Is it an authentic letter or is it not?
That’s the question opposition leader, Philip J. Pierre wants to be answered about a letter purporting to be from Minister for Economic Development Guy Joseph dated November 12, 2018 seeking funding for a street lighting project and the St. Jude Hospital Project on behalf of a company called PAJOAH’s Limited and Associates.
The letter, professing to bear the letterhead of the Government of Saint Lucia, carries at its end a signature asserting to be that of Minister Joseph and a stamp declaring to be that of the Ministry of Economic Development, Transport and Civil Aviation. It is addressed to whom it may concern and stated thus:
“Please be informed that the Government of Saint Lucia is currently engaged in discussions with PAJOAH’s Limited and Associates about funding the Street Lighting Project and the St. Jude Hospital Project in Saint Lucia.
Upon submission of Proof of Funding to execute the above-mentioned projects, the Government of Saint Lucia has agreed to enter into a contractual agreement with PAJOAH’s Limited and Associates. The Government is also committed to repaying the loan of US Sixty-Two Million Dollars (USD 62,000,000) or EC$ 167.4 million at a 3.59% interest rate over a fifteen- year period once the projects are successfully completed.
Please be aware that PAJOAH’s Limited and Associates are permitted to use this letter on a “To Whom it may Concern” basis for suitable financial institutions that would be able to provide the requisite financing for those prestigious projects.”
The question being asked now is whether the letter currently being circulated is one of comfort, seen in the same light as the one signed by former Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony to an investor named Robert Ainsworth of Hertfordshire, England in February 2016 that Pierre in January 2017 described as “a letter of comfort not an agreement…”
In the Robert Ainsworth letter, the former administration proposed to give the investor land in a number of areas totalling about 1000 acres for development.
Pierre said that the letter purportedly signed by Minister Joseph is highly irregular, presenting a high risk of damaging the image of Saint Lucia as a law-abiding nation and commits the Government of Saint Lucia to EC$167.4 m worth of debt.
Minister Guy Joseph, he said, is not the Minister of Finance and is in no position to commit the government of Saint Lucia to any financial obligations except if he has been directed to do so by the Minister of Finance and Prime Minister. Moreover, such financial obligations should have received parliamentary approval.
According to Pierre, PAJOAH’s Limited has no history or known capacity to undertake work of the nature referred to in the letter. He said the projects outlined in the letter were awarded by direct award.
Said Pierre, “There has been no bidding process; a preferred option to ensure the government and people of Saint Lucia get the best value for money. A bidding process would ensure that the country would receive the most competitive option.”
He added, “All direct awards are signed by the Prime Minister. It begs the question… was the Prime Minister aware that such a commitment was being made or did he approve of the commitment? The letter is addressed to any institution willing to lend the said sum, which includes undesirable sources that potentially can bring the Government of St Lucia into disrepute.”
Pierre stressed that communications (responses) related to the subject matter were to be addressed to Guy Joseph and not the Permanent Secretary which is the usual practice.
“In the light of the foregoing, we call on the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Allen Chastanet, to make a public statement about the authenticity of this letter, and if the letter is indeed authentic, that he takes disciplinary action against Minister Guy Joseph. If the Prime Minister fails to respond accordingly, within the next seven days, the official Opposition will be left with no choice but to comment that Prime Minister Allen Chastanet is not in control of his government and their questionable actions,” Pierre said.
He continued, “The government’s ability to borrow money from traditional financial institutions is based on its ability to repay and its respect for the rule of law. Respect for the rule of law is manifested in government’s observance of rules, laws and conventions in the execution of its duties.” Pierre noted that this is the latest in an increasing number of irregular and questionable financial arrangements between agents of government and private individuals and companies that continue to sully the image of the country.
The opposition leader went as far as stating that if a letter like the above came out in the public under his name he would immediately state whether he wrote it or not. He questioned why Minister Guy Joseph had not said anything about that particular letter, admitting or denying its authenticity.
“We are asking the Minister to make a categorical statement that the letter is not authentic. Speak the truth. If he does not do that, we are calling on the prime minister to make a statement that the letter was not authentic. That letter is damaging,” Pierre stated.
Minister Joseph dismissed the letter when he appeared Thursday night on the television talk show “Talk” saying that government letters do not circulate on the internet. He scoffed at Pierre for calling on him to say whether the letter was authentic or not.
“So, I’m supposed to come and explain to the Leader of the Opposition that what he says is an alleged letter is the real letter?” Guy questioned, adding that Pierre had been in government long enough to know what he needed to do if he wished to pose questions to the government.
“There are ways to pose the questions,” Joseph said.
The Minister then took apart the letter saying it was not a contract, and that it was very elementary.
“This letter cannot amount to a contract,” Joseph said.
“Letters from my Ministry do not circulate on social media. I am not sure you will get that letter in my Ministry,” Joseph said, adding that he could not verify where the letter originated.
He said that unlike Pierre’s determination that the letter is a contract of sorts nothing in the letter makes it a contract.
The Minister summed up the whole outcry on the letter by the opposition as people wanting to get him.
“People are so anxious to get me they can’t wait,” he said.