On last Sunday’s Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer’s guest was the former House Speaker and wannabe presidential candidate for the Republican Party, Newt Gingrich. The interview was nothing if not incendiary. The highlight for me was when the host challenged Gingrich’s recent statement that he was both “debt free and frugal.” Earlier, he had been forced to explain his apparent flip-flopping on Medicare and Obama’s policies in Egypt, Libya and Syria. Then Schieffer shifted to his guest’s somewhat unsavory marital history. By the time the interviewer arrived at Gingrich’s much-publicized indebtedness to a New York jewelry store it seemed the author of the Republican Party’s Contract with America was about to unhook his mike and head out the door. Of course, he didn’t. Instead, he sought shelter behind the suggestion that, despite contrary rumors, he operated three successful businesses that employed many Americans who might otherwise be jobless.
“But you’ve not paid your bill at the jewelry store,” said Schieffer. “And anyway, Mr. Speaker, how did you end up purchasing half-a-million-dollars worth of jewelry? What exactly did you buy?”
Gingrich put up both hands, flashed a shit-eating grin and squirmed in his seat. “Why am I being questioned on matters that are obviously private? We’re talking about things . . .”
“I’m asking because you’re running for President of the United States,” Schieffer shot back. “You’re gonna be the guy in charge of the U.S. Treasury. I mean, it just sticks out like a sore thumb!” Schieffer’s normally watery eyes were now overflowing with what could easily have been loathing.
I couldn’t help wondering as I took in Face the Nation what might be the reaction should a Saint Lucian TV interviewer ask an election candidate to explain how his 16-year-old son or daughter came to be arrested for selling crack cocaine or whether there was truth to the rumor that he or she was in deep financial trouble— or why, despite having several offspring, he had never once married. Count on it, at least one irate and babbling caller would accuse the reporter of “getting into the man’s personal business . . . wha’ dat have to do with running for office?” You know, mindless guff. Then again, I say mindless, but it occurs to me that such reactions when reporters try to bring to light the truth about potential ministers of government are more often than not calculated, designed to intimidate and throw journalists off course lest they discover the candidate’s secret unsavory track record. Oh, but enough of that, for now.
Two Sundays ago, the leader of the opposition invited Saint Lucians to watch a pre-recorded and doubtless rehearsed televised address that was supposed to answer certain allegations leveled at him during parliament’s last budget debate. Since I was offshore, I had little choice but to rely on the kindness of a near stranger who supplied me with a recording of the big event several hours after it came over HTS. If I harbored any suspicions—having read Earl Huntley’s version of “the Dauphin oil story”—Kenny Anthony confirmed them almost from the first line of his scripted sermon. Clearly he was far more concerned with what might be the electorate’s reaction to what was said in the House than with his own sworn undertaking always to be, first and foremost, accountable to the people who had twice elected him to parliament.
Obviously teleprompted, he said: “In the course of the recent budget debate certain allegations were made against my character, honesty and integrity . . . which are not only completely false but calculated to deceive and defame my good name when they know and knew otherwise.” It didn’t bother me that he sounded as if reading from an affidavit at a libel hearing. He is, after all, a lawyer. But then he also had been an educator and a minister of education. The last thing I expected to fall out of his mouth was such tautology as follows: “This pretended and feigned ignorance of the constitutional role of minister of finance will be exposed in this statement.” Pretended and feigned?
He recalled the Central Castries MP Richard Frederick had “accused me of receiving so-called royalties in my personal capacity from Grynberg Petroleum” and in support of his allegation had “quoted from a contract which made reference to payments to the minister of finance.” I ask you dear reader: How can an official document referring to payments to a particular government minister support a false allegation that said minister received the payment in his “personal capacity?”
Anthony further confuses the issue: “The argument that checks payable to the minister of finance could not conceivably be for my personal benefit is not only dishonest but is symptomatic of the mindset of those individuals who deliberately and calculatedly abuse parliament and its privilege and hid [sic] behind that privilege to cowardly try to score cheap political mileage.”
Yes, dear reader, I suggest you re-read the above-quoted statement. Better yet, hear it for yourself on YouTube. Try as I might, I could not make head or tail of it. How can it be “dishonest” to say checks payable to the minister of finance could not conceivably be for his personal benefit? Is nothing obvious to some people? Or is the old ID card disease at work here?
His mind obviously on the singers, not their song, the opposition leader plodded on: “These three men know their allegations are false and, like the political cowards they are, they sought and relied on the privileges of the House to publish these deliberately fabricated lies to the world.”
He dared Frederick & Company to repeat their allegations outside the House. In the meantime, Anthony reminded the electorate and other citizens that if they dared to repeat the unchallenged allegations they risked legal retaliation.
All of that when the opposition leader could easily have proved the accusing MPs were indeed cowardly liars at the time they launched their attack on his good name. He chose instead to hold his peace, just as he did in 2009 when first the allegations were made in parliament. Ah, but it turns out he has his reasons: On the last occasion when “these defamatory allegations” were made, he said, “I had made my budget reply in the certain knowledge that I could not, and would not, be allowed to reply to them.”
What a load of obfuscating codswallop. Anyone who has attended or watched from a distance would by now have concluded that House sessions in Saint Lucia are unencumbered by rules. MPs routinely accuse each other at random, Speaker or no Speaker. With seeming impunity, they refer to their honorable colleagues as criminals and abusers of women, thieves, fraudsters and criminal co-conspirators—even murder. The truth is that the House is governed by rules, and a Speaker who always has the final word.
In the face of the horrifying allegations here recalled, the opposition leader could easily have stood up on a point of correction and the Speaker would’ve had no choice but to hear him out. The opposition leader—who habitually walks out with his party colleagues whenever the Speaker’s ruling has displeased him—might on the recalled occasion also have challenged the authenticity of what was being read into the House records. He was never required to “reply” to the contributions per se. It would’ve been enough simply to draw the Speaker’s attention to what he considered falsehoods delivered with the protection of House privilege and designed to “deceive and defame my good name!” (I know a good name can be defamed—but can a good name also be deceived?) An MP who misleads the House is vulnerable at all times!
It was time now for the school principal in Kenny Anthony to address his students on “the role of the minister of finance.” Painstakingly, he explained that “the law of the land creates the constitutional office of minister of finance and entrusts the minister of finance with responsibility for the revenue and expenditure. Checks written in the name of the minister of finance are deposited in the public account under the control of the accountant general and the minister of finance. These checks in the name of the minister of finance cannot be deposited in the account of any individual.”
Besides: “There is no commercial bank in Saint Lucia or the Caribbean that would permit any minister to deposit any check in the official name of the minister in his or her personal or private account.” Remember, the turgid prose is taken directly from the opposition leader’s scripted Sunday evening address. He offered a question that proved, if only to himself, “Frederick’s dishonesty and idiocy!” What would have happened, he asked, if soon after the general election, which the SLP lost, “a check made payable to the minister of finance was delivered to the incoming prime minister Sir John Compton as minister of Finance?”
His somewhat flat-footed left jab having thrown its invisible target off balance, the opposition leader followed up with a quixotice roundhouse right that conceivably dropped his imaginary foe for the count:
“Would these men also accuse Sir John Compton of corruption for receiving a check as and in the name of the minister of finance? I guess their behavior during Sir John’s last days suggest that it’s possible they might have!” Talk about Don Quixote!
Better to ask: At what point during the budget session did Frederick & Company actually accuse Kenny Anthony of “corruption for receiving a check as and in the name of the minister of finance?” If Anthony was, during the period in question, the finance minister, how then could his receiving a check made out to the finance minister amount to corruption? If, on the other hand, Frederick had claimed the minister of finance deposited the check in his personal account, or in any way profited personally from it, then certainly Frederick would be alleging corruption. But already the teacher has established the mission impossible in the proposition.
Whatever warts may be on Richard Frederick’s public image, I doubt very much that there exists in Saint Lucia a single MP, let alone Richard Frederick, who requires lessons on the proper disposal of checks, whether personal or made out in the name of the minister of finance!
As for Bousquet’s allegation that he had “given away the seabed of Saint Lucia for 58 years,” by Kenny Anthony’s measure that was neither new nor true. Richard Frederick had first made it, with no response by the leader of the opposition, in April 2009. He had left it to Earl Huntley, a former permanent secretary in the external affairs ministry, to respond via an article in the Voice that exposed Richard Frederick’s “calculated effort to deceive the public and injure my reputation.” Rufus Bousquet’s allegations were “equally false, calculating and disingenuous and cowardly.”
What the opposition leader chose not to say was that Huntley was much more than a PS at external affairs when he published in the Voice the explanation that surely would’ve carried far more weight coming from the leader of the opposition and former minister of finance—and prime minister. Huntley it was who, having conjectured while taking a medicinal bath in the sea at Dauphin that some nasty black stuff on his feet and hands was oil, had taken it upon himself to invite a small-time oilman named Jack Grynberg to Saint Lucia for the purpose of validating what Huntley himself described was nothing but “a hunch.”
It was also Huntley who, following private discussions with Grynberg, and only in the best interests of a license, had finally introduced the oilman to the prime minister. Huntley had as much interest in the project as had Grynberg and Kenny Anthony. [See STAR May 18, 2011] As the former prime minister told it during his Sunday evening TV address: “The draft agreement to allow the preliminary exploration was sent to the commonwealth secretariat for review and advice, since Saint Lucia had neither experience nor expertise in such matters. This can be confirmed with the former attorney general Petrus Compton.”
Actually, this was the AG’s advice on February 1, 2000: “Saint Lucia would be better served by having a specialist petroleum lawyer review the [revised agreement] and advise. There are matters contained in the agreement which can only be properly appreciated by one familiar with the industry, its standards and practices.” It would be instructive to learn who at the commonwealth secretariat reviewed the agreement that Grynberg himself drew up and eventually signed along with Saint Lucia’s then prime minister. For the purposes of accountability, it might be in the government’s—and Kenny Anthony’s—best interest to say precisely who is the commonwealth secretariat expert who advised him on the occasion, and what precisely was this advice.
According to Kenny Anthony: Grynberg Petroleum entered into an agreement with three governments of the OECS: the governments of Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Saint Lucia, to carry out preliminary exploration of their waters to determine whether there were petroleum reserves below the ocean’s floor.
“The government of Grenada was first to engage Grynberg Petroleum,” Kenny Anthony recalled, “and the governments of St Vincent and Saint Lucia followed suit. The three prime ministers at the time were persuaded to work with a single company because of the fact that the islands shared marine boundaries.” Who was the persuader? The commonwealth secretariat?
A quick review of Huntley’s published document underscores what I consider important departures from what Kenny Anthony recalled for the purpose of defending his “character, honesty and integrity.” Consider the following, taken from Huntley’s published document, which Kenny Anthony fully endorsed in his TV address: “Based on what he had seen in Saint Lucia, Grynberg was also interested in signing an exploration agreement with St. Vincent and the Grenadines because he believed that if there was oil in Saint Lucian waters, then oil would also be present in St. Vincent, Grenada and Dominica. His theory is that any oil there is coming from the Orinico in Venezuela. The minister responsible for energy in St Vincent and the Grenadines at that time was John Horn and in discussions with him, he said to me that Saint Lucia and St Vincent had nothing to lose agreeing to grant licenses for exploration and so St Vincent concluded an agreement with Grynberg’s RSM. Grenada was to do the same afterward.”
Grenada was to do the same afterward? But didn’t Kenny Anthony say Grenada was first to engage Grynberg and that Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent “followed suit.” The inescapable truth is that Grenada signed with Grynberg Petroleum way back in 1996, close to a year before Kenny Anthony took office—four years before Earl Huntley discovered oil on his foot while swimming with his fiancé in the sea at Dauphin. Moreover, by 2000, when Kenny Anthony signed an agreement initially drawn up by Jack Grynberg, the oilman and the Grenada government were already heading toward a court battle that would cost the people of Grenada ten million dollars. Instead of following suit, the Saint Lucia government should have sent packing both Huntley and his oilman from Denver, Colorado. Then again, as Rochamel reminds us, Kenny Anthony was never big on due diligence.
In his Sunday address he made much of the fact that the government of Saint Lucia and its sister islands “did not have to spend a cent” and that the American oilman was granted a license to explore for oil deposits in the region “at Grynberg’s own expense.”
How generous can you get? Has Kenny Anthony not learned that “if it sounds too good to be true, chances are it is not true?” In any event, tell that to the Grenadians who still have not fully paid incurred legal fees, who received nothing from their government’s arrangements with Jack Grynberg.
This is how Kenny Anthony stated the details of the Grenada fallout: “In time, certain disputes arose with the government of Grenada and Grynberg Petroleum, one of which included allegations of corruption by Grynberg against a minister of the then Grenada government.” Surely after all this time, and considering the publicity surrounding the “disputes,” Kenny Anthony, a former prime minister, would have known about Grynberg’s reputation for accusing uncooperative government ministers of corruption. He had similarly accused officials in Israel and elsewhere who refused to bow to his delay tactics in the name of force majeure.
Besides, Grynberg’s allegations against the Grenada minister died on the vine, if only following expensive court trials in New York, England and elsewhere. It is especially interesting that Anthony either does not know or chooses not to explain Grenada’s “disputes,” despite that his—and the present government—encountered similar “disputes” with the oilman.
“If Grynberg was a con artist,” said a defensive Kenny Anthony, “why was his license renewed in St. Vincent?” The same question might be asked of Kenny Anthony, who has not explained why he renewed his agreement with Grynberg, only to have him cite force majeure as his excuse for non-performance. One might also ask why the government of Dominica, in the face of Grynberg’s generosity, said thanks but no thanks. The truth is that when it became clear to the Grenada government that Grynberg had handed them a six for a nine and that he was planning to farm out Grenada’s waters to other oil companies, they pulled the rug from under him. Only then did Grynberg accuse a Grenada minister of attempting to bribe him—as it turned out, a regular part of his modus operandi.
“The only issue the government of Saint Lucia had to resolve was whether the license to determine whether oil existed in our waters was extended,” said Anthony. For undeclared reasons, and despite that there had been no exploration, he had extended Grynberg’s contract at least once. There was one comical episode, when Grynberg invited Kenny Anthony and Earl Huntley to look over special equipment aboard his ship. Of the exciting event, Earl Huntley wrote: “We were shown the impressive array of equipment it contained. [My italics] Basically the ship would be deploying a cable through which they could photograph the ocean floor and the area below it. The ship worked in Saint Lucia for one week but because the ocean conditions were rough, decided to go to Grenada and then return to Saint Lucia. On its return, it was unable to complete its task as the cable which was being used for the survey snapped and a section of it was lost. Grynberg later informed us that the GSI had misrepresented the equipment the ship contained . . . what was required was what they call in geological terminology ‘a solid streamer.’ Grynberg was to make arrangements to hire a ship with a solid streamer but he indicate there were few seismic ships available with solid streamers.” Excuses, excuses. So much for the “impressive array of equipment.”
It would have made a whole lot more sense had Kenny Anthony, instead of delivering a scripted TV address to the nation, given reporters the opportunity to question him on this oil deal with Grynberg. Nevertheless, he assured viewers the other Sunday that the King government need not have hired a high-priced American lawyer for advice on how best to dispose of Grynberg. Since Grenada had won its case against Grynberg, said Anthony, and since “the same principle applies to the interpretation of the agreement with Saint Lucia, there really was no problem.” He said the decision in the Grenada case canceled the need to obtain a legal opinion. The King government’s effort amounted to “a colossal waste of money.”
Finally, Anthony said: “In these exceedingly turbulent and difficult times one would have thought this government would’ve continued the search carried out by the Saint Lucia Labour Party government for alternative economic resources to sustain the future of our people.”
What search? How can a search that had no beginning be profitably continued?
According to the King government, while it has received inquiries from other oil companies, they have all refused to accommodate Saint Lucian ambitions while Grynberg remains a factor.
Whether the Grenada precedent means anything can only be decided by a court of law. And that decision could demand Saint Lucian taxpayers pay upward of ten million dollars in legal fees. Obviously, a rock-and-a-harder-place dilemma.
As I say, Kenny Anthony has every right to take legal action if he believes he has been defamed. In the meantime, the people also have rights, among them, to know now the full validated story, without distracting contradictions!