IN an interview presented by HTS on April 25, 2017, Minister Guy Joseph indicated that Government intended to reallocate some of the Taiwanese funding of the Constituency Development Fund to training. That Fund is administered by Minister Joseph’s Ministry of Economic Development.
When Minister Joseph made that announcement, however, few — if any of us — were aware that one of the beneficiaries of that change in Government policy had been the Caribbean Hospitality and Tourism Training Institute (CHTTI), an organization reportedly chaired by the Minister’s wife.
But, according to a report in this newspaper of June 4, when questioned by reporters on the matters surrounding his receipt of a cheque from the Government of Taiwan on behalf of the abovenamed Institute, Minister Joseph merely disclaimed any relationship with the Institute. Rather than providing information regarding the use of donor funds, he instead chose to indicate that he would address his critics and their allegations at an appropriate time and in an appropriate forum.
I do not know who the Minister’s critics are and what their allegations may have been as these are not on record in the print media. But we cannot accept that a Minister of Government can, when questioned by reporters, simply refuses to address an issue which is of significant public interest. Moreover, the Minister seems to think that he can personally choose when to address his critics and that until then the public must simply wait. This, however, is not how a democracy is supposed to function.
Minister Joseph may fail to appreciate the impropriety of his behaviour in accepting that cheque from the Government of Taiwan on behalf of CHTTI in the circumstances alleged. But we must be thankful for his brazenness, as it is this brazenness that has allowed the matter to come to light. Three issues arise that now require clarification by the Prime Minister in the absence of an explanation from the Minister.
The first is that in the article quoted above, this newspaper indicated that on receipt of that cheque for US$40,000, Minister Joseph immediately handed it over to CHTTI, and this is corroborated by the report on the ceremony by stlucianewsonline of May 18, 2017. We have to hope that both of those reports are incorrect because if that cheque was in CHTTI’s name, then the Government of Taiwan may be directly funding a private sector organization whose reported chairperson is the Minister’s wife.
The second issue is that both above media reports indicate that the May 17, 2017 cheque presentation was the second disbursement of funds to the CHTTI, totaling US$100,000. Yet, there is no record of the presentation of that initial cheque for US$60,000 in the print or online media. This is more than a curiosity as CHTTI was registered with the St. Lucia Registry of Companies on October 27, 2016, and the referenced stlucianewsonline story indicates that the company started functioning on January 30, 2017.
With the end of CHTTI’s initial fifteen-week training programme coinciding with the cheque presentation ceremony of May 17, it appears that the Government of Taiwan may have been requested to fund the start-up of a new “private sector” company to provide hospitality and tourism training here. Even if such a thing were to be remotely possible, the Prime Minister must now tell the nation how this funding was requested of the Taiwanese — was it a request through the Constituency Development Fund, a request from the Ministry of Economic Development, or was it a direct request from the CHTTI to the Taiwanese?
The final and more obvious question for the Prime Minister has to do with the continued function of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College. The College’s website indicates that Hospitality and Tourism training is still being offered, and so is the apparent Government-supported funding of CHTTI induced “private sector” competition for the College. If this is the case, are we seeing a Government effort at dismantling the College at the same time that the College is speaking of its development to University College status?
After being told that works on the reconstruction of the St. Jude Hospital had been suspended last July, we hear that works didn’t really stop and that some EC$8 million worth of equipment may have been installed on that project. How so? By whom? Where on this EC$118 million project which now supposedly requires EC$100 million in rectification works? Under whose supervision?
On top of which, the latest reason apparently given for not making that Technical Audit public is that persons are now being given an opportunity to explain? Explain what?
One year after the Ministry of Economic Development’s termination of the Consultant and suspension of the works, and with a commissioned EC$1 million Audit six months in the making in that Ministry’s possession for the last six months, every participant on that project must have had that chance to explain. Just who is now being given this opportunity to explain, and explain what?
Public access to information on both above matters is essential to our democracy.