Looshan at HEART!

PRIME MIN­IS­TER HON­ORS

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Rick Wayne

If Tommy Tucker sang for his supper,” quoth the then un­de­clared Great Satan in the 1979 Ge­orge Od­lum, “who am I?” And sing he did—as he alone could sing, hav­ing at last landed the fore­man’s job. Oh, but not for the un­wit­ting ab­sent spon­sors of the In­de­pen­dence feast at a fa­mous 5-star Man­hat­tan restau­rant, to which it seemed half the New York press had been in­vited, along with sev­eral bibu­lous travel agents, not a face among them black.

The New York ban­quet, and the no­to­ri­ously melo­dra­matic Od­lum’s buf­foon­ery, came to mind this week as for the fourth or fifth time I pe­rused the prime min­is­ter’s amaz­ing speech, de­liv­ered at the most re­cent Gov­ern­ment House cer­e­mony in honor of Gil­bert Chagoury, as well known to most Saint Lu­cians as, say, King Mongkut.

Never be­fore had a re­cip­i­ent of the Saint Lu­cia Cross been so highly touted, al­beit be­hind closed doors and well away from the pry­ing press. But then this was no gar­den-va­ri­ety investiture, as had been that of March 1. Nor was this lat­est re­cip­i­ent of The Cross your regular party hack mon­ey­bags. As had fa­mously been stated back in 1998 by a fawn­ing public of­fi­cial, all Chagoury ever wanted was the op­por­tu­nity to serve Saint Lu­cia as Saint Lu­cia had never been served by its sons and daugh­ters. Why? Well, as re­cently it had emerged, Chagoury has al­ways con­sid­ered him­self “a Saint Lu­cian at heart.” Why? Ir­rev­e­lant de­tail, dear reader; an ir­rel­e­vant de­tail.

Of far greater rel­e­vance is that he was stink­ing rich. For him Saint Lu­cia’s Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct amounted to small change. At any rate, so im­plied a shame­less gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tive to whom a vis­it­ing Chagoury had once en­trusted his pam­pered pooches.

Chagoury it was who had picked up the tab when a for­mer Pres­i­dent of the United States and his en­tourage paid a 3-day visit that in­cluded din­ner at San­dals, a ticket to which had cost some of our lead­ing cit­i­zens what lit­tle dig­nity still resided in their rented souls. Con­ceiv­ably, Bill Clin­ton’s visit was among the “spe­cial ser­vices” the is­land’s prime min­is­ter re­ferred to when he sought to jus­tify why the na­tion’s high­est award had gone to a Le­banese-Nige­rian whose his­tory was, to bor­row yet again from Derek Wal­cott, a trans­par­ent puz­zle.

Oh, there were also the uniden­ti­fied “sev­eral years of self­less ser­vice,” not to say Chagoury’s prece­den­tial “two decades as our coun­try’s diplo­mat.” Through­out all th­ese years, the prime min­is­ter as­sured the suit­ably im­pressed Gov­ern­ment House con­gre­ga­tion, “His Ex­cel­lency car­ried out his un­der­tak­ings with great re­spect, in­tegrity, dig­nity and com­mit­ment.” (There could be no deny­ing Sani Abacha’s sound in our PM’s speech.)

Echo­ing Chagoury’s ear­lier mem­ory jog­ger, the prime min­is­ter said the bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man had borne the cost of rep­re­sent­ing Saint Lu­cia’s in­ter­ests over­seas “with­out any bur­den on the state.” Which was a whole lot more than could le­git­i­mately be said of the par­a­sitic scores of other Saint Lu­cian am­bas­sadors—all of whom this na­tion had given birth—and who were in­ter­ested only in tak­ing, tak­ing, tak­ing and never giv­ing back.

As if he were an auc­tion­eer

ad­ver­tis­ing his chat­tel at an 1800s slave mar­ket, the prime min­is­ter went on: “The stature of Am­bas­sador Chagoury has en­abled Saint Lu­cia to achieve re­mark­able feats.” Doubt­less he was think­ing about Chagoury’s ear­lier rev­e­la­tion that “no coun­try, mighty or meek, seeks high of­fice at UNESCO with­out cham­pi­oning the sup­port and bless­ing of Saint Lu­cia.” Which of course said less about our is­land it­self than it did about its pow­er­house am­bas­sador.

By Chagoury’s un­chal­lenge­able ac­count, when he had men­tioned Saint Lu­cia dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with an am­bi­tious Ja­panese, this was the cam­paign­ing ca­joler’s re­sponse: “Your is­land may be small, but your is­land is very, very, very big at UNESCO!”

His Ex­cel­lency had “de­vel­oped a model em­bassy for Saint Lu­cia that he has used to es­tab­lish a pres­ence in other coun­tries and other or­ga­ni­za­tions,” said the prime min­is­ter. In all the years they had known each other, how­ever, what had most im­pressed him was his am­bas­sador’s “hu­mil­ity and hu­man­i­tar­ian re­sponse.” No sur­prise that by our prime min­is­ter’s elas­tic mea­sure Saint Lu­cia owed a spe­cial debt to Chagoury, with­out whose “diplo­matic fi­nesse” the honor would not have been con­ferred on Saint Lu­cia’s Pitons as a “PMA World Her­itage Site in 2004.” So much for the lo­cal glory seek­ers and their self­ad­ver­tis­ing as­ser­tions!

The prime min­is­ter closed by nam­ing the sev­eral Euro­pean in­sti­tu­tions that had ben­e­fit­ted from Chagoury’s bil­lions, much of it mined in Africa. At any rate, by In­ter­net ac­counts. Alas, none of the ben­e­fi­cia­ries had been so grate­ful as to have placed around Chagoury’s neck their coun­try’s most pres­ti­gious awards. Cer­tainly not Nige­ria! By re­li­able ac­count, when the prime min­is­ter ended his speech that echoed much of what the Le­banese-Nige­rian had crowed about him­self the ap­plause from their starry-eyed au­di­ence rat­tled the pam­pered tim­bers of Gov­ern­ment House.

As for the cur­rent oc­cu­pier, when it comes to Chagoury she can­not plead ig­no­rance of his var­i­ous over­seas as­so­ci­a­tions or his his­tory with the lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion. Our Cen­tral Li­brary could not con­tain half of what there is on the In­ter­net about Gil­bert Chagoury. An­other ir­rel­e­vant de­tail, you say? Then how about the fol­low­ing?: At a 2014 retreat for the heads of our count­less over­seas mis­sions, this is what the gover­nor gen­eral had said in the pres­ence of the for­eign af­fairs ad­vi­sor Vaughan Lewis: “I do ap­point the heads of mis­sions on con­di­tions dis­cussed and ne­go­ti­ated with the ex­ec­u­tive, but I have to ad­mit I have no idea as to what those terms and con­di­tions are, and whether there is any con­sis­tency in the terms and con­di­tions across the range of of­fi­cers ap­pointed to serve over­seas. Nei­ther can I speak with any con­fi­dence when rep­re­sen­ta­tives of for­eign coun­tries en­gage me in con­ver­sa­tion . . . I know that very of­ten what I say lacks the sub­stance I know the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of for­eign coun­tries are look­ing for.”

It re­mains murky how Gil­bert Chagoury’s name landed on the 2015 In­de­pen­dence Awards Investiture list. By all this writer has been able to un­cover, it was not sub­mit­ted by the Na­tional Awards Com­mit­tee whose spe­cial func­tion it is to con­sider sub­mis­sions by the public be­fore pass­ing on a san­i­tized fi­nal list to Gov­ern­ment House. By all ac­counts, com­mit­tee mem­bers were as flum­moxed as were other regular Saint Lu­cians upon hear­ing the prime min­is­ter’s an­nounce­ment that one of the year’s two re­cip­i­ents of the Saint Lu­cia Cross was Gil­bert Chagoury, the other be­ing the much cher­ished na­tive son Dr. Martin Di­dier. Alas, for un­de­clared rea­sons, the bil­lion­aire Le­banese did not at­tend the March 1 investiture.

He ac­cepted his cross (for dis­tin­guished and out­stand­ing ser­vice of na­tional im­por­tance to Saint Lu­cia) two weeks later, at an­other cer­e­mony ar­ranged at his con­ve­nience. His name does not ap­pear in the 2015 investiture book­let!

A fi­nal pos­si­bly ir­rel­e­vant de­tail: shortly af­ter his party’s elec­tion in 1997 Prime Min­is­ter Kenny An­thony con­firmed a vis­it­ing Chagoury in his po­si­tion as our na­tion’s UNESCO rep­re­sen­ta­tive and in­stalled him as our am­bas­sador to the Holy See. Doubt­less Chagoury’s in­vi­ta­tion to his son’s nup­tials in Ma­jorca not long af­ter­ward af­forded the prime min­is­ter and his deputy the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to get bet­ter ac­quainted with the Saint Lu­cian in Gil­bert Chagoury’s Le­banese-Nige­rian heart!

Proud Saint Lu­cian (at heart!) Gil­bert Chagoury at the mo­ment he re­ceived from Gover­nor Gen­eral Pear­lette Louisy the na­tion’s high­est honor—The Saint Lu­cia Cross.

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