Letters & Opinion

Born Free – The Juffali Episode

By David Prescod

THERE is a certain pathology stalking the land that is destroying us from within. It may have had its genesis in another era centuries ago, an era maybe forgotten by some, but that disease lurks deep in our psyches and it pollutes our minds.

Some of us act, seemingly of our own accord, disdainful of this disease which swells our intestines together with our egos, sustained by the adulation of those who don’t know their history, and never will. But our behaviour today is influenced by our past in ways that we may not recognize.

We are not chattel, me and my “family” from Fond Gens Libre, nor are most St. Lucians. We demand to be treated with respect. We may choose to ignore the incessant public relations campaign and the distortion of fact to suit political purpose, but we demand that we, as a people, be treated with respect.

From its beginning, I promised myself, and others as well, that I would not comment on the Juffali affair. Most of us see it for what it is, a sordid mess, best forgotten, even if the Government and its supporters find avenues for self-congratulation in its legal resolution. But it doesn’t pass the smell test, and that is what transparency in government is all about – “How it go look?”

This however no longer seems to matter in St. Lucia – we have an “app” for that, we can fix any problem, and our PR machinery will drum our version of the truth into your head until you accept it as your own. Except for one problem – we are no longer chattel. We control the “off” switch.

So we revisit Juffali. A Saudi billionaire unknown to all but a select few St. Lucians, appointed by Government to be our ambassador to the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, an organisation that few St. Lucians had heard of.

We learn of Juffali’s appointment over a year after it was made as a result of a challenge to his diplomatic immunity by his wife who is suing him in a London divorce court for part of his estate. A request of our Government by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, (FCO), asking it to consider waiving Juffali’s immunity is met by a rebuff, our Government claiming that there is no legal precedent for such a request.

Our Government appears to be on solid legal ground, but that is only one half of the story. As we learn from the Court of Appeal judgment, para 33 (76), when approached on the question of Juffali’s diplomatic immunity by his wife’s lawyers, the FCO had two options. One was to make the request for withdrawal of immunity to our Government, the other being to declare Juffali persona non grata and thereby deport him. There being no basis for the second option, the first was apparently chosen.

We need however to concern ourselves first with what might have driven the FCO to consider the request from Juffali’s wife’s lawyers, and then why the FCO would have gone the further step in making the formal request of our Government.

For an understanding of that, we have the opinion of the impartial judge of the UK High Court who indicated that he was satisfied that the appointment of Juffali was “an entirely artificial construct”, stopping just short of calling it a “sham”. The appointment does not pass the “smell” test.

While the Court of Appeal found that the judge of the High Court was not correct in deciding on Juffali’s diplomatic immunity, it made this finding on the basis that the circumstances of the appointment were irrelevant once the appointment itself was accepted by the Foreign Office.

The Court of Appeal made no finding on the circumstances surrounding Juffali’s appointment, and whether or not it was a sham.

But, in pointing out that the Court did not have jurisdiction to review a challenge to Juffali’s appointment, the Court of Appeal, at para 25, relied on the governing convention as follows:

“The Specialised Agencies Convention, on which the immunities and privileges of Permanent Representatives to the IMO are in part based, provides (at Article V, Section 16) that:

“Privileges and immunities are accorded to the representatives of members, not for the personal benefit of the individuals themselves, but in order to safeguard the independent exercise of their functions in connection with the specialised agencies. Consequently, a member not only has the right but is under a duty to waive the immunity of its representatives in any case where, in the opinion of the member, the immunity would impede the course of justice, and where it can be waived without prejudice to the purpose for which the immunity is accorded.”

As we can see, St. Lucia not only had the right, but it was under a duty to waive the immunity of its IMO representative. With St. Lucia standing on its legal high ground and refusing to do so, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, apparently itself convinced that the appointment was a sham, did the only thing that it was legally capable of doing and formally asked St. Lucia to waive Juffali’s immunity. We know the result – moral obligations do not count with us.

Juffali however lost his claim to immunity from the divorce proceedings as he was found to be permanently resident in the UK and thus only enjoyed immunity in respect of official acts.

Throughout this saga, we in St. Lucia have repeatedly been told what a fine fellow this Juffali is, how he is going to establish a diabetes research centre here in St. Lucia, and how wonderful that would be for us. That research centre is of course widely seen by St. Lucians as being in exchange for the diplomatic posting, while still others suggest that more may have been exchanged.

Now we gather from the media that something called a Global Saint Lucia Diabetes Research Project has been established, and the Chairman of its steering committee named. The first step apparently proposed is to be a National Diabetes Coordinating Centre essentially to train nurses, disseminate information, and establish a registry of people with diabetes. One media house reports that Jufffali will pay for this Centre for two years, after which Government will have to meet its cost. Really? How?

What we see here is that some two years after this Diabetes Research Centre was promised, a representative of Juffali parachutes into St. Lucia as Chairman of a still to be formed “Steering Committee”, with little other than a vague proposal to train our medical personnel and educate our people, and we are encouraged to see this as evidence that the “Research Project” is coming to fruition.

So great is the need to continue with this Juffali farce that we will willingly subject our medical professionals to the embarrassment of supposedly being trained by a group of persons on matters that they are perfectly equipped to handle, simply because that group of persons comes from Switzerland and are funded by Juffali.

We have home-grown, world-class physicians, some of whom we honour with national awards when we choose to, but immediately thereafter we turn a deaf ear to the medical advice which they provide.

These physicians tell us that diabetes is a lifestyle disease and that the single most effective step in its avoidance is a 5% loss in body weight, a calamity that we know that no member of our leadership has suffered in the last four years. Yet that leadership thinks that we need Juffali’s research centre for diabetes – just more symptoms of that pathology.

But that’s not all. There is a document available on the internet entitled “Managing Diabetes in Primary Care in the Caribbean” prepared by the Caribbean Health Research Council, CHRC, in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organisation, PAHO. That document was first published in 1995 and revised in 2006.

In compiling the document, credit is given by CHRC to, among others, staff of the Tropical Medicine Research Institute, UWI, Mona and of the School of Clinical Medicine and Research, UWI, Barbados. CHRC has now been merged with other regional health institutions to form CARPHA, the Caribbean Public Health Agency.

As a region, we have the research capacity, the teaching capacity, and the organizational capacity for the management of diabetes, and we have demonstrated this at least over the last 20 years. Will the Government please stop insulting our intelligence with this promotion of Juffali and his promise of a diabetes research centre.

3 Comments

  1. Brilliant, Mr Prescod!

    It doesn’t pass the smell test! That’s a fact! It reeks of political opportunism. But what is even more damning is the grotesque assumption being made by this government that all Looshans are dumb, deaf, blind and bereft of the sense of smell. In the first place Juffali has no knowledge of maritime affairs. So what’s he doing as our rep to the IMO? He knows nothing about maritime affairs and so it’s no surprise he did nothing. As far as we’re aware he never filed a report or offered an opinion.

    Absolutely disgusting!

  2. This article beats the poorly written pieces passed on by SNO for news. In response I would say the architect of diplomatic bobol has even higher dreams of becoming the leader of our nation. If a man was not suited for the WICB or the Commission in London, how can he be trusted to hold any positions of power in this country. I hope the good people of the constituency he is seeking to use for power, personal gain and fortune find it fit to give him the boot marked 666. If the labour party due to its outright disrespect towards the people of St. Lucia is not thrown out of office in a few weeks, then surely we will get the government we deserve.

  3. So long as our politics remains mired in divisiveness and clientelism, we will not get the government we truly need. We will continue to get candidates who win their seats based on popularity but have no record of community service, and no understanding of what democratic governance is about. So long as we continue to have an electorate that: sees itself as servants of elected representatives rather than as their masters; that sees accountability through partisan lenses; that cares little about seemingly little things such as whether contracts are fairly and correctly awarded; that cares nothing about projects like St. Jude’s that are extraordinarily and inexplicably late, then Saint Lucians will continue to get the Governments they want and not the Governments and they type of governance they truly need. Saint Lucia’s future lies not in UWP, SLP, or LPM but in a clear appreciation of its people of the type of government and governance they expect and will demand from those parties when in office. Unless Saint Lucians make this change, we will continue to have “gated” episodes such as Rochamel-gate, Black Bay-gate, Daher-Building-gate, Juffali-gate, Grynberg-gate, and others.

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