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Minister and Mayor not drinking from same cup… Muddy Waters at City Hall?

Image of Mayor of the City of Castries Peterson D. Francis

Recent headline-making developments at the Castries Constituencies Council (CCC) are pointing to a troubling scenario inside. While the Mayor and the Minister for Local Government may be singing from the same political hymn-sheet, they are definitely not drinking from the same cup.

The CCC, under Mayor Peterson Francis, found itself in a pickle in mid-July, when the Minister of Local Government initiated an official ministerial review of the Council’s operations – a task Francis only became aware of via a letter from Local Government Minister Belrose.

Image of Peterson Francis
Mayor of Castries, Peterson Francis

The review — expected to be completed end of August — has stirred-up questions concerning Francis’ style of management, particularly over the Council’s protracted stance on the appointment of a new Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

But Francis said the appointment was stymied by Leslie Prospere, Chairman of the Administration Committee of the CCC. He wrote Prospere expressing ‘disappointment’ at his recent action in ‘unilaterally’ halting the process of appointing a CEO.

According to Francis, he was advised that Prospere acted on the instructions of Belrose.

Francis, in a letter to Prospere, claimed that his (Prospere’s) action in taking direction from Belrose pertaining to the recruitment of the CEO conflicts with the Castries Constituency Act #1 of 2012, Section 12.

Francis has since appointed retired Civil Servant Wilfred Pierre as CEO as of Monday, insisting that the appointment of a CEO “cannot be an imposition by the Minister, but a process determined by the council.”

The announcement of the review appears not to have gone down well with Francis and some of the Councilors, although this week the Mayor said at a press conference that he welcomed the review.

He noted that the review “will only find positive things have happened and are happening” at the Council since he became Mayor and it “could very well be used as a model for other statutory corporations on how to handle their operations.”

The July 13, 2018 letter from Belrose to Francis not only informed him of the review, but also outlined a number of areas that would be targeted.

The letter noted that the review will assist the Department of Culture and Local Government in undertaking its mandate by ‘Reviewing the financial reporting process, the systems of internal control and management of financial risk and the organization’s process for monitoring compliance with laws, regulations and procedures as contained in the CCC Act.’

But Francis’ upbeat nature about the ongoing evaluation of his Council did not prevent him from stating that it also sends out a wrong impression of how things are done in the Council.

In fact, this journalist posed the question to Francis that the assessment — coming at a time when he is riding a wave of popularity for his efforts to improve almost every aspect of the City of Castries — may create the impression that some “hanky-panky” was going on at the Council, a point Francis said “may have some validity to it.”

“So you are absolutely correct it (review) is sending the wrong impression outside there,” said Francis.

Minister Belrose has yet to make a statement to clarify the matter, despite several attempts by this reporter to reach her.

Another possible reason for the review, according to Francis earlier this week, is perhaps to determine how the CCC had been able to accomplish all that it has accomplished, without asking the government for money – “not even one cent.”

“The review of the Council, I believe, is to see how it has been able to manage itself in the sense of all what we have done in such a small space of time and have not been able to ask the government for one cent,” Francis said, noting that before becoming Mayor the CCC had to approach the government almost every month for money to pay wages.

Since the review started, there have been loud and frequent public claims and suggestions that Francis will be asked to step down as Mayor. But Prime Minister Allen Chastanet this week shot-down such speculation, giving a definitive ‘no’ to the reports.

Francis has also questioned the integrity of the review as a result of the person conducting it. He asked (in his letter to Prospere): “Can someone with a vested or entrusted interest in being a CEO be fair in her assessment of the current board? Have you asked yourself that question?”

The Mayor sounded like he had sufficient reason to believe that the person conducting the review is the same person the Local Government Ministry has earmarked to be the Council’s CEO.

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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