IT has been a few months now since the Orange Banner has been furled as a lethargy from frequently analyzing and commenting on news developments gave pause to my pen. However, two recent events finally reenergized me and have occasioned the unfurling of the Orange Banner at this time. One is an incident in Saint Lucia’s diplomatic affairs and the other is a collapse of the culvert at Reduit on the Gros Islet Road which finally prodded me to record some thoughts about the development of Gros Islet which I had contemplated writing about a few months ago.
MUCH ADO ABOUT A DIPLOMATIC NOTHING
Two weeks ago, Saint Lucians were surprised by a report from a London tabloid, The Daily Telegraph (November 9, 2015) that one of its diplomats, its representative to the International Maritime Organization in London, a certain Saudi billionaire named Dr WallidJuffali, was using his diplomatic immunity to shield himself from a lawsuit by an ex-wife whom he divorced last year and who was seeking greater financial compensation from his properties in England. According to the Daily Telegraph, the legal immunity, which Dr. Juffali possesses as a Saint Lucian diplomat was preventing his ex-wife, Christina Estrada, from filing legal proceedings against him in London and that the Government of Saint Lucia had declined to waive his diplomatic immunity so that she could do so.
Not surprisingly, the story generated media and political waves in Saint Lucia because Saint Lucians generally were unaware that Juffali was a diplomatic representative for the country and in the current heat of electoral politics from impending general elections, every act by government and political parties is a cause for controversy. Consequently, opposition politicians, talk shows, social media and the political platforms have all been falling over themselves to comment about the London tabloid story on Dr.Juffali, his wife, his appointment by Saint Lucia and his diplomatic immunity.
The Government of Saint Lucia on 11th November 2015 issued a press release on the matter, saying in part: “The lawyers for the former wife of Dr.Juffali have requested the government of Saint Lucia to lift the diplomatic immunity of Dr.Juffali to finally compel Dr. Juffali to testify in the civil suit. The Government of Saint Lucia has expressed the view to the lawyers of the former wife that this is a civil matter in which it does not desire to get involved. In the view of the government, this is a private matter and to waive Dr. Juffali’s immunity for the purposes of resolving property disputes arising out of divorce proceedings will create a precedent that could compromise current and future diplomatic personnel and elsewhere”.
It is not known whether Christina Estrada’s lawyers attempted to file proceedings against Dr. Juffali and were told by Dr. Juffali’s lawyers that they could not and so they turned to the Government of Saint Lucia; or if they were told by Government authorities in London that his diplomatic immunity was a barrier to their objectives. In the latter case, that would have been a very strange reply from the British who surely are well versed in diplomacy and should have responded differently; for if her lawyers had not approached the courts or the Foreign Office on the issue, then they, Juffali’s lawyers, the Daily Telegraph, commentators here and the Saint Lucia Government have all displayed an ignorance of the practice of the diplomatic privileges and immunities.
The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations at Article 31 makes it clear that diplomatic immunity does not extend to all civil and administrative matters. According to the Convention, a diplomat and members of his family forming part of his household, (provided they are not nationals or permanent residents of the host state) are immune from civil and administrative jurisdiction in the host state except in the case of:
a. a real action ( i.e. an action to claim ownership or possession) relating to private immovable property situated in the host state, unless he holds it on behalf of the state he serves for the purpose of the mission;
b. an action relating to succession in which he is involved as an executor, administrator, heir or legatee as a private person and not on behalf of the state he serves;
c. an action relating to any professional or commercial activity exercised by him in the host state outside his official function. This limitation applies in practice to his spouse and family.
Waiver of Diplomatic Immunity: The immunity from jurisdiction of an individual entitled to such protection may be waived only by his government. A waiver of immunity from civil or administrative proceedings does no more than allow the person concerned to stand trial; a second and specific waiver is required before the judgment can be put into effect.
In my view, according to this convention, Dr. Juffali does not possess diplomatic immunity when it comes to action by Christina Estrada to claim ownership of his private immovable property in the United Kingdom. Consequently, Saint Lucia cannot waive immunity for him in this case because it is not there to be waived. In my humble opinion, this is a case of much ado about a diplomatic nothing.
The Reduit Culvert and Bus Stop
THEReduit culvert that collapsed around the 12th November, causing a huge hole in the Gros Islet- Castries Road heading south from Gros Islet just opposite the JQ Charles Mall Car Park, has caused me to make public some thoughts on relieving the traffic jam that occurs daily and precisely in the area of that sinkhole. The culvert sank right next to a bus stop where persons visiting the malls on the opposite side of the road gather to catch Gros Islet minibuses to Castries. This is a source of frequent traffic jams because traffic has to stop constantly to allow persons to cross from the malls to the bus station. The ensuing traffic jams are a nightmare, particularly after 4:00 p.m.
One solution to the problem, it seems, is to condemn that bus stop and have persons wait for the buses in a designated area on the road next to the Bay Walk Mall on the left hand side going north in the area of RBTT and Lime, by the taxi stand; in fact exactly where buses are currently parked for the emergency shuttle service from Castries that was created to deal with the disruption caused by the sunken culvert; or they can wait in a designated area within the JQ Charles Mall car park. When the buses are ready, they can then continue along that road, turn into the lane in front of the casino and exit by the US Naval Station pillars onto the main road. That should end the traffic congestion problems caused from that bus stop. In any case repairing the sunken culvert has provided an opportunity for the authorities to find an answer to the problem of that Bus Station and its traffic jams and I hope they take it.