SHOULD ONCE RE­SPECTED PAR­LIA­MENT BE RE­NAMED HOUSE OF WITH­DRAWALS?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kayra Wil­liams

It started as usual with a prayer, words thickly coated with hope and ref­er­ences to Scrip­ture, not to say pledges to lay aside per­sonal in­ter­ests and prej­u­dices, if only for the du­ra­tion of the day's House sit­ting. Need­less to say nor­malcy re­turned as soon as the prayer had been de­liv­ered. From talk of OJO Labs, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence (de­fined by the Cas­tries East MP as “mind bend­ing”) to bi­b­li­cal al­lu­sions - “40 days and 40 nights”. Nat­u­rally there were the usual serv­ings of mayp­wis and pi­cong (read in­sults!) that con­tin­ued un­til close to the mid­night hour. Of course the House Op­po­si­tion left early to say from the steps of the Cas­tries mar­ket, be­fore a friend­lier au­di­ence, what they might've said in par­lia­ment if only for the pur­poses of Hansard!

Ac­tu­ally, the par­tic­u­lar House ses­sion was a carry over from that ad­journed sixty (not forty) days ear­lier, in con­se­quence of child­ish games over which MP should speak when. Af­ter the bills (public fi­nance man­age­ment; ac­cred­i­ta­tion au­thor­ity for medicine and other health pro­fes­sions, not to men­tion more mil­lions to be bor­rowed) were pre­sented, Op­po­si­tion Leader Phillip J Pierre grabbed the floor to in­sist the stated amounts to be bor­rowed were sim­ply “not enough” to fi­nance this year's bud­get - a sit­u­a­tion that left the MP won­der­ing what might be se­cretly afoot. Over and over Pierre pre­dicted the prime min­is­ter would be left with no other op­tion but to re­turn to the House for ap­proval to bor­row more dol­lars, as if it had not long been es­tab­lished that the main pur­pose of lo­cal House sit­tings was to seek ap­proval for more loans.

“If he [the PM and min­is­ter for fi­nance] is ask­ing for $103 mil­lion dol­lars,” said the Cas­tries East MP, “where will he get the money to con­tinue fi­nanc­ing the other projects of the gov­ern­ment? The money he's ask­ing for doesn't even cover the over­all deficit that he has . . . where will he raise the re­main­der of the money? He has to re­turn to the House.”

The now you see him, now you don't MP for Vieux Fort South, Kenny An­thony, ques­tioned what he deemed an “un­usu­ally crafted res­o­lu­tion that may or may not be le­gal”. The three-term for­mer prime min­is­ter also won­dered aloud why Saint Lu­cia was at­tract­ing high in­ter­est rates, and how long the sit­u­a­tion was ex­pected to per­sist. He an­swered his own ques­tion.

“The fact of the mat­ter is Saint Lu­cia is at­tract­ing the high­est rate of in­ter­est for its in­stru­ments of the RGSM,” he said. “There is both a pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive side to this. At first glance an in­vestor, in­clud­ing an or­di­nary Saint Lu­cian, would want to buy the in­stru­ments of the gov­ern­ment of Saint Lu­cia; your trea­sury bills, be­cause it's of­fer­ing an in­ter­est rate of six per­cent. Af­ter all, banks are not of­fer­ing those in­ter­est rates. They might as well in­vest in gov­ern­ment se­cu­ri­ties. That's a short-term ben­e­fit. The longterm is­sue, and the un­der­ly­ing struc­tural is­sue, is that your in­stru­ments are at­tract­ing high rates of in­ter­est be­cause your econ­omy is un­der stress.” Eureka!

As if Tues­day's House sit­ting were a Facebook ex­change, the dis­course soon turned from the coun­try's fi­nances to Juf­fali, Rochamel and Gryn­berg, which the MP and for­mer sports min­is­ter con­temp­tu­ously dis­missed as

passé, al­beit un­re­solved. What MP Shawn Ed­ward con­sid­ered

au courant was the con­tentious so-called “min­is­ter's ac­count” that had been set up, by all that was said on Tues­day, by the Na­tional Lot­ter­ies Au­thor­ity. This is­sue was a left-over from the ear­lier cited ad­journed ses­sion. This was how Do­minic Fedee, the MP for Anse la RayeCa­naries rein­tro­duced it on Tues­day:

“I was sur­prised to hear peo­ple ask­ing the prime min­is­ter to dis­close frankly how he's go­ing to fi­nance the rest of the bud­get. I mean, frank and full dis­clo­sure? I don't think any of you [on the op­po­si­tion side] is en­ti­tled to speak about frank and full dis­clo­sure.”

Shift­ing to face the Vieux Fort South MP, Kenny An­thony, two chairs away, Fedee said: “Hon­ourable mem­ber, your si­lence on Juf­fali is deaf­en­ing. And you want to talk about frank and full dis­clo­sure? The House is still wait­ing to hear an ex­pla­na­tion for Gryn­berg. You want to talk about trans­parency? You want to talk about ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency? Then let us talk about what led you to con­done a min­is­ter in your gov­ern­ment that had an ac­count in his name, an ac­count re­ferred to as 'the min­is­ter's ac­count'.”

Shawn Ed­ward, the Den­nery North MP, sprang from his chair on a point of or­der. House Speaker Leonne John at­tempted a cor­rec­tion: “Not an ac­count in the min­is­ter's name, but an ac­count called 'the min­is­ter's ac­count'; that is some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent!”

Nev­er­the­less the Anse la Raye-Ca­naries MP con­sid­ered the so-called min­is­ter's ac­count “a gross vi­o­la­tion of good gov­er­nance.” The Den­nery North MP fired sev­eral scat­ter shots in re­tal­i­a­tion. He de­scribed Fedee as a source of amusement, some­one short on cred­i­bil­ity, “some­one you have to think twice about whether to take him se­ri­ously”.

Ed­ward's next tar­get was the MP for Cas­tries South­east, Guy Joseph. He said the MP, as his “or­ga­ni­za­tion's po­lit­i­cal hit man” had been spe­cially as­signed to throw dirt on his rep­u­ta­tion. When Guy Joseph rose on a point of elu­ci­da­tion, Ed­ward took refuge be­hind the House rules that per­mit­ted him the choice to ig­nore the par­tic­u­lar in­ter­rup­tion. He said he would not yield and a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally calm Joseph backed off.

But then the MP for Gros Islet, Le­nard Montoute, who now holds the sports port­fo­lio ear­lier con­trolled by Shawn Ed­ward, stood up on a point of or­der that de­manded more re­spect than had been shown Guy Joseph. He ap­pealed to the Speaker via the House rules to or­der the Den­nery MP to with­draw his of­fen­sive de­scrip­tion of a House mem­ber as “a po­lit­i­cal hit­man”. To that Ed­ward ac­qui­esced. He with­drew, from the record, at any rate, his of­fen­sive re­mark. Of course, with the ses­sion be­ing broad­cast live to the world via the In­ter­net, how could the dam­age be un­done?

Ed­ward con­tin­ued: “Madam Speaker, the ac­count was set up by his [Le­nard Montoute's] own ad­mis­sion when the gov­ern­ment of the United Work­ers Party was in­un­dated with re­quests from young peo­ple to at­tend univer­sity and to fur­ther their ed­u­ca­tion. The amount al­lo­cated by the min­istry of public ser­vice

was grossly in­suf­fi­cient, which prompted the min­is­ter [Montoute], who had re­spon­si­bil­ity for two min­istries: public ser­vice and hu­man devel­op­ment, and so­cial trans­for­ma­tion, youth and sports.”

Ed­ward ref­er­enced a let­ter to the Chair­man of the Na­tional Lot­ter­ies Au­thor­ity sent by Le­nard Montoute, when he was ini­tially min­is­ter of sports, and then stated: “Now I can un­der­stand if you’re tak­ing money from NLA to fund a pro­gramme that is aligned with the min­istry of youth devel­op­ment and sports, then yes, that is okay. But the Na­tional Lot­ter­ies Au­thor­ity was be­ing asked to trans­fer that money to fi­nance pro­grammes of the public ser­vice min­istry.”

Be­fore Ed­ward had a chance to read from a doc­u­ment he had been wav­ing as he spoke, Montoute rose on the stated au­thor­ity of Stand­ing Or­der 35.5. “The mem­ber for Den­nery North is im­put­ing im­proper mo­tives and is mis­lead­ing the House,” he said. “I, as the min­is­ter for public ser­vice, at no time asked the chair­man of the Lot­ter­ies Board to al­lo­cate fi­nances for the pur­pose of award­ing schol­ar­ships. Nei­ther have I at any time in­di­cated we had a prob­lem meet­ing schol­ar­ships. I never asked the Board at any time to award schol­ar­ships to any­one. I’ve never said so; I’ve never done so.”

The Den­nery North rep­re­sen­ta­tive pro­ceeded to read from a let­ter dated Novem­ber 2, 2011 that seemed to sub­stan­ti­ate his claim.

Montoute at­tempted to pro­vide clar­ity: “Madam Speaker, this mat­ter has to be brought to rest once and for all. If not, I rather sus­pect it will be a re­cur­ring sub­ject. I do not know how suc­cess­ful I will be in at­tempt­ing to bring the mat­ter to rest.”

Not­ing that ref­er­ence had on sev­eral oc­ca­sions been made to a “min­is­ter’s ac­count”, Montoute called out the Den­nery North rep­re­sen­ta­tive who ear­lier had as­sured the House there was no min­is­ter’s ac­count, then had gone on to “as­cribe blame to some­one else for open­ing a min­is­ter’s ac­count”.

Read­ing from the min­utes of a Lottery Board of Di­rec­tors meet­ing on Thurs­day, July 23, 2009, dur­ing which time Montoute was min­is­ter for youth and sports, with re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Na­tional Lot­ter­ies Au­thor­ity, he let it be known that he fully un­der­stood the pro­vi­sions of the Act of the Lot­ter­ies.

“I rec­og­nize as min­is­ter that though I was in a po­si­tion to give pol­icy di­rec­tion, I did not have the au­thor­ity to in­ter­fere di­rectly with the day to day run­ning of the board. That is in­ap­pro­pri­ate, and I think that’s the ob­ser­va­tion I made that sparked off this de­bate.”

Read­ing from the let­ter from 2009, in which one of the board’s di­rec­tors “ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment on be­half of the depart­ment of youth and sports at the NLA’s in­abil­ity to con­trib­ute to air­fares associated with par­tic­i­pants in the Wind­ward Is­lands Cham­pi­onship,” Montoute de­tailed how an ac­count had been opened at the Bank of Saint Lu­cia, an idea pro­posed by the board’s chair­man. The ac­count had re­port­edly been “set up and de­signed for the sole pur­pose” of par­tic­u­lar events.

Mov­ing on to an­other doc­u­ment, this time dated 29 May, 2012, that Montoute read into the House record: “Sir, in an ef­fort to cre­ate a more eq­ui­table dis­tri­bu­tion of funds to the var­i­ous stake­hold­ers, the fol­low­ing mode of op­er­a­tions shall come into im­me­di­ate ef­fect as it per­tains to the al­lo­ca­tion of funds at the Na­tional Lot­ter­ies Au­thor­ity. The fol­low­ing for­mula should be ap­plied with re­gard to the al­lo­ca­tion of funds.”

“Th­ese are di­rec­tives com­ing from the min­is­ter [Shawn Ed­ward],” Montoute said, then con­tin­ued read­ing. The let­ter de­tailed the pro­por­tions of grants and con­tri­bu­tions that would ben­e­fit youth and sports or­ga­ni­za­tions. Al­though fa­cil­i­ties, na­tional play­ers and spe­cial events would also ben­e­fit from the re­serve fund, Montoute said, this was “still within the scope of the Na­tional Lot­ter­ies”. He came to the ar­range­ment set up to fi­nance the “min­ster’s re­quests and sup­port ser­vices".

“Don’t ask me what that means,” Montoute said. “I chal­lenge any­one to point out to me in the Na­tional Lot­ter­ies Act, the doc­u­ment that gov­erns how the NLA op­er­ates, where this can be jus­ti­fied.”

As de­tailed by Montoute cit­ing the doc­u­ment, the then youth and sports min­is­ter Ed­ward had in­di­cated a need to “as­sist var­i­ous fi­nan­cial re­quests, some­times in­stan­ta­neously".

“He in­di­cated in his let­ter to the NLA board that he could not de­pend solely on the agreed al­lo­ca­tion to the fund, and pro­posed a min­i­mum of $200,000 be placed in the min­is­ter’s ac­count. If you hear any men­tion of a min­ster’s ac­count,” Montoute told the House, “I am not the one say­ing it. The Board of the NLA is it­self mak­ing the ref­er­ence.”

Ad­di­tion­ally: “This would not only fa­cil­i­tate the fund­ing of sud­den re­quests, but also as­sist any other min­istry that may come to him [the min­is­ter] for as­sis­tance. Again I make ref­er­ence to the NLA Act. That is highly in­ap­pro­pri­ate and con­trary to good gov­er­nance.”

As he read the NLA min­utes and other cor­re­spon­dence, Montoute painted a pic­ture of what he de­scribed as “im­pro­pri­ety of the high­est or­der". Mean­while a silent Shawn Ed­ward had been rock­ing back and forth in his chair. Sud­denly he was on his feet again to com­plain to the Speaker about Moutoute’s use of the word “im­pro­pri­ety” with ref­er­ence to the Den­nery MP. Fol­low­ing sev­eral min­utes of kinder­garten-like back and forth, Montoute said: “I did not im­pute im­proper mo­tives; I es­tab­lished im­proper mo­tives.” At the be­hest of the Speaker, how­ever, he fi­nally with­drew the of­fen­sive word. For her part the House Speaker let it be known that House de­bates had de­gen­er­ated to the point that she soon would be at a loss what to do about the rit­ual name call­ing and un­sub­stan­ti­ated ac­cu­sa­tions (ev­ery word of which was trans­mit­ted live and in colour world-wide!)

While at least one mem­ber of the House sug­gested an in­quiry into the mat­ter - in his turn the prime min­is­ter seemed to sug­gest the NLA had some ques­tions to an­swer - Montoute of­fered the as­sur­ance that his gov­ern­ment was “more than ready to get on with the busi­ness of the peo­ple, more than ready to ex­e­cute its plans and poli­cies” now that its bud­get had fi­nally been adopted by the House.

As ear­lier stated, the Op­po­si­tion was in the mean­time busy on the steps of the Cas­tries mar­ket!

At Tues­day’s House meet­ing Kenny An­thony claimed he was nei­ther up nor down on the ques­tion whether or not doc­u­ments pre­sented by Prime Min­is­ter Allen Chas­tanet were le­gal. Later he sug­gested a law that would per­mit pros­e­cu­tions for prom­ises to the elec­torate not kept. Doubt­less he had jobs-jobs-jobs in mind!

For­mer Sports Min­is­ter Shawn Ed­ward apol­o­gized for re­fer­ring to Cas­tries South­east MP Guy Joseph as his or­ga­ni­za­tion’s “po­lit­i­cal hit­man”. He said, too, that Joseph was only in­ter­ested in things passé, such as Gryn­berg and Rochamel!

Gros Islet MP Le­nard Montoute stuck like an embed­ded thorn in the side of his min­is­te­rial pre­de­ces­sor. He in­sisted through­out a heated give and take that there were sev­eral unan­swered ques­tions con­cern­ing the es­tab­lish­ment by the NLA board of a so-called “min­is­ter’s ac­count”.

On Tues­day House Speaker Leonne John seemed at her wits’ end what to do about the in­ces­sant mud­sling­ing that for some time now has been the or­der of the day. At this week’s ses­sion she said she was at a loss what to do about the es­ca­lat­ing prob­lem.

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