PRIME Minister Allen Chastanet and his Senior Chief Communications Officer Nicole McDonald have both dismissed allegations that the Cayman Islands group has demanded that the Ministry of Health hand over the Owen King EU (OKEU) Hospital.
The allegations, spread over social media, also allege that the Cayman Islands group in question was irate over the recent transfer of outpatients from Victoria Hospital (VH); but that too has been categorically denied by the Prime Minister.
The now infamous WhatsApp message, being circulated recently, alleges that “it appears the recent transfer of outpatient services from VH to the OKEU has caused consternation with the Cayman Officials who are now demanding that the Ministry of Health reverse the transfers and hand over their hospital.”
Moreover, questions have arisen over the presence of Cayman Officials on island, but the Prime Minister maintains that no decision has been made on the OKEU and that although he has met and spoken to officials from the Cayman Islands, those officials do not own the OKEU hospital.
After referring to the strategy of the Opposition Party of St. Lucia as “disturbing’, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, after the conclusion of the joint press conference with Baroness Patricia Scotland (the Commonwealth Secretary General), addressed the media about the health situation in the country.
He accused the Opposition of adopting a strategy “that continues to evolve into a policy of scare tactics.”
“I’m in talks with many people, including the Cayman group.” Prime Minister Allen Chastanet stated Thursday.
After stating that no decision has been made with the Cayman Group, he said that “I’m still waiting for a proposal.” He then went on to give more examples of groups with which he is having discussions.
“Like I’m waiting for a proposal from the Cleveland Clinic; I’m waiting for a proposal from another Canadian group. I’m in discussions with as many people as I can in order that we can bring a proposal to Cabinet on how we’re going to proceed,” he added.
This of course flies in the face of what was claimed in the WhatsApp message, where it was stated that not only are the Cayman Officials making demands but that the Prime Minister is at a loss to explain to them the happenings at the OKEU.
The message reads that the “Executive Officer of VH Ms. Brenda Calixte has been asked to answer to the Cayman Officials about who gave her authority for the move” and that the “Prime Minister Allen Chastanet has reportedly told the new Cayman bosses that he did not know that any other facility had been moved to the OKEU recently.”
McDonald dismissed the message, which has spread through social media, as “false and mischievous.”
“I really hope and I pray that St. Lucians see through the propaganda for what it is.” she said in a phone interview with The VOICE.
She also accused those responsible for the WhatsApp message of “trying to confuse the public…in terms of falsehoods and fake stories.”
McDonald said that that sort of spreading of “fake stories” was not the first of its kind, describing the whole affair as “a sad situation”.
When asked if the government would pursue any legal action over the spreading of what it calls fake stories, McDonald said that that would be very difficult, given the fact that the source of these stories remains cloaked in anonymity.
“The issue with those kinds of things is… how do you find the source?” she said.
She also said that the onus is on St. Lucians to not partake in the spreading of these false stories, stating that from the government’s perspective, the only thing it can do to counter such stories is to keep telling the truth.
“The only thing we can do right now is to keep doing what we’re doing which is repeating the truth; so we’re going to keep repeating the truth as much as they are [spreading] the lies.” McDonald stated, reiterating the difficulties in finding the source of the rumours.
“It would be great if we could find the source of this misinformation but that would be a very difficult task.” She said.
“I think the onus though is on us as St. Lucians in terms of spreading [such] things: I know there’s the sensationalism in it and everybody wants to share something outrageous; but you know we need to think about the damage that we do by forwarding things that are completely untrue,” McDonald said.
She also stated that those kinds of stories should come from an official government source before being believed and that without that source, it should be presumed as untrue and thus not be spread.
“You know if something doesn’t have a source of information, just like journalists depend on a source, if something is not on an official government letter head, or coming from an official government spokesperson, or a Minister or an official from one of the Ministries, then really it should not be spread.” McDonald stated.
She reinforced her point by stating that “Any information that should come about the health sector, about OKEU, about St. Jude, about Victoria Hospital, should come from the Ministry of Health.” Before stating that “A WhatsApp announcing what’sgonna happen to workers is not the way government operates.”
The Senior Communications Officer although critical of the way social media has been used to spread false rumours, did say that it is “a very useful tool…when it comes to spreading news about an impending storm or something that really deserves national attention”; although “it can also be very dangerous in the wrong hands.”
Giving examples of the negative impacts the spreading of fake news on social media has on the lives of persons, she said that the damage isn’t only limited to government but also to private citizens.
She concluded by stating that she thinks “it’s something we need to be cognizant of as a country.”