Whatever happened to Emma Hippolyte? Remember her?
Lest my query should invite the usual “he’s lost it” reaction from mutants that depend for sustenance on the nearest political orifice, I hasten to say I have good reason to worry about the lady’s whereabouts.
The Emma Hippolyte of whom I speak was once famous (and revered) for her intolerance of mediocrity and for her aversion to public service corruption. She was most usefully suspicious of haughty government officials convinced they were accountable to no one, regardless of the demands of our Constitution.
Before I developed a professional interest in her, Emma was my landlady. I had just returned home after several years in California to re-establish The STAR with my then girlfriend, now my wife.
Although we occupied the flat directly below Emma’s seldom did we get the opportunity to chitchat. She left for work early weekday mornings and usually returned home when I was out interviewing over-cautious informants with bat-like idiosyncrasies, or in bed asleep.
Which is not to say we never talked. Usually on Saturday mornings, as she was heading out to her native Soufriere, we’d bump into each other in our shared parking area and I would take the opportunity to feel her out on the week’s hottest occurrence, usually political.
She always presented her arguments with clarity and in the gentlest tones, in sharp contrast with my own impassioned contributions.
In the late-eighties Emma was one of those rare birds that prefer to let their work speak for them. Consider the following, extracted from the first page of the ‘Report of the Director of Audit (Volume 2, 1986)’:
“The planning documents developed to date by the Minister of Health amount to concept papers only. They do not include firm operating plans identifying programs, projects and associated budgets. They include noble health-care concepts—without indicating their financial implications in terms of recurrent expenditures over the next 5-10 years.
“It is important to know the long-range impact of the healthcare plan on the National Budget, to enable the government to decide on the affordability of the healthcare services envisaged . . . Measures of quality and level of service have not been developed to achieve balance with the quantity of service provided.”
From the same document, under the heading ‘Work Scheduling and Monitoring’: “Concerning the Environmental Health function, there is no record of work load to estimate the number of employees required. Formal procedures for planning and controlling day-to-day activities of employees and periodic reporting of work accomplished do not exist. Thus there is no assurance that the 266 persons employed in this branch are adequately qualified.
“Many public toilets maintained by the ministry are out of order for long periods of time and do not serve the public as they should . . . The division of responsibilities for public sanitation work between the town councils and the ministry is unclear and irrational.”
Under ‘Material Management’: “There is potential for saving costs in purchasing drugs and other material. Inadequate warehousing practices have led to an 11 percent loss of drugs due to expired life. About 30 percent of the medical supply shipments in 1985 were detained at the Harbor up to six months after their arrival in Saint Lucia, because of late payments by the Treasury office.
“At the Victoria, Golden Hope and Dennery hospitals one person is responsible for purchasing, receiving, storing, distributing and recording of all supplies, contrary to accepted financial practices . . . Proper controls are not exercised to account for all World Food items received, stored and distributed out of the warehouses. We could not account for 113 bags of wheat flour, 250 cans of herring and 400 cans of sardines. Further, significant amounts of food rations are reported as ‘losses’ by several health centers.”
Now consider the following comments from the audit director’s report for the fiscal year ended March 31, 1987:
“In my opinion, because of the current policies that I consider inappropriate as outlined in Reservation 1-3 below, the accompanying financial statements do not present fairly the financial position of the Government of Saint Lucia as at 31st March, 1987 and its results of operations and financial requirements for the year then ended in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles applied on a basis consistent with prior years.”
She lists her “reservations”: 1) Assets reported at amounts in excess of their value; 2) Unrecorded Liabilities and Assets; 3) Fragmented Reporting of Government Activities.
Emma’s well-chronicled battles with the then oracular Ausbert d’Auvergne (permanent secretary at the ministries of Planning, Personnel, Establishment and Training—and among our first declared “best brains”) came to a head in July 1993 when he informed the Director of Audit that her contract would not be renewed, contrary to counsel supplied by the day’s attorney general Lorraine Williams!
Emma sued on several grounds for wrongful dismissal and was awarded damages in the sum of ten thousand dollars with “costs fit for two counsels,” one of whom was Labour Party frontliner Hilford ‘Pugh’ Deterville (an early prototype Anthony Astaphan, some might assert!)
Ms Hippolyte later served the FAO as a consultant in Rome and then, amid rumors she was contemplating a new career, she returned home shortly after the 1997 general elections to head the National Insurance Service. Many will say her stint there marks the institution’s most successful years, never mind that she made more than her fair share of enemies—in Saint Lucia quite often the price for fulfilling the demands of your job.
What a surprise when the lady decided to join Kenny Anthony and others, some with highly-publicized, less than savory track records, to contest for a seat in parliament. Few had earlier imagined her in political costume, such had been her perceived contempt for the breed.
The still greater surprise was that churchy Emma had brought to his knees the Labour Party’s Lenard Montoute, whom a campaign-weary Kenny Anthony had described following the 2001 general elections as someone who could teach his deputy Mario Michel a thing or two about inter-personal relations—“a future star!” (Who knows for sure if that was the SLP leader’s way of saying he looked forward to bringing in the particular lost sheep?)
Yep, so that was the Emma Hippolyte I used to know; the Emma I now miss. Oh, I know some will say what happened to her was politics. By which they would suggest the Emma I once knew is still very much around, albeit with a retooled tongue. I don’t buy that. I have every intention of continuing my search for the missing Emma.
How can I be expected to believe the masquerader at the commerce ministry is the same no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners soldier for justice as had written those earlier cited audit reports; who had so often railed against don’t-give-a-damn governance—never mind she got fired for her meticulousness?
The Emma I used to know would’ve stood her ground against what she had so often described as the corrupting influences of organized gambling.
Having promised her victory in the 2011 elections would mark the end of VLTs in Saint Lucia, the Emma I used to know would not have stepped aside so her party leader might do what in good conscience she could not bring herself to do. And then, when later challenged by shocked reporters on the VLT matter, casually say “the prime minister did nothing wrong.”
The Emma I used to know would by now have publicly commented on the operations of a government that has not seen a report from the Director of Audit since March 2003—eleven years.
Certainly the Emma I once knew would have wanted to know, on behalf of the people, how Jack Grynberg acquired a license to explore 83 million acres of Saint Lucia’s seabed—a matter now before the ICSID that could cost this broke country’s taxpayers US$500 million if the tribunal permits Grynberg his way.
Not even the recent shocking revelation, that local taxpayers were forking out untold amounts to pay for the retained services of some of the world’s most expensive lawyers, has moved the make-believe Emma to comment. A sure sign the woman at the commerce ministry is not whom she pretends to be.
Wherever you are, Emma, please come back.