According to a story by the Brothers Grimm, in the Middle Ages, when they were overrun by nasty rats, the good people of Hamelin contracted a weirdly-attired flute player with a cheap crystal stud in his ear to entice the rodents out of their hiding places and into the Weser River where they drowned en masse. Evidently, the Pied Piper’s music was to medieval pestilence as irresistible as is the word Rochamel to their current-day Saint Lucian equivalent, the perpetual defenders of the indefensible—or PDI. Not that they are immediately discernible from the common crowd. But for their predictable reaction once the R-word reaches their tympanic membrane it would be extremely difficult to tell a PDI from, say, that section of our society that believes in the supernatural power of such night creatures as boloms and gens gajay. A huge section, I might add, which doubtless accounts for our strides in the field of science.
But I must not digress too far, I was hinting at the strange behavior that mere mention of the word Rochamel inspires in some sections our great nation. Even the most articulate among us will unabashedly stoop to gibberish in their effort to confuse Martinus Francois’ suit against the attorney general with the matter that last year came before the Ramsahoye Commission. In the first instance, it was Francois’ contention that ministers of finance in Saint Lucia did not have the legal authority to guarantee bank loans for private individuals or companies. Although in the first instance the high court judge Indra Hariprashad agreed with Francois, that decision was overturned by the appeal court—albeit controversially. The last mentioned body determined finance ministers were indeed constitutionally authorized to guarantee loans against the Consolidated Fund. However, should such entities prove unable, for whatever reasons, to meet their bank commitments, the government’s guarantee would be worthless without the approval by parliament.
Yes, Francois’ well-intentioned case bit the dust but his loss turned out to be Saint Lucia’s gain. As a direct consequence of his defeat, it was now clear something had to be done about the loophole that permitted a reckless minister of finance from taking officially unapproved risks with the people’s money. That particular necessity was further underscored by the Ramsahoye Commission when in effect it recommended in its report that finance ministers must in all circumstances receive House approval before granting loan guarantees.
This week, the Senate agreed that henceforth “a guarantee involving any financial liability is not binding upon government unless the minister grants the guarantee in accordance with an enactment or with the prior approval of parliament by a resolution of parliament.” (Italics mine)
Moreover, that such resolution “must give the full details of the amount guaranteed, the person or legal entity in whose name the guarantee is intended, and the object and reasons for the giving of the guarantee.”
Who could ask for anything more? Had these unambiguous clauses been in place back in 1997, the Helen Air debacle might never have happened and Saint Lucian taxpayers would’ve been spared the multi-million-dollar fallout from the egregious Rochamel disaster. Millions of dollars irrevocably lost would’ve been saved, had the people’s money been earlier protected from reckless megalomaniac ministers of finance who, assisted by a loophole in Section 41 of the Finance (Administration) Act, effectively controlled the Consolidated Fund.
Yes, indeed, there is good reason to celebrate. But let us not be too quick to break out the Monet. For just when it seemed the King government had enacted what is arguably the most important law in a very long time, a canard raised its head. And it is contained in sub-section 3 of this week’s amendment to the cited finance act: “The minister may grant a guarantee on such terms and conditions as he or she may think fit.”
What a load of codswallop! If according to sub-section one guarantees involving financial liability are not binding upon government unless given with “the prior approval of parliament”; if according to sub-section two “the full details of the amount guaranteed, the person or legal entity in whose name the guarantee is intended, and the object and reasons for the giving of the guarantee” (my italics) must be debated and approved by parliament;
then what to make of section three that authorizes the finance minister to “grant a guarantee on such terms and conditions as he or she
may think fit?” Yes, and so far as the sub-section says, without even the necessity of bringing parliament into the deal!
Was the attorney general asleep at the wheel during the last sitting of the senate? Or worse, was this just another political sleight of hand, a device designed to
permit finance ministers continued free rein when it comes to the Consolidated Fund—even as conned citizens imagine our money
Dear reader, I promise you: we’ve not heard the last of this latest attempt by politicians at pissing in the public eye and calling it rain!