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COMMENTARY – In the same way that many British voters are regretting their support of Brexit in the recent UK referendum, many Saint Lucians are showing signs of buyer’s remorse following last month’s election of new prime minister Allen Chastanet on substantive matters that impact sovereignty, integrity in public life, security and the rule of law.
First, the rollout of the cabinet of ill-defined intentions, which was said to be intended as a relief from the past on what government ought to be and what the government’s strategic vision is, actually seems to be lost in theory than in practice, similar to the “Five to Stay Alive” and “Five to Thrive” campaign promise initiatives.
Second, on July 4 2016, the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal, in a unanimous ruling on all issues except one, reinstated a claim against Chastanet, alleging breach of trust and misfeasance in public office and sent the case back to the Supreme Court to be heard by a different judge and ordered each party to bear its own costs.
It is notable that this ruling by the court of appeal also allows the case against Ezechiel Joseph to proceed to trial. Joseph is now the minister for agriculture, fisheries, physical planning, natural resources and cooperatives.
In both instances, the funds in question were raised by the government of Saint Lucia from the government of Taiwan for specific community projects.
Chastanet’s current dilemma so far rests on his lousy performance last week in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados; his inability to reduce fuel prices and tackle numerous domestic challenges; and now has to face up to the attorney general.
Attorney general, Kim St Rose, is the claimant in the case against Chastanet, alleging breach of trust and misfeasance in public office, and is now a part of his cabinet by default, a civil servant on contract until 2018, appointed by the Judicial and Legal Service Commission.
The dilemma gets worse: What will Chastanet do legally and/or what are his options?
Attorney at law Mary Francis told the St Lucia Times this case has created an “absurdity” at the highest level and Chastanet’s press attaché, Nancy Charles, described the situation as being “a little uncomfortable”.
In all probability it comes to rest on the rule of law. And what a majority seems to recognize is that, in this case, lays an opportunity for fairness and to regain credibility, both for the judicial system to earn back the people’s trust and an image of the country’s political leadership that is less than impressive, possibly eccentric and crazy.
Therefore, it is not economically, politically and socially strategic to attempt to discontinue the legal proceedings, cancel funding, replace the attorney general, shield behind tribunals, lean on the proverbial sluggish wheels of justice or let personal ego and ambition outweigh professional ethics in relation to covert actions. These are certainly threatening to prove unhelpful.
This case is momentous and the implications for Saint Lucia loom large beyond its borders, with sweeping effects if anything outside of the ruling of the court is contrived; in addition to dealing with the misfortune of the so-called Leahy Law.
Still, it won’t be a surprise if Chastanet’s top-notch disciples of spinners, consultants and lawyers are studying how Hillary Clinton got a pass and are perhaps strategizing how the same can happen in Saint Lucia’s broken and sluggish justice system.
There is a legitimate concern with regard to double-standards in the judicial system – one system for the political elites and well-connected and another for everyone else. Rigged for those with connections, money and power, while the little people suffer on remand and can hardly get their day in court.
In fact, if Chastanet‘s administration is serious about reform of the justice system, one only has to examine who is incarcerated at the Bordelais correctional facility and the estimated 1,600-plus case backlog.
If credible leadership fails to steer the country, then the impact on sovereignty, integrity in public life, security and rule of law will render the country non-functional and people are going to be really unhappy, with no ching, ching in their pockets.
Disaster doesn’t come unless there’s something that precedes it. That’s why public confidence in the justice system and the importance of choosing leaders with good political vision and socio-economic management skills is essential to the practice of accountability, honesty and integrity in a sustainable democracy.
Clearly change is what the people voted for and change towards timely and fair justice is what the system needs for sustainable democracy to prosper.
No one should be above the law, to deceive and mislead the people with breaches of trust and misfeasance in public office and/or for that matter massive bribery and political kickback schemes that allow the political and economic elites to thrive at the expense of everyone else.
This dilemma explains why I wrote: “A new regulatory framework, far-reaching reform and oversight are vital to challenge the reigning code of silence and to derail fraud, corruption and/or misuse of public funds.”
Strategically, whatever happens next will alter the political and judicial system, the role of the attorney general in the public interest to enforce respect for the rule of law, and offer Saint Lucia’s political, economic well-being and sovereignty a chance for restoration.
Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant, a long-standing senior correspondent and a contributing columnist to Caribbean News Now. His areas of focus include political, economic and global security developments, and on the latest news and opinion. His philanthropic interests include advocating for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality. He contributes to special programming on Radio Free Iyanola, RFI 102.1FM and NewsNow Global analysis. He can be reached at: [email protected]