Was pre­ma­ture burial of Suzie’s pro­pos­als mo­ti­vated by fear?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

As is cus­tom­ary for me, be­fore I set­tled down to write this col­umn I brewed my­self a mug of cof­fee then sat down at my lap­top per­chance to dis­cover no new catas­tro­phe had struck Planet Earth while I slept. For the most part the early morn­ing news cen­tered as usual on civ­i­lized man’s un­prece­dented in­hu­man­ity to man—the worst ex­am­ples com­ing from the birth­place of the Prince of Peace and a host of other divine fig­ures—save for Don­ald Trump, con­sid­ered by some their per­sonal sav­ior and by oth­ers the worm at the heart of the US of Anger!

And then I hap­pened upon an item closer to life on the Rock of Sages. Its fo­cus was a par­tic­u­larly os­ten­ta­tious Caribbean HOG whose be­spoke suits and hand-stitched patent leather shoes re­minded of Gre­nada’s al­ways splen­dif­er­ous Eric Gairy in the late 1970s. On the other hand, while the de­ceased “spice isle” prime min­is­ter had cal­cu­lat­edly en­dured the va­garies of LIAT, his liv­ing coun­ter­part prefers to do his is­land-hop­ping by he­li­copter. Spec­u­la­tors on his per­sonal as­sets have of­ten placed him in the com­pany of Amin and Haiti’s Du­va­liers, which may be a stretch. But this week’s dis­clo­sures ap­peared to in­clude proof of his im­mense wealth, re­port­edly amassed since tak­ing of­fice a lit­tle over two decades ago, when he was close to pen­ni­less. Iden­ti­fied were os­ten­si­ble rel­a­tives who had helped him stash mind­bog­gling sums in var­i­ous for­eign ac­counts, all rev­e­la­tions that hinted at metic­u­lous in­ves­ti­ga­tion, not the rant­ings of some gar­den-va­ri­ety grudge-har­bor­ing yel­low jour­nal­ist. Or, for that mat­ter, an out-of-touch red one.

Nev­er­the­less I re­main sus­pi­cious of too of­ten an­ti­so­cial so­cial me­dia. Es­pe­cially their in­ves­tiga­tive re­ports that fea­ture un­fa­mil­iar by­lines and more of­ten none at all. Yes, I dis­missed this week’s un­cred­ited sam­ple as bad fic­tion; too many ex­cuses for un­cor­ro­bated rev­e­la­tions, ob­vi­ous spec­u­la­tion and leaps of faith for my lik­ing. But then I also pon­dered the re­mote pos­si­bil­ity that some of what I’d read just might be true. Well known is the fact that keep­ing tabs on our elected of­fi­cials is, for count­less rea­sons, in­clud­ing fear of reprisals, a mis­sion im­pos­si­ble. Over and over, and on is­land af­ter is­land, iron­fisted rulers con­tinue to hold them­selves above the law, so far with im­punity.

In Saint Lucia, for in­stance, we have a half-baked In­tegrity Act that pre­tends to de­mand, in the name of pub­lic ac­count­abil­ity, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials an­nu­ally de­clare their as­sets. But our law­mak­ers—on whom the care­fully re­cruited com­mis­sion de­pends for shel­ter, rent, of­fice staff, le­gal ad­vi­sors, and other ba­sic re­quire­ments— are no­to­ri­ous for up­hold­ing at their con­ve­nience the laws they en­act, of­ten for no ap­par­ent rea­son. Al­though the In­tegrity Com­mis­sion has once in a while pub­lished their names in the Gazette, no de­faulter has ap­peared be­fore a mag­is­trate.

We’ve not had a sin­gle gov­ern­ment since adult suf­frage that might le­git­i­mately be de­scribed as un­stained. All have in var­i­ous ways vi­o­lated our con­sti­tu­tion. And while of­fi­cials have im­pres­sively talked and talked about trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity, es­pe­cially over the last twenty years or so, few Saint Lu­cians can say with any de­gree of con­fi­dence what ac­tu­ally tran­spired be­tween their elected gov­ern­ment and its UN rep­re­sen­ta­tive that in May 1995 had re­sulted in the Sir Fred Phillips com­mis­sion of in­quiry. Its of­ten hi­lar­i­ous ses­sions had abruptly ended af­ter sev­eral weeks in a mi­asma of suf­fo­cat­ing ques­tions unan­swered to this day.

We learned noth­ing from the ex­pen­sive ex­pe­ri­ence. None of the rec­om­men­da­tions at the end of the so-called UN-Funds In­quiry—a mis­nomer, since the UN had nei­ther ini­ti­ated, funded nor par­tic­i­pated in the pro­ceed­ings—was ever adopted, a sorry fact that per­mit­ted the 2004 com­edy of er­rors star­ring UN am­bas­sador Earl Hunt­ley, some of his fa­vorite New York cronies, a no­to­ri­ous Brook­lyn loan shark and a multi-mil­lion dol­lar property held in trust for the peo­ple of Saint Lucia by their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Then there was the ear­lier il­licit af­fair be­tween a prime min­is­ter and an un­der-age school­girl. Their true-life version of Nobokov’s Lolita at­tracted the at­ten­tion of the BBC and landed on the front pages of news­pa­pers from Lon­don to Hong Kong. Alas, in Saint Lucia only one of our four news­pa­pers dared go near it.

Lest I be re­minded by all the wrong peo­ple that politi­cians are the same wher­ever you go, that is to say, cor­rupt, let me quickly ac­knowl­edge the mis­con­duct of two Amer­i­can pres­i­dents, An­drew John­son and Bill Clin­ton. The first landed in hot wa­ter when he dis­missed Sec­re­tary of War Ed­win M. Stan­ton and re­placed him with Lorenso Thomas with­out se­nate ap­proval. The other . . . well, no need to wade through the smoke of Bill Clin­ton’s multi-pur­pose ci­gar and the re­tained stains on the world’s most fa­mous LBD. (In this in­stance B stands not for black but for blue!) What is worth keep­ing in mind, how­ever, is what sep­a­rates our politi­cians from the men­tioned two US pres­i­dents who both paid for their lapses and in­fe­lic­i­ties.

The US House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives im­peached John­son in 1868, and Clin­ton in 1997 (both were saved by the se­nate). Then there was Richard Nixon who on Au­gust 9, 1974 re­signed to avoid the like­li­hood of im­peach­ment and con­vic­tion on sev­eral charges con­nected with the his­toric Water­gate break-in, for which sev­eral of the pres­i­dent’s top aides served lengthy prison terms!

Some may by now be won­der­ing: How might some of our home-grown HOGs have fared in Amer­ica fol­low­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions that left them with their pants around their an­kles and their hands stuck in some cookie’s jar? What might have been the con­se­quences of their un­cov­ered mis­deeds in the UK, where sev­eral MPs have been sen­tenced to prison terms and forced to quit of­fice for lapses not nearly as egre­gious as theirs? What would be the fate of a male Saudi of­fi­cial caught canoodling with a school­girl sans abaya? Or an Ira­nian, Chi­nese or Tai­wanese of­fi­cial found to have se­cretly en­gaged in a sus­pect ar­range­ment with, say, an Amer­i­can oil­man? We need not spec­u­late about North Korea or even Sin­ga­pore.

China’s ex-se­cu­rity chief was last June sen­tenced to life im­pris­on­ment af­ter he was con­victed of abuse of power and bribery. In 2013, Com­mu­nist Party of­fi­cial Bo Xi­lai was given a life sen­tence and barred for life from Chi­nese pol­i­tics, all of his as­sets con­fis­cated. Four years ear­lier the for­mer pres­i­dent of Tai­wan was also sen­tenced to life im­pris­on­ment for cor­rup­tion. (Some lo­cal gourmet food for thought: Re­cently Se­na­tor James Fletcher, holder of sev­eral min­is­te­rial port­fo­lios, re­vealed— on the se­nate floor, if mem­ory serves—that when he in­quired of a Tai­wanese high of­fi­cial why his coun­try had so lit­tle of­fi­cial cor­rup­tion he re­ceived the fol­low­ing re­sponse: “Be­cause we pay them well!” By which I un­der­stood the se­na­tor to say the way to elim­i­nate of­fi­cial cor­rup­tion in Saint Lucia is to hand MPs heav­ier pay pack­ets . . . but then since I tend to mis­un­der­stand se­nate-speak—ask

Ken­try Jn Pierre!—chances are Se­na­tor Fletcher’s or­a­tory flew over my head.)

The right to im­peach pub­lic of­fi­cials in Amer­ica is se­cured by the US Con­sti­tu­tion in Ar­ti­cle 1, Sec­tion 3 and in Ar­ti­cle 11, Sec­tion 4. “The Pres­i­dent, Vice Pres­i­dent, and all civil of­fi­cers of the United States shall be re­moved from of­fice on im­peach­ment for, and con­vic­tion of trea­son, bribery or other high crimes and mis­de­meanors.”

As my friend the pres­i­dent of the Saint Lucia se­nate likes to re­mind me: “It’s one thing talk­ing about what our con­sti­tu­tion says the prime min­is­ter shall or shall not do. But where are the sanc­tions for any wrong­do­ing on his part?” He has a point. Take the sec­tion of our con­sti­tu­tion that re­quires prime min­is­ters to fully in­form the gov­er­nor gen­eral of all mat­ters re­lat­ing to the con­duct of gov­ern­ment . . . What if the prime min­is­ter chooses to pre­tend Sec­tion 65 of the Con­sti­tu­tion of Saint Lucia ex­ists only in Dame Pear­lette’s mind? What if he should de­cide to take onto him­self the power given the gov­er­nor gen­eral un­der the Min­eral (Vest­ing) Act? What if . . . but then I be­lieve you get my drift by now, dear reader. Be­sides, I imag­ine you are quite ca­pa­ble of ask­ing your own what-ifs.

While some may con­ve­niently have im­bued me with tal­ents I can only wish I had, still it is true that pre­ma­ture were the death an­nounce­ments of Rochamel, Fren­well, Gryn­berg, He­len Air, He­len­ites, Chagoury, IMPACS and Juf­fali. Cov­ered up though they may be un­der tons of hypocrisy, lies and con­tempt, still they breathe. And while they breathe they will con­tinue to haunt those who had buried them alive in the name of an un­sus­pect­ing, trust­ing peo­ple des­tined one day to rise and mutiny.

In­deed, I can­not help but won­der if fear of that in­evitabil­ity had mo­ti­vated the pre­ma­ture dis­posal of Jus­tice Suzie d’Au­vergne’s soul—also re­ferred to as the peo­ple’s Pro­pos­als for Con­sti­tu­tional Re­form, the main pro­posal be­ing a healthy re­duc­tion of the prime min­is­ter’s power. And now it is be­ing an­nounced that “an of­fi­cial del­e­ga­tion has left Saint Lucia for Lon­don to dis­cuss the Juf­fali case.”

Surely, the del­e­ga­tion’s in­ter­est would have less to do with “the Juf­fali case” be­ing pur­sued by the multi-bil­lion­aire Saudi’s for­mer wife of some thir­teen years than with the im­mu­ni­ties af­forded him by his hush-hush ap­point­ment a year ago as Saint Lucia’s diplo­matic rep­re­sen­ta­tive at the In­ter­na­tional Mar­itime Or­ga­ni­za­tion—just four months be­fore their di­vorce.

Gov­er­nor Gen­eral Pear­lette Louisy (far right): Con­sid­er­ing her pub­lic state­ments last year, how much does she know about Saint Lucia’s diplo­matic rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the board of the In­ter­na­tional Mar­itime Or­ga­ni­za­tion, Walid Juf­falli (above left)? The gov­ern­ment an­nounced this week that a spe­cial (but un­named) del­e­ga­tion was in Lon­don

to hold dis­cus­sions about the Juf­fali case. Did the del­e­ga­tion in­clude a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the ex­ter­nal af­fairs min­istry?

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