It started with Rochamel!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

At Mon­day’s sit­ting of the Se­nate of the Apes (oth­er­wise known as de SOTA) there were more than the usual num­ber of simian pro­nounce­ments—laugh­able but for their killer im­pact on life as we know it on this Rock of Sages.

For the third or fourth time in as many con­sec­u­tive weeks, the soi-dis­ant au­gust (that was the first belly laugh!) but woe­fully tal­ent­less body was re­quired, for the ar­cane pur­poses of ac­com­mo­dat­ing cit­i­zens, to turn fine wine into sewer wa­ter.

With al­to­gether pre­dictable con­se­quences, the world’s most ar­ro­gant gov­ern­ment had placed be­fore its rub­ber­stamp­ing se­nate another pre­pos­ter­ous res­o­lu­tion, this time de­mand­ing per­mis­sion to “be­lat­edly guar­an­tee” of­fi­cially un­ap­proved multi-mil­lion-dol­lars bor­rowed three years ago and long ago con­tro­ver­sially spent.

The cited trans­ac­tions in­volv­ing the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion were in con­flict with the law that makes cer­tain un­der­tak­ings “not bind­ing on gov­ern­ment” un­less sup­ported by “an en­act­ment or with the prior ap­proval of par­lia­ment by a res­o­lu­tion of par­lia­ment.”

At sim­i­lar sit­tings over the last month, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion had re­peat­edly at­tempted to jus­tify the al­leged abuses of of­fice, on the ba­sis that the con­trac­tual ar­range­ments as­so­ci­ated with the multi-mil­lion-dol­lar loans never re­quired House ap­proval in the first place; there­fore, there was no need for so-called be­lated guar­an­tees (a cart-be­fore-the ass non­sen­si­cal Kenny An­thony cre­ation of re­cent vin­tage).

At this week’s déjà vu SOTA sit­ting the same be­wil­der­ing cast pre­sented the same mind-bog­gling ar­gu­ments and counter ar­gu­ments. This time around, how­ever, Se­na­tor Ezekiel Joseph was com­bat ready.

Alas, mis­cal­cu­la­tion was his mid­dle name. The agri­cul­ture min­is­ter in the be­lea­guered, now ac­cused Stephen­son King gov­ern­ment, Joseph had per­mit­ted a par­tic­u­larly frumpy fe­male, cur­rent health min­is­ter Alv­ina “you are what you eat” Reynolds to kick his butt out of his Babon­neau seat, with just two votes sep­a­rat­ing them. A re­lated court pe­ti­tion has re­port­edly been pend­ing since 2011!

Alas it would not be the last time the gen­tle­man from Babon­neau was caught with his long johns around his an­kles. Cit­ing cor­re­spon­dence from the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s cham­bers dated 16 July 2009 to the per­ma­nent sec­re­tary at the Min­istry of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Works, Trans­port and Pub­lic Util­i­ties (in­ex­pli­ca­bly re­named de­spite its pur­poses re­main­ing largely un­changed) the se­na­tor con­fi­dently read as fol­lows:

“The fact that gov­ern­ment is not the bor­rower in this case ob­vi­ates the ne­ces­sity to seek par­lia­men­tary ap­proval un­der Sec­tion 39 of the Fi­nance (Ad­min­is­tra­tion) Act. Ad­di­tion­ally, the fact that gov­ern­ment is fully ob­li­gated to pay back the sums raised by A&M, a guar­an­tee is not re­quired un­der Sec­tion 41 of the Act.”

At this point the renowned re­searcher and SOTA pres­i­dent in­ter­rupted to ask the gen­tle­man from Babon­neau whether what he had just read be­fore the hon­or­able gath­er­ing was the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s le­gal opin­ion on the mat­ter of guar­an­tees—and not merely the AG’s re­minder of what some­one else had pro­posed. The se­na­tor as­sured his ques­tioner that he had just read the AG’s le­gal opin­ion on the mat­ter be­ing de­bated.

It soon turned out that the se­na­tor from Babon­neau had goofed or he had mis­un­der­stood what he had cho­sen to read or he plain and sim­ply had set out to mis­lead his Se­nate of the Apes col­leagues—and by ex­ten­sion we the peo­ple. At any rate, the few who con­tin­ued to care!

The hardly shock­ing re­al­ity was that for un­de­clared rea­sons the gen­tle­man from Babon­neau had skipped over sev­eral lines im­me­di­ately pre­ced­ing and fol­low­ing what he had just read out loud, among them: “The doc­u­ments pro­vided to Cham­bers in­di­cate that gov­ern­ment is seek­ing to en­ter into a form of pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship (PPP) ar­range­ment with As­phalt and Min­ing Co Ltd (A&M). The agree­ment sug­gests one of pri­vate fi­nanc­ing where A&M is ob­li­gated to fund it. A&M will there­after re­ceive re­pay­ment by gov­ern­ment in the form of a stream of pay­ments in ac­cor­dance with a pro­posed fi­nanc­ing ar­range­ment.

“The ques­tion that is raised in this sit­u­a­tion is whether the gov­ern­ment is re­quired to seek par­lia­men­tary ap­proval be­fore it en­ters into the fi­nanc­ing ar­range­ment with A&M. We note the opin­ion of the Di­rec­tor of Fi­nance that the fact that gov­ern­ment is not the bor­rower in this case ob­vi­ates the ne­ces­sity to seek par­lia­men­tary ap­proval un­der Sec­tion 39 of the Fi­nance (Ad­min­is­tra­tion) Act. Ad­di­tion­ally, the fact that gov­ern­ment is fully ob­li­gated to pay back sums raised by A&M, a guar­an­tee is not re­quired un­der Sec­tion 41 of the Act. [Em­pha­sis mine]

“Both as­ser­tions are un­doubt­edly cor­rect. How­ever, this is not the end of the mat­ter.

“In our opin­ion [“our” mean­ing the AG’s Cham­bers] the start­ing point in re­solv­ing this is­sue is the ir­re­sistible and ob­vi­ous re­al­ity that pur­suant to the fi­nanc­ing agree­ment, gov­ern­ment is com­mit­ting it­self to re­pay a sum of money to A&M. At the risk of seem­ingly over­sim­pli­fy­ing this is­sue, it seems clear that the gov­ern­ment’s com­mit­ment to re­pay the sums raised by A&M amounts to a debt owed by the gov­ern­ment to A&M.”

Eas­ily dis­cernible are the con­flict­ing con­clu­sions of the Di­rec­tor of Fi­nance and the At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Cham­bers. The con­fu­sion, if in­deed any ex­isted, was not ex­plained at Mon­day’s SOTA meet­ing.

Point­less fea­tur­ing in its en­tirety the AG’s let­ter of 16 July 2009, save the fol­low­ing: “A sim­ple re­state­ment of the ap­pli­ca­ble le­gal prin­ci­ple is that ex­cept where a law pre­cludes it, gov­ern­ment is gen­er­ally en­ti­tled to en­ter into agree­ments with per­sons or en­ti­ties which in­volve the present or fu­ture ex­pen­di­ture of pub­lic finds with­out the need to seek par­lia­men­tary ap­proval be­fore con­tract­ing. Such con­tracts are, how­ever, un­en­force­able un­til funds are ap­proved by par­lia­ment to ful­fill the fi­nan­cial obli­ga­tions.”

Cit­ing the 2003 court case of Mart­i­nus Fran­cois v the At­tor­ney Gen­eral of Saint Lu­cia—still con­tro­ver­sial after all th­ese years—the AG had quoted in his 2009 let­ter the now de­parted Jus­tice Red­head: “What is clear is that the ex­ec­u­tive can­not with­draw any funds from the Con­sol­i­dated Fund in ful­fill­ment of that con­tract obli­ga­tion with­out par­lia­men­tary ap­proval.”

In relation to the same case, this is what then at­tor­ney gen­eral en-rouge Petrus Comp­ton had on the evening of 29 May 2009 bel­lowed from the steps of the Castries mar­ket, with ref­er­ence to a Rochamel De­vel­op­ment loan guar­an­tee:

“The prime min­is­ter [Kenny An­thony] al­ways said, ‘I do not wish to put any money for­ward. I do not wish to go to par­lia­ment for any guar­an­tee at this time . . .’ The lawyers of the company came to the gov­ern­ment and said they were propos­ing some­thing called a put op­tion. It was a de­vice that al­lowed us to say we, as a gov­ern­ment, were pre­pared to guar­an­tee cer­tain debts in the event cer­tain things hap­pened . . .”

In his next breath, how­ever, the diplo­matic at­tor­ney gen­eral had fa­mously let the fol­low­ing caveat slip from his lips: “That guar­an­tee is not worth the pa­per it is writ­ten on un­til it is ap­proved by par­lia­ment!”

Truly, those who can­not re­mem­ber the past are doomed to re­peat it. On Mon­day the in­de­pen­dent se­na­tor and fine physi­cian Stephen King, as he had at last week’s SOTA ses­sion for the pur­pose of au­tho­riz­ing “be­lated guar­an­tees,” opened the op­po­si­tion as­sault on the day’s res­o­lu­tion. Again he based his nay decision on his belief that what the gov­ern­ment had asked for was ac­cord­ing to Sec­tion 41 of the Fi­nance (ad­min­is­tra­tion) Act al­to­gether un­law­ful.

Once more, at any rate from this writer’s van­tage, Se­na­tor King seemed more

con­cerned with eas­ing the gov­ern­ment’s pain by what­ever means nec­es­sary, in­clud­ing

gwen en bas feuille voodoo: he pre­scribed non-starter in­ves­ti­ga­tions by a co­matose au­dit di­rec­tor’s of­fice five years or so be­hind with its own ac­counts; probes by gov­ern­ment de­part­ments no­to­ri­ously dys­func­tional, un­der-fi­nanced and un­der­staffed other agen­cies, and so on. (Cu­ri­ously, he did not rec­om­mend the at­ten­tion of the Vi­sion Com­mis­sion, of which he is a lead­ing mem­ber!)

If only the doc­tor-se­na­tor had stuck to the day’s dis­ease. The un­doubt­edly wellinten­tioned but po­lit­i­cally naïve Dr. King brought to mind David and Go­liath. Alas, when our much-re­spected King-David left home on Mon­day to bat­tle on the peo­ple’s be­half our hero had for­got­ten to pack his sling­shot!

The al­ways im­pec­ca­bly turned out in­de­pen­dent se­na­tor Berthia Parle, SOTA’s Won­der Woman, was pre­cise and to the point. She chose not to dwell on her own in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Sec­tion 41. In­stead, she un­der­scored the vi­tal im­por­tance of pub­lic ac­count­abil­ity, un­der­scored the dis­gust­ing im­pact of sev­eral un­sub­stan­ti­ated al­le­ga­tions ran­domly tossed from all sides of the lower and up­per Houses, and the ef­fects on the na­tion’s frus­trated young and im­pres­sion­able.

“If there has been wrong-do­ing,” she chal­lenged, sound­ing much like Hil­lary Clin­ton with the ac­cent of an ed­u­cated Saint Lu­cian, “then take the mat­ter be­fore the courts and let the guilty be sent to jail.”

She was pre­ceded by fel­low in­de­pen­dent se­na­tor Deb­bie To­bierre. With other Vieux Fort busi­ness­peo­ple, the last men­tioned had fa­mously gifted their dis­trict rep­re­sen­ta­tive with an ex­pen­sive Prado fol­low­ing his party’s loss in the 2006 gen­eral elec­tions, be­cause, as she put it, “he has done such great work for Vieux Fort and the coun­try and we thought it was such a shame he should now be driv­ing around in a beat-up old car.”

Ev­i­dently it had not oc­curred to demon­stra­bly illinformed Ms To­bierre and her well-heeled claque that there are laws against such dis­plays of baited gen­eros­ity. The In­tegrity Act clearly states it is un­law­ful for of­fi­cials to ac­cept re­ward for do­ing or not do­ing what tax­pay­ers pay them to do.

At the time, this is what I had writ­ten about the af­fair: “Should the Labour Party re­turn to of­fice in 2011, it will be par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing to see what hap­pens to Ms To­bierre.”

We need no longer spec­u­late!

For over 20 min­utes (a seem­ing eter­nity!) Se­na­tor To­bierre bab­bled in the voice of a 14-year-old about her pro­fes­sional af­fairs, the ev­er­ris­ing cost of build­ing ma­te­ri­als, the weather, her hopes and fears, her mind­less pre­dic­tions for the econ­omy, her fel­low lum­bered lum­ber deal­ers, her con­ver­sa­tions with God, just about ev­ery­thing but the day’s res­o­lu­tion.

Even her Red-Zone fel­low res­i­dent and SOTA di­rec­tor, es­pe­cially fa­mous for his tol­er­ance of ap­pro­pri­ately cos­tumed medi­ocrity, was forced fi­nally to ask the se­na­tor from Vieux Fort what the hell she was talk­ing about (in lan­guage be­fit­ting his high of­fice, of course). At which point the se­na­tor slowly re­sumed her seat-to-seat po­si­tion, smil­ing like only a shorn sheep can smile.

Then there was Se­na­tor Montoute, last week’s last­minute SOTA de­serter. He spoke elo­quently, in the fash­ion of Dr. King, but he too was largely con­cerned with de­fend­ing the in­de­fen­si­ble—as it turned out—de­ci­sions taken in his time as sports min­is­ter. Had the se­na­tor from Gros Islet spo­ken after his col­league from Babon­neau, chances are he might’ve taken an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent tack!

How best to de­scribe the holder of such im­por­tant of­fi­cial ti­tles as Min­is­ter for Pub­lic Ser­vice; Min­is­ter for In­for­ma­tion and Broad­cast­ing; Min­is­ter for En­ergy; Min­is­ter for Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy?

Some might sug­gest God Almighty, on the not un­rea­son­able ba­sis that a man in con­trol of so many im­por­tant port­fo­lios just had to be ca­pa­ble of do­ing the moon walk on wa­ter; just had to know all there is to know about ev­ery­thing—a dis­tinc­tion posthu­mously be­stowed by the orac­u­lar deputy prime min­is­ter on the erst­while tourist board hon­cho Des­mond Skeete.

In the first few seconds of his ad­dress on Mon­day, Se­na­tor Fletcher dropped sev­eral bombs that must’ve con­firmed long-stand­ing sus­pi­cions in all sec­tions of Rock of Sages where yel­low birds fly!

Said the se­na­tor whose PhD con­firms he knows what only plants can pos­si­bly know about fel­low plants: “I am an ex­pert on [sic] noth­ing. I am just some­one who reads.” He ac­tu­ally cited Se­na­tor Ezekiel as a source of in­spi­ra­tion!

He also re­vealed that for most of the morn­ing he had imag­ined him­self in the Twi­light Zone. (Of course, Se­na­tor To­bierre might’ve whis­pered softly in his ear that his cor­rect lo­ca­tion was the Planet of the Apes—but then who knows whether it was her con­tri­bu­tion to the day’s de­bate that had put the over­bur­dened se­na­tor in a Twi­light Zone state of mind?)

Se­na­tor Fletcher made a big thing about the ad­vice given the gov­ern­ment by not just one but two AGs on the mat­ters be­fore de SOTA. And, as ex­pected, their col­lec­tive ad­vice was that gov­ern­ment was do­ing the right thing via be­lated guar­an­tees. Ev­i­dently the se­na­tor with an ac­knowl­edged pen­chant for read­ing was bliss­fully un­aware of the sev­eral laws en­acted by the House of Kenny & Company, only later to be de­clared un­con­sti­tu­tional. One in­fa­mous ex­am­ple was pop­u­larly re­ferred to as “the no-bail law”—with which our tourism min­is­ter has ev­ery good rea­son to be fa­mil­iar!

The multi-faceted se­na­tor from Cap Es­tate preached as he had on sev­eral pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions, about the im­por­tance of pub­lic ac­count­abil­ity and con­curred with Se­na­tor Parle that cer­tain of­fi­cial con­tro­ver­sies needed to be set­tled by a court of law and the guilty par­ties sent to prison. Alas, the par­tic­u­lar mir­a­cle would re­quire a func­tion­ing DPP’s of­fice, not to men­tion the po­lit­i­cal will that ev­ery­one talks about while run­ning away from the re­quired walk.

As ear­lier stated, no one saw the need to query the con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sion for “be­lated guar­an­tees.” In­deed, over and over Sec­tion 41 was of­fered with­out ques­tion as the au­thor­ity for retroac­tive guar­an­tees, never mind that the sec­tion de­mands “prior” House ap­proval.

In the end the vote was 5 for and 5 against the in­tel­li­gence-in­sult­ing res­o­lu­tion. The SOTA pres­i­dent, in tones rem­i­nis­cent of a pissed-off judge, broke the tie. “I vote yes,” he said, “be­cause the other side did not make their case!” Alas he did not ex­plain what was “their case,” let alone how they had failed to make it.

If he re­ferred to those who had ar­gued against the need for “prior par­lia­men­tary ap­proval,” on the ba­sis of a twisted in­ter­pre­ta­tion of an at­tor­ney gen­eral’s let­ter, well, fine. But what about se­na­tors King, Parle and Daniel whose main con­tention had cen­tered on the “il­le­gal­ity” that “be­lated guar­an­tees” rep­re­sented.

As we used to say in a time be­fore Ebola: film at 11!

Se­nate Pres­i­dent Claudius Fran­cis: What he did to the se­na­tor from Babon­neau on Mon­day was noth­ing

short of in­de­cent ex­po­sure!

A fam­ily af­fair: Se­na­tor Deb­bie To­bierre (r) beams fol­low­ing a 2012 school ex­cel­lence contest with her niece, another rel­a­tive, and their proud con­stituency

rep­re­sen­ta­tive the prime min­is­ter Kenny An­thony.

Se­na­tor Stephen King: He gets another shot at

Go­liath in a few weeks!

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