objectionable. You could have said the escrow account was objectionable. You could have pointed to any number of the clauses, that were objectionable, and therefore you needed more public discussion and disclosure on it. I’m still yet to hear what clause in Grynberg’s agreement that’s so objectionable. There seems to have been a preoccupation, rightfully or wrongfully, that the prime minister may not have told people about it. That the prime minister did it on his own, the prime minister did whatever he wanted to do. Okay, one can have an issue with procedure.
KW: There’s also the issue that our seabed is tied up in litigation. While other countries in the region are discovering oil, we’re spending millions defending suits brought by Jack Grynberg.
Hilaire: That’s not true. Grynberg lost the cause, so right now there is no agreement in place. As far as I’m told, right now if we were to conduct explorations, there is no one who would make objections. There’s no stay on the decision that was taken by the tribunal. But again, it’s very simple for those matters to be clarified. It’s to ask lawyers to look at the judgment of the tribunal, and tell us definitively. Maybe we can enter into a constructive phase. Let us sit down, bring a group of lawyers who are learned, or people who are versed on the matter, and have an open discussion on it.
KW: Your party is known for quickly reacting to matters of public interest. Why have you been so slow to explain the issues surrounding Grynberg?
Hilaire: I think part of it is we’re probably waiting for more discussion on it, in a sense, to be able to [speak] authoritatively. So much has been said from certain circles and sectors. If there is something wrong with it, let it be said. What I find bewildering, if there is something so wrong with it, why doesn’t the government just take action? For me, that’s what is bizarre. If something is wrong about something, do something about it. If something is wrong with St Jude, you’re in power, do something about it. Call a commission of inquiry. If something is wrong with Gyrnberg, and the agreement was so bad, do something about it.
KW: Are you satisfied with public accountability in Saint Lucia?
Hilaire: It’s our political culture. Ever since I was in the National Youth Council as a young activist, we had always called for greater accountability in our society, and for our institutions to be more accountable to the people. That’s not our history. We came out of a colonial experience, where the state was a colonial state, and the society was a subjected society. The state never felt it had an obligation to account to the society. I did my entire PhD on that subject to some extent. That’s our historical experience. But as societies modernize, and there’s the growth of institutions in society, you have civic institutions that put pressure on state institutions to be more accountable. Some people will tell you its an evolutionary process, as the citizenry becomes more politically conscious, as society on a whole becomes more organised, you start putting more pressure on government, and parliament, to be more accountable to the people and to account for what is happening in the political sphere. So, one can argue that we’re still evolving.
KW: The law demands public accountability. What does culture have to do with it? Who is perpetuating this culture you speak of?
Hilaire: Trust me, there are many times when I’ve left parliament to go home, and I feel empty. Really empty. Again, I grew up as a youth activist, in youth groups, in national youth council, very radical and whatnot. You dreamt of parliament as the apex of decision-making – something that you go to, and people ask questions, and you hold government accountable. It’s not that. It’s really not that. And sometimes you ask yourself, Why am I really doing this again? I only came into parliament in June last year. There’s a lot of romanticism of parliament, and political processes and whatnot, but I have confidence though, that societies increasingly will push governments to be more accountable. Technology has helped a lot, in terms of empowering the society, but we’re very politically tribalized, and not only in Saint Lucia. Even in the process of seeking accountability, you still have political tribes, which forces the defense of whatever the leaders do. And that will make democratization even more difficult to achieve. But the younger generation coming up will rebut that, either by being indifferent to politics, and withdrawing from it, which would be cause for concern in the long-term, or by pursuing activism in another kind of way. Not activism of the 1960s or 1970s – marching, and demonstrating, and burning, and revolution – but activism in the use of information, and forcing politicians not to neglect them anymore. Stepping out of the political realm and into the academic sense, there’s a lot of hope in being able to empower people to making politicians and institutions more accountable.