Letters & Opinion

Government Needs To Go All The Way In Probing ‘Secret Agreements’

THE Government of St. Lucia must be commended for its decision to put legislation in place that removed statutes of limitations for the recovery of public funds. This took place exactly one year ago, when an amendment to the Crown Proceedings Act was passed in parliament.

This administration, headed by Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, must also be extolled for its commitment to probing secret agreements, as expressed by the prime minister when he presented the 2018/2019 Estimates of Expenditure in the House of Assembly just about two weeks ago.

And speaking of secret agreements to be probed — the administration was referring to (as the prime minister’s Senior Communications Officer Nicole McDonald said and confirmed by a press release from the prime minister’s office) the St. Lucia National Lottery Authority and in particular the operation of a so called ‘Minister’s Account’.

Also to be investigated is the costly St. Jude Hospital Reconstruction Project, the Grynberg agreement that involves the island’s seabed and the tenure of deceased Saudi billionaire Walid Juffali as St. Lucia’s Permanent Representative at the International Maritime Organization.

These cases need to be investigated — and for good reason, such as why did it take three years after Jufalli’s appointment for the country to know that he was its representative at the IMO?

Also, did the former Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony over-step his authority when he signed that deal with Jack Grynberg when the Minerals Act made it clear that the Governor General was the one to have signed such a deal? And why was this not made public when the signing was done?

And as for a Minister’s Account connected with the National Lottery Authority, certainly clarification is needed on that.

Bearing in mind that this is not the first time a sitting political party has made announcements of probes into certain affairs and conducts of former opposition governments and with nothing coming out of such inquiries like charges, court cases or imprisonment of someone, it is hoped that the findings are shared with the public and something comes out of these probes.

Whether this could be seen as transparency and accountability by the government is anyone’s guess. However one can’t help but admire the nerve of the government to undertake those investigations.

In fact, kudos must be given to this administration when it said that all public officials should give full accounts of their stewardship and always be willing at all times to answer questions on matters related to their tenure.

The one fault of this administration, or so it seems, is that it is demanding accountability from only members of the former administration. Noticeably, all the probes mentioned by the prime minister are of persons connected to the former government or acts conducted by the former government.

With a government that is demanding of public officials — both past and present — to give full accounts of their stewardship (as noted by the government itself), why is it, then, that public officials from the former administration are the only ones announced in parliament to be probed.

What stopped the prime minister from announcing in parliament the probe by the former administration — with help from the Criminal Division of the United States Justice Department — into the conduct of certain persons in connection with requests from SLASPA for proposals for the re-construction of the Hewanorra Airport back in 2009.

As most St. Lucians would know by now, Minister Guy Joseph, who is responsible for Economic Development, Housing, Urban Renewal, Transport and Civil Aviation, has been named in a document involving a request from St. Lucia for assistance in a criminal matter.

The document, better known in St. Lucia as the Assenza Report, notes that the St. Lucian person of interest is Guy Joseph, who, during the entire relevant time period was Minister for Communications, Works, Transport and Public Utilities. He was also a Member of Parliament for Castries South East on behalf of the United Workers Party. He occupied a position of “Public Officer”.

The document also stated that it is alleged that he is subject to and in breach of the following law: Section 484 of the Criminal Code, Chapter 3.01 of the Revised Laws of St. Lucia.

The other person of interest, as noted by the document, is Antonio Assenza, who during the entire relevant time period was a US resident living in Parkland, Florida.

In fairness to the prime minister, he did tell reporters, months ago, that he would look into the matter. Even Joseph himself called for an investigation into that particular matter.

While both gentlemen said they did not find the document on entering office in June 2016 after searching for it and therefore knows nothing about it, this cannot hold today. And here’s the reason why:

It was on December 15, 2015 that the Attorney General’s Chambers submitted a request for assistance to the United States, pursuant to the Agreement between the United States of America and the Government of Saint Lucia on the Application of the treaty between the U.S. and the Government of four countries comprising the organization of Eastern Caribbean States on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters.

St. Lucia signed that treaty on April 18, 1996. The request from the Attorney General’s Chambers stated it was investigating a crime, specifically, aiding and abetting a crime, aiding and abetting crime within, from outside jurisdiction, and breach of trust by public officer offenses, in violation of Number 9 of 2004, Criminal Code of Saint Lucia. Under the Treaty, the United States is obligated to render assistance in response to the request.

Can’t the prime minister contact the U.S. Justice Department to determine if St. Lucia requested its assistance in a particular matter involving Guy Joseph and Antonio Assenza?

With the resources at the disposal of the prime minister, it is unlikely to believe that he can’t find the document or information about the request from St. Lucia Attorney General’s Chambers to the U.S. Department of Justice.

It would be nice of the prime minister, in the spirit of fulfilling its responsibility and promise to the people of St. Lucia to be transparent and accountable in its management of the State’s affairs, to revisit the financial operations of town and village councils from the period January 2008 to December 2011 when his party was in power.

Let it not be forgotten that during this period there were several complaints of what seems to be a complete breakdown of the internal control systems at the town, village and rural councils to the point where one report claimed that they were non-existent.

Some of those weaknesses were brought to the attention of the Ministry of Local Government but no action was taken then. During that period as well, proper accounts were not given by the councils for funds received from friendly governments for projects said to be done within the town, village or rural community.

As noted earlier, while kudos must be given to the prime minister for his intention to launch investigations into certain matters pertaining exclusively to the former administration, he must be reminded also of matters/secret agreements pertaining to members of his administration that the public would also like clarification on, such as the this secret investigation into Guy Joseph by the former administration.

Remember, the former administration never made that request to the U.S. Department of Justice public. It was all hush, hush.

It is only by showing fairness that the prime minister can be known as a person of objectivity. If he persists in investigating only one side, then it stands to reason that he should be the only one to be blamed if the same people he wants to prove his transparency to, rejects it.

Micah George is an established name in the journalism landscape in St. Lucia. He started his journalism tutelage under the critical eye of the Star Newspaper Publisher and well known journalist, Rick Wayne, as a freelancer. A few months later he moved to the Voice Newspaper under the guidance of the paper’s recognized editor, Guy Ellis in 1988.

Since then he has remained with the Voice Newspaper, progressing from a cub reporter covering court cases and the police to a senior journalist with a focus on parliamentary issues, government and politics. Read full bio...

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