In the opening scene of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet we are introduced to all the quintessential elements of idyllic American suburbia: red roses against the backdrop of a white picket fence; a fireman waving cheerfully to us while he hangs from a truck as it rolls down a suburban street; a gentle female police officer diligently helping a band of pleasant kids cross a motorway and the pivotal set-up of an elderly man leisurely watering his lawn.
We then see this man holding the back of his neck in agony. He collapses onto the lawn, still holding the hose as water jets profusely into the air. Then comes an incessant, ominous droning and we are skillfully lured beneath the verdant green of the lawn into the hostile netherworld of a repulsive congestion of scurrying beetles.
The immediate point Lynch communicates is that beneath the veneer of placid normality exists a thriving ecosystem of criminality and corruption—a perspective which completely encapsulates the recent unraveling of the Lambirds and AIMU scandals on Rick Wayne’s TALK.
The AIMU scandal, exposed during the disentangling of the Lambirds Affair, appears to be a prototype and inspiration for the latter. The accusations hurled at AIMU are redolent of that launched against the Lambirds Academy. Like those of Lambirds, the students of AIMU appear to be the victims of a nefarious cabal, lured to St. Lucia by seductive online advertisements that promised a lot and delivered next to nothing.
The highlight of the June 4th episode of TALK was Rick Wayne’s pre-recorded interview of Executive Dean and CEO of the American International Medical University (AIMU), Dr. Raj Babu. This was an invaluable complement to the preceding show which disclosed—via Mr. Wayne’s pre-recorded interview of a former student of AIMU by the name of Vardhan—the alleged atrocities perpetuated by the administration of AIMU against its students. Despite having marshaled all objectivity to the fore, I could not divest myself of the intuition that I had sat before several minutes of dissimulation on the part of Dr. Raj. Others, less diplomatic, will confess to having been privy to nothing else but blatant lies.
Dr. Raj dismissed all allegations leveled against him and AIMU by Vardhan (and others) as “completely, completely false,” a proclamation that must be considered in light of Mr. Wayne’s testimony that all of Vardhan’s accusations have been corroborated by multiple sources while nothing Raj said in his and AIMU’s defense has been corroborated by any source. For example: Dr. Raj claimed that Vardhan was dismissed from the school in 2010 for the offense of working while in the capacity of student. When asked why the immigration authorities were not informed of Vardhan’s infraction, Dr. Raj claimed that he had in fact made reports against Vardhan (and others engaged in similar transgressions).
However, previous investigations by Mr. Wayne revealed that no such reports had been made. There also seems to be evidence that Vardhan was an AIMU student as recently as 2013, though this was not conclusively divulged on the show. Whatever the details, one is persuaded to the conclusion that the dismissal of Vardhan, if in fact it ever took place, would have been motivated by nothing else but the threat Vardhan posed (and did manifest) to AIMU (for, according to Mr. Wayne, there are AIMU students who committed the same infraction with impunity). Dr. Raj also denied the allegation by Vardhan and others that AIMU students were kept at bay by coercive threats and even beaten for reporting or attempting to report atrocities unfolding at AIMU. Likewise, he denied the allegation that the AIMU administration manipulated students’ grades as yet another instrument in the systemic apparatus of coercion.
However, a former employee of AIMU called in to make the point that an AIMU faculty member by the name of Dr. Sasi (revealed to be without the prefixed credential) was suspected of carrying out, and (precedent to 2013) was well positioned to exercise such an influence.
Dr. Raj, when not engaged in overt denial, was disposed to ascribe the various allegations of corruption and fraudulence leveled against him and his institution to the ostensibly motiveless machinations of a Ms Paule and a certain, if not mysterious, Kumar. So archetypally malicious did Kumar become that, had it not been for Mr. Wayne’s corroboration of his existence, one may have dismissed Kumar as a malevolent figment of Raj’s imagination. Santhanaraj Kumar and Paule Turmel-John were once recruiters of AIMU, among other things.
Dr. Raj also spoke of “a big conspiracy” involving the poaching of AIMU’s students by other medical institutions here. When asked why AIMU did not report the action to the immigration authorities, Dr. Raj made a dubious attempt at a defense by supplying a sequence of unconnected documents, one of which was a letter of complaint against certain students addressed to the Chief of Police. Furthermore, when asked why his students would be amenable to being poached by his competitors, he spoke of an anti-AIMU conspiracy, apparently facilitated by the malignant gossip of Kumar and Paule. These and the other similar equivocations obliged one to lose all confidence in the testimony of Dr. Raj.
A CNN clip presented on the show minced no words in placing Dr. Raj at the center of a scandal involving the stifling of the academic dreams of a young Indian woman bent on medical aspirations, at the hands of AIMU. During a brief stint in St. Lucia she became quickly disillusioned by how far the institution had fallen short of its online promises. Back in India, she complained to reporters of the lack of basic facilities, stating: “They told me they had laboratories and a library. The library did not have a single book and the labs were not working.”
An interesting unfolding in the interview was Raj’s corroboration that an unnamed man who came into St. Lucia as a dependent of a female student of AIMU was one of the individuals charged in the fraudulence of the Lambirds Academy. Expectedly, Dr. Raj denied any association with the stated individual and blamed Kumar and Paule for that individual’s association with AIMU.
Another highlight of the show was the disclosure by Dr. Raj, upon questioning, that our current Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony was at one time in the employ of AIMU (ironically as a lecturer on “legal ethics”). This was later supplemented by the display of a listing of the AIMU faculty containing the name of the Prime Minister (under the title of “Extraordinary Professor”). The question which came to the fore in the mind of most viewers was undoubtedly whether he was employed in the stated capacity while Leader of the Opposition or as Prime Minister. But this would be beside the point for, as Leader of the Opposition or Prime Minister, I cannot help but muse upon why a figure of Dr. Anthony’s intellect and political influence could have been persuaded into such a shady situation. It intimates of a certain amount of negligence and possible “willful blindness.” Doubtless our prime minister will clear the fog of doubt and suspicion.
The announcement by a caller that St. Lucian students had received government scholarships to study at AIMU was another jaw-dropping moment on the show. If this is indeed true, it may be as good a place as any to start investigating the government’s possible involvement in or facilitation of the AIMU scandal.
Yet another issue, which produced more questions than answers, was that of accreditation which Dr. Raj, with the backing of Mr. Wayne, identified as an issue affecting medical schools across the Caribbean. However, one did not leave the show with a clear understanding of the accreditation status of AIMU, with Dr. Raj calling the accreditation process complicated (and perhaps rightfully so). Be that as it may, the strange case of AIMU and Dr. Raj appears to go way beyond accreditation and seems ensconced in the zone of fraudulence. With allegations of human trafficking, money laundering, fraud, dubious accreditation and wholesale corruption in the air, the value of the certificates conferred by AIMU is an unnerving issue in itself. It is profoundly demoralizing that one would invest five years of time and money in an education to be garlanded in the end by a document worth no more than the paper on which it is printed.
One caller invoked the constitutional reform as a way out of our predicament (of which the AIMU and Lambirds scandals are but instantiations). Though the caller sounded refreshingly informed, it appears to me that the term “constitutional reform” has degenerated into a quasi-intellectual catchphrase and apparent panacea of our various ailments.
Constitutional reform means very little if St. Lucian citizens are not ready to challenge conspicuous violations of the existing constitution. What is the Grynberg Affair but a flagrant assault on the constitution?—an event that the population seemed more devoted to forget than address. That such an event as the AIMU controversy could have been unfolding for so long without as much as a squeak required more than the shortcomings of the constitution or the prowess of the AIMU administration. It necessitated the tacit (and perhaps explicit) endorsement of the entire governmental apparatus (fattened into complacency by decades of remarkable tolerance on the part of the St. Lucian public).
Furthermore, the fact that only two police officers were assigned to the investigation of the Lambirds case raises the question of whether it is not a ploy on the part of government officials to stall the investigations of the scandal, with the tenable consequence that the student witnesses depart and the Lambirds affair join the motley crew of vaguely remembered strange happenings on the island of St. Lucia.
The reader need not be swayed to divine in the Lambirds and AIMU scandals—far from isolated events—trademark symptoms of an admixture of systemic incompetence, negligence and corruption. One caller asked perhaps the most consequential question of the night: what will be the finale of the Lambirds and AIMU scandals? Will it be the usual talk followed by amnesia? Or will we give up the sheepish docility and boundless tolerance for the cluelessness and unscrupulousness which masquerades as governance in this country?
Editor’s Note: The preceding was first published in the STAR of 13 June, 2015. This week Dr Raj Savaran Babu, CEO of AIMU, was arrested by local police. He appeared before magistrate Burtlyn Reyolds on eight counts including obtaining property by deception, forgery, and operating without a trade license. He has been granted bail in the sum of $20,000. AIMU has operated in
Saint Lucia since 2006!