During his recent New Year’s Address, Prime Minister Pierre again announced his government’s intention to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate alleged acts of corruption and “suspected misuse of public funds” by the United Workers Party, including the awarding of a contract for the redevelopment of Hewanorra International Airport.
Now we have always made it clear that we in the United Workers Party have no fears about any such investigation. But we are equally adamant and challenge the Prime Minister that in the spirit of honesty and integrity in public life, and the pursuit of fair play, he also takes the opportunity to investigate certain members of his Cabinet against whom similar allegations have been levelled and which remain unresolved. The matter of his deputy Ernest Hilaire’s Land Rover case in point.
The United Workers Party notes that the Labour Party has already expended considerable State funds investigating members of our party with nothing to show for it. We do not expect that will deter Mr. Pierre from his present course but believe that by broadening the scope of his investigation he will get the opportunity to justify such spending from the public purse at a time of scarce financial resources.
Everyone knows that the last two tenures of the Saint Lucia Labour Party in the seat of government– 1997 to 2006 and 2011 to 2016– were characterized by the most blatant acts of mismanagement, abuse of power and waste of resources ever witnessed in our country. Ironically some of Labour’s misdeeds were brought to public attention from within the party itself. That may be an indication that the practice had become so pervasive that even some of their own came to abhor what was taking place.
Today, more than two decades after an SLP government recklessly committed State funds to a failed hotel project without the approval of parliament– and some say even without the approval of the Cabinet– the stench of what became known as the Rochamel Affair still lingers, not only for its huge price tag, but equally for the secrecy that surrounded it to the extent that it took years to be discovered.
The National Conservation Authority (NCA)
But the SLP never learnt from its mistakes and its mishandling of the people’s money became something of an art form that appeared to have been firmly institutionalized within both party and government, costing Saint Lucia millions of dollars. Its trail was carried right through to its last (2011 to 2016) term with misdeed after misdeed.
We are speaking here, for example, of the misuse of funds allocated to the National Conservation Authority (NCA) by the SLP government for which there was no accountability for four consecutive years.
A 2005 investigation of the NCA conducted by one of the party’s own sympathizers could not help but bare all for the public to see: a litany of abuse of funds, abuse of power, fraud, corruption never before seen in our country. It is interesting to note that this inquiry was ordered only under a hail of public protest after the then SLP Prime Minister had resisted calls for it.
We are talking here of several million dollars of the people’s money that went unaccounted for because when the NCA was created in 1999, the SLP government placed a loan of $11 million at its disposal. In addition, through the following years, the NCA received annual grants in the fiscal budget. In 2003, the amount approved was $3.8 million but was later increased to $6.2 million. In 2004, the amount approved by parliament was $3.8 million but later increased to $6.1 million. In 2005, the year when the scandal was exposed, another $3.5 million was allocated.
Yet, and that is according to the report on the NCA investigation, for four consecutive years, 2000-04, there were no financial statements prepared by the NCA, meaning no accountability for the people’s money to the parliament, as required. One of the projects financed by the NCA was the infamous short term employment programme (STEP) under which the SLP provided jobs essentially for its supporters. The report identifies other uses that NCA money was put to by the SLP in financing its 2001 election campaign including payment to one of the party’s agents in Castries Southeast for “house to house” canvassing.
Who can forget that the then Chairman of the SLP Antonius “Secra” Gibson fingered an SLP Minister for “treating the NCA as a private kitchen garden” and the STEP programme as “a personal thing catered to allow her the freedom to do as she pleased.” The report of the NCA investigation should have shamed the SLP and cautioned its members about the abuse of public funds, but it only fueled their greed.
The Rochamel Affair
The NCA scandal was preceded by the equally scandalous Rochamel Affair in which the then Labour Party Prime Minister engaged in transactions in a failed hotel project which, in his own words, finally cost our country losses of some EC$81 million (US$30 million). A Commission of Inquiry conducted by a prominent Caribbean jurist, Sir Fenton Ramsahoye further damned the SLP for its handling of the people’s money.
One of the conclusions of the inquiry was that the government had decided to pay for the debts of “a company that had no value” at the time. Here are some of the conclusions of the Ramsahoye Inquiry, quoted from the report, to see exactly what it had to say about SLP governance:
“We did not discern any attempt to protect the government and people from this loss.”
“There was no supervision or control by the government over the construction or equipping and management of the resort.”
“The project as it was conceived failed, without the government and people being protected from the total loss of US$14,592,350 and the costs associated with the repayment of the debts owed by Frenwell Limited.”
“There is no evidence that high level public servants who were engaged in the offices of Dr. Kenny Anthony were involved in the decision-making process concerning this transaction.”
“We consider that the loss which the government and people of Saint Lucia suffered in this matter was the result of maladministration. ….. There were irregularities in public administration resulting in the loss to the government and people of Saint Lucia.”
But there is more, the Ramsahoye Commission was also asked to determine why the construction of a road between Soufriere and Vieux Fort under Labour ended up costing more than twice as much as was originally intended. Here too was over- spending and wastage of the people’s money on a massive scale, without proper explanation.
So which party has a record for misusing public funds? Fast forwarding to more recent times we have the fiasco with the St Jude Hospital reconstruction, following the 2009 fire, which started with a person who is now in Mr. Pierre’s Cabinet. Add to that the Juffali/“Rovergate” Affair and the role of the former High Commissioner to London, now Mr. Pierre’s deputy. Then there is the controversial account of the former SLP Sports Minister that involved the disbursement of hundreds of thousands of public funds in a string of circumstances that are yet to be properly explained: people paid for government contracts that were never executed, projects undertaken at grossly inflated costs
Of course, sticking out like a sore thumb is the situation of Richard Frederick. Here is a man who was demonized in public by the SLP, long before his United States visa became an issue. When the U.S. authorities refused to grant him a visa, the SLP was aware of the reason because it was communicated to the government of Dr. Kenny Anthony. Despite this, Mr. Pierre boldly brought Mr. Frederick into his Cabinet after the 2021 general election which he had already won overwhelmingly.
The Grynberg Affair
There are examples where State assets were controversially disposed of, but none more damning than the Grynberg affair, in which St Lucia’s seabed was leased without public knowledge. All these took place while now Prime Minister Pierre was a member of the Cabinet and the deputy Prime Minister as well. We have no record of him ever raising his voice in protest over such acts of abuse of public funds and maladministration or even crusading against corruption. The truth is Mr. Pierre has no legitimacy to investigate anyone, given his track record.
It was against this background that in 2017 the United Workers Party government under Allen Chastanet, sought to comply with one of the recommendations of the Ramsahoye Commission by amending the Crown Proceedings Act to protect the funds of the State by removing the statute of limitations on the recovery of such funds. And would you believe it, at that meeting, the entire six-member SLP opposition walked out of the House of Assembly.
So, bring on your investigation, Mr. Pierre, but be honest and let us have a fairly laid out and level playing field.