In environments more open, not to say respectful of the people’s intelligence and their constitutional right to know, an incident such as the recent arrest of Dr. Iftekar Shams on charges including human trafficking, money laundering and fraud would’ve warranted the immediate convening of a press conference by the licensing authority.
But this is Saint Lucia—the Rock of Sages, where investigations are forever underway, never concluded. Here elected officials daily demonstrate as little concern for citizens’ opinions as for the nation’s devastating fiscal deficit.
This is also the country that handed responsibility for its dying private sector’s salvation to Emma Hippolyte, as famous for her advertised religiosity as for her chameleonic attitudes toward those imported made-in-hell children’s toys known as VLTs (Video Lottery Terminals.)
Instead of the press conference that right-thinking Saint Lucians had anticipated in the wake of the precedential Shams arrest, what they got was a fulminating former saint taking the police to task for daring to a serve a court order on her ministry when staffers refused to hand over Shams-related evidence.
Hippolyte had also taken the opportunity, while making a most obvious statement before parliament that left no room for touchy questions, to say no one was to blame for the royal cock-up now known as “Lambirdsgate.”
By Hippolyte’s account before parliament, on March 30 “the Cabinet of Ministers took a decision to conduct an independent enquiry on the matter—in due course.” An “independent enquiry” involving Cabinet officials, at least one of whom played a major role in what had led to the Lambirds Academy scandal and charges of human trafficking.
The MP also acknowledged that at least one officer at Invest Saint Lucia had been interviewed by police investigators. And while Hippolyte told parliament her statement was “intended only to bring clarity and not to prejudice or compromise police investigations and court cases,” she claimed to have acted “within the authority of the law, and at all times on the advice of the technical staff and public officials.”
Equally without guilt, she implied, were “officials from Invest Staint Lucia and the various ministries” who could only “make recommendations based on the information at hand, none of which at any time gave any valid and compelling legal reason for denying Lambirds Academy the licenses it required to operate in Saint Lucia.”
The torch of time has cast new light on Hippolyte’s somewhat shadowy House statement and exposed much of what the MP had said as convenient, at best. And now, perhaps taking his cue from his boss, McHale Andrew peeped out this week from his Invest Saint Lucia hideaway. At any rate, the public heard from him via a lengthy press release that obviously was designed to clear away leftover disfiguring shadows hanging over his office.
It started this way: “Over the last few weeks Invest Saint Lucia has listened with concern to the plethora of commentary and conjecture pertaining to the Lambirds Academy affair. Mindful of the potential damage to the investor perception of our island, Invest Saint Lucia wishes to clarify its role in this rather unfortunate issue.”
The release proceeds to release stale news concerning the arrests of certain individuals on charges including human trafficking and then advises readers “not to be too quick to draw invalid references and to accept, without more, baseless accusations and false conclusions.”
As if his were the office of the DPP, the Invest Saint Lucia CEO reminded the nation that “the charges against the agents of Lambirds Academy are still allegations to be decided by a jury” blah, blah, blah. He seems to have forgotten his office may have to give evidence in court regarding those charged with human trafficking and other crimes.
He might’ve told Saint Lucians what his due diligence uncovered about the accused who, by official account, received preferential treatment by the commerce ministry.
He noted instead that his office had not specifically invited Lambirds Academy to Saint Lucia but that the academy had “accepted a general invitation to attend the inaugural Saint Lucia Investment Forum in May 2014.”
A specious statement, to say the least, that will be closely examined in our next issue, along with other aspects of McHale Andrew’s very late in the day disturbing public declarations!
For full statement, see below.
STATEMENT BY INVEST SAINT LUCIA (ISL) ON LAMBIRDS ACADEMY
Over the last few weeks, Invest Saint Lucia has listened with concern to the plethora of commentary and conjecture pertaining to the Lambirds Academy affair. Mindful of the potential damage to investor perception of our island, Invest Saint Lucia wishes to release this statement to clarify its role in this rather unfortunate issue.
It is now common knowledge that on Friday March 6th 2015, the police arrested and charged a number of persons connected to Lambirds Academy including one Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Shams for various human trafficking offences, resulting in the closure of the Academy. Since then, the public has rightfully taken a keen interest in this matter particularly with regards to the establishment of the Lambirds Academy here in Saint Lucia.
Whilst every citizen has a right to enquire and to be rightfully concerned about this matter, ISL is of the firm view that we must not be too quick to draw invalid inferences and to accept, without more, baseless accusations and false conclusions.
As it stands, the charges against the agents of Lambirds Academy are still allegations, which are to be decided by a jury and it is indeed improper to try this matter in the court of public opinion.
Invest Saint Lucia can thus speak only to matters relating to the facts of the investment process and the truth, which these facts admit. It can be categorically stated that Invest Saint Lucia did NOT specifically invite Lambirds Academy to Saint Lucia, but Lambirds Academy accepted a general invitation, issued online and in the local, regional and international media, to attend the inaugural Saint Lucia Investment Forum in May 2014.
Further, there was never and has not since been any attempt by Invest Saint Lucia to hide the facts or obfuscate information related to the matter. Invest Saint Lucia’s only interest has been to ensure that the established processes for investment facilitation and establishment are followed and indeed, not only have we steadfastly maintained that position but had on several occasions communicated to Iftekhar Shams, principal of the erstwhile Lambirds Academy, the need to abide by the established rules, regulations and laws applicable to the establishment of his business.
The ensuing facilitation process was thereafter conducted according to law and within the prescribed procedures. The requisite due diligence protocols were followed and returned nothing adverse either in relation to Lambirds Academy, which had already established a presence in the USA, or to its agents. Invest Saint Lucia’s statutory facilitation duties were adopted with the requisite applications submitted to the various regulatory agencies for consideration and approval.
Invest Saint Lucia, on May 22nd 2014, consistent with its statutory facilitation duties, submitted an application for a Trade Licence on behalf of Lambirds Academy, to the Trade Licence Board for consideration. When advised by a senior officer of ISL, after communicating with the Ministry of Commerce etc., that the said Board had not met in months and was unlikely to meet in the near future, Invest Saint Lucia, pursuant to section 7 of the Invest Saint Lucia Act Number 14 of 2014, resubmitted the application, on June 2nd 2014, directly to the Minister for her consideration.
The applicable provisions of the said Act read as follows:
Powers of Minister
7.- (1) Notwithstanding any other law in force in Saint Lucia, the Minister shall, in relation to any key niche economic sector mentioned in section 5, have the same power and authority, as those of the relevant Minister to process an application made by an investor for –?(a) fiscal incentives under the Fiscal Incentives Act, Cap. 15.16 and to submit the recommendations to Cabinet;?(b) trade licences under the Trade Licences Act, Cap. 13.04 and to grant such licences; c) work permits under the Labour Act, No. 37 of 2007 and to grant such work permits;?(d) tourism incentives under the Tourism Incentives Act, Cap. 15.30 and to submit the recommendations to Cabinet.
(2) An investor who desires to obtain-?(a) a fiscal incentive under the Fiscal Incentives Act, Cap 15.16;?(b) a trade licence under the Trade Licences Act, Cap 13.04; (c) a work permit under the Labour Act, No. 37 of 2007;?(d) a tourism incentive under the Tourism Incentives Act, Cap 15.30, in relation to a key niche economic sector mentioned in subsection (1) shall submit his or her application through Invest Saint Lucia to the Minister.
(3) The Minister may delegate his or her power to process an application under subsection (1) to the chairperson under such terms and conditions as the Minister determines and a copy of the application must be forwarded to the relevant Minister and the Prime Minister.
It is worth noting that Lambirds Academy was a lawfully incorporated body under the laws of Saint Lucia, and, as no fault can be laid at the door of the Registry of Companies for incorporating Lambirds Academy, or on the attorney who swore the statutory declaration to facilitate the incorporation, so too, no calumny or opprobrium should be levied at Invest Saint Lucia or its personnel for facilitating the said company. Indeed, Invest Saint Lucia was not, at the material time, seized with any valid and compelling legal reason to refrain from facilitating Lambirds Academy.
The investment process is designed to allow an investor to legally establish a prima facie legitimate business and is not designed to detect an investor’s criminal intent in the operations of that authorized business. As Chief Justice Brian (of the United Kingdom) once proclaimed: “that the intent of a man cannot be tried, for the Devil himself knows not the intent of a man”.
It is our view therefore that the process of lawfully establishing Lambirds Academy (as an institution) is not the issue. The real issue to be determined is whether the lawfully established Lambirds Academy was used to carry out an illegal enterprise.
If there is indeed such a criminal intent, the machinery of government, through its investigative agencies did detect the alleged criminality and for that we are most thankful. However, in accordance with the Rule of Law, due process should be followed and justice be done even if the heavens fall.
It thus rings true that “Progress is the exploration of our own error” and so, what is now material, is for us to review our systems and processes to determine where best they can be strengthened so as to avoid such a recurrence in the future.