To borrow from movie star turned presidential candidate Ronald Reagan while debating Jimmy Carter: “Here we go again.” This week’s big story started with a talk-show host’s on-air comments last Thursday evening that quickly exploded into a bonfire of inanities that consumed a population irrevocably convinced that regardless of what bee-keepers might say smoke is never unrelated to fire.
In no time at all Johnnie Cochrans from Babonneau to Atlanta, Georgia to the Bronx and back to Conway in Castries—red- and yellow-blooded Saint Lucians were heatedly speculating about whether the grimy gloves that had existence only in their perfervid imaginings belonged to a certain resident of Dennery: Jimmy Henry, who had entered the 2016 general elections just two weeks before June 6—and lost to the opposing red stallion Shawn Edward by just over a hundred votes. Henry was later appointed a UWP senator attached to the Ministry for Agriculture.
As I say, on the evening of July 6 Richard Frederick, the host of Can I Help You?, had been his usual cautious self as he shared with his TV audience received recollections of an unusual occurrence at George F. L. Charles Airport, Vigie. I can do no better than to reproduce what he proffered, word for word: “I am sure you heard last week that a minister of government was searched at the airport. He was searched at the airport but what preceded the search was not information from anyone. Kernisha [the UWP’s public relations person] I hope you’re listening. The reality is, folks, Jimmy Henry had been under surveillance for a long time. Don’t ask why; I don’t know. But my instructions are there are several recordings of conversations that led to him being under surveillance and led to him being questioned at the airport as to how much money he was carrying. The reality is he had quite a large sum but it did not surpass the threshold, which I think is US$10,000. But when he was questioned, whoever questioned him already knew how much money he was carrying, by way of interception of conversations. You get me? So he did not deny. He said he was carrying X amount of money. But they had already known that. He did not know they had known, as a result of which discussions were held and he either resigned this afternoon or is slated to resign tomorrow morning.
“Now when I say things . . . y’all remember when I spoke about Arsene James and Allen Chastanet? And remember there was a lot of procrastination but it came to fruition. I had even given you the logo of the slated by-election that was supposed to have been held contingent to Arsene’s resignation. But in any event he decided, whether pressure was placed on him or otherwise, he [Jimmy Henry] decided that he will resign. The resignation was supposed to have taken place this afternoon or tomorrow morning.
“Folks the guys knew exactly what Jimmy Henry was going to do in Barbados, they knew exactly and their source was no third party. You know, somebody, Kernisha, put on Facebook that Shawn Edward called the police and asked them to search Jimmy Henry. That is untrue. The intelligence was gathered not by info from any third party but through the interception of conversations. It is for you now to ask yourself what prompted the police and what conversations he could have had that warranted him to be searched, and what you think the police knew he was going to do in Barbados. Cyah get the conversations yet; that one in a bit. Those are not leaked easily. Folks it’s a bit rough. It’s bad; it’s bad; it’s bad!”
Two days earlier, in the late afternoon of July 4, the House opposition had left parliament to attend to presumably more important business: a scheduled meeting on the steps of the Castries market. In his turn at the microphone, this is how Kenny Anthony referenced Jimmy Henry and the earlier recalled George F.L. Charles incident. The former prime minister and recently removed St. Lucia Labour Party leader, like his cohorts, has since the June 6 elections taken to referring to Henry as “Lament.” Reportedly Henry had misused the word during a TV interview. Yes, so this was Kenny Anthony on the evening of July 4, two evenings before Richard Frederick’s televised version of the big search: “Lament, you made a trip to Barbados recently, Lament. There are some things about that trip that the public of Saint Lucia need to know, Lament. I will give you time for you and your prime minister to make a statement to the public of Saint Lucia about that trip to Barbados.”
It is conjectural why it was the Frederick version of the Vigie interception that fired up the local imagination and not that from the Castries market. In all events on Monday this week the acting police commissioner Milton Desir took to prime-time TV to declare the publicized allegations, straight and implied, against the senator null and void. Macaroni pie without the cheese!
As for the televised charges on the evening of July 6, that Senator Henry was the subject of a long on-going police investigation that included wiretaps, nothing but fabrication, the acting commissioner maintained. He added that the office of the commissioner had never issued a directive targeting Jimmy Henry’s comings and goings.
On Wednesday, acting PM Ezekiel Joseph appeared on TV to confirm he had, on behalf of vacationing Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, accepted Senator Jimmy Henry’s resignation with immediate effect. Earlier Henry had himself confirmed rumors of his resignation as a senator and as an agriculture ministry official, “for personal reasons.” He resisted all media inducements to elaborate.
On Thursday I contacted Jimmy Henry via an intermediary. Here now, his story as he told it: On his return at George F. L. Charles Airport following a weekend business trip to Barbados, he was standing in line at customs with other arrivals waiting to be processed. When it was his turn to answer the usual questions, a female officer requested he follow her to the VIP lounge; she had for no particular reason picked him out for a random search.
Still by Henry’s account: “I told her I didn’t mind being searched where we stood in the customs area but she insisted the lounge would be more convenient.” Accompanied by a plainclothes policeman, Henry followed the customs official and a colleague to the lounge where the female proceeded to inspect his overnight bag.
“In truth,” Henry continued, “she more or less just patted the soiled clothes without taking them out. But I insisted on removing the items out one by one. After they were returned without incident, and the female officer said I could leave, I volunteered that I was carrying in my wallet about $6000 Barbados dollars. I handed over the wallet, they counted the money, handed it back and said I was free to go.”
Jimmy Henry has more than one reason to remember the random customs search at Vigie. By remarkable coincidence it was conducted exactly one year after he came close to beating Shawn Edward for the Dennery North seat after just two weeks of campaigning. On June 6!
Meanwhile some have been seeking to make hay out of cow dung. The fishing suggestion is that the acting commissioner may have played curious media personnel when he told them there had been no directive from his office to spy on Jimmy Henry. Say the wall-to-wall experts, the media also should’ve asked about other police agencies, not necessarily local. From my perspective the question, in whatever form, suggested naiveté, at the very least. If indeed local police were surreptitiously covering Jimmy Henry’s moves, would the acting commissioner have confirmed this for the benefit of insatiable reporters? At best he might instead have tossed them a no-comment plastic bone to gnaw on. But in the particular instance Desir stated emphatically that his office was not and had never engaged in an investigation of the former MP; neither had the police had reason to request authority from a judge to surreptitiously monitor Henry’s calls.
Desir also advised that the televised allegations were all false; without meat; fake news. In all events, officials had evidently found no reason to detain Jimmy Henry at the Vigie airport. No charges have been preferred against him. He remains a free man. Had he not been a minister of government the so-called random search to which he was subjected might never have been the subject of a TV talk show or fodder for Kenny Anthony and his red brigade. There may well be more to this story. Certainly more than had met the eye of Richard Frederick; more than just “bad, bad, bad.”
Ah, now I hear you asking, dear discerning reader: if he is truly clean, if the police have nothing on him, then why did Jimmy Henry resign his government job? Why indeed? Hear it from the horse’s mouth: “I had been thinking of resigning a long time; since earlier in the year. Remember, I was not elected. It’s not easy having to deal with supporters in my community who came out so strongly to put me in parliament on June 6, 2016. They expect some comfort. They expect jobs. Often I must put my hand in my pocket. Ask any politician; their story is the same. I am not the elected MP for Dennery North. But everyone expects me to deliver what the elected representative cannot or will not. I am sometimes confronted by people who voted for Shawn Edward in the last elections. Whether they are purposely sent to me, I can only guess. They tell me the elected MP cannot assist because he’s in opposition.”
Jimmy Henry acknowledged he had heard the rumors, and the wild assumptions that he had other means of making money, not all of them legal. “I assure you I have little to show for a man of 39. I’m not a property owner. Let anyone check me out.” He offered details about how he keeps his head above water, how he barely pays his own bills, but not for publication. “People think we make a fortune as MPs. And they expect you to be of greater assistance than reality permits,” he said.
Is there a chance Jimmy Henry might contest another election? He was silent for several minutes after I asked the question. Finally he said: “That’s a big one. I have a lot of support in Dennery North and chances are I might let myself be pushed to have another shot. But that will depend on a lot of things, including whether my party wants me to. Who can read the future?”
The Jimmy Henry incident represents, among other things, history repeating itself; a comedy of errors with the lead actors in reversed roles!