Castries, Saint Lucia, Thursday November 18, 2021:– After over 111 days away on post-election vacation, former Prime Minister Allen Chastanet has returned home with a rumbunctious rebound, firing on all pistons at the ruling Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) and the Labor-led administration headed by new Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre — and aiming directly at House Speaker Claudius Francis for electing not to let him collect monthly parliamentary salaries for the period of his over-100-days holiday in North America.
After electing to absent himself from three successive sessions of the new parliament, the Micoud South MP eventually made his first entry with a loud welcome from cheering supporters on Tuesday morning.
It was like a political carnival outside the parliament Tuesday morning, with UWP supporters banging pots and pans and Labor supporters beating drums, both sides displaying rival political placards – and each disregarding COVID Social Distancing and other safety protocols.
In the absence of the police barriers that had become a staple at House meetings during the previous administration, UWP supporters gathered where Laborites previously gathered in opposition, while Laborites occupied the now free-and-open Constitution Park.
Ahead of the Speaker’s entry and start of the day’s session, the Micoud South MP finally took his seat, his desk space adorned with a bouquet of yellow flowers.
Already sworn-in as Opposition Leader by former Governor-General Sir Neville Cenac, Chastanet took the MP’s Oath of Office at the outset of the meeting – and from there, things started cascading downhill for him, starting with Speaker Claudius Francis’ decision to put his parliamentary pay on hold.
The Speaker quoted parliamentary law and legal precedents to effectively say the Micoud South MP shouldn’t and wouldn’t be paid for the over-100-days he was on vacation abroad.
Chastanet offered no defense or explanation in the House, but later took Speaker Francis to task over his interpretation of the Standing Orders.
The UWP leader told the press his interpretation was that while his pay could be withheld while he had not yet taken the Oath of Office, it ought to be made available – and retroactive — after taking the oath.
Since Tuesday, the public debate — across the party lines — has been over whether Chastanet could claim pay for work not done (by way of representing his constituents in parliament as MP and District Representative), or whether the Speaker was right (or has the right) to hold-back Chastanet’s parliamentary emoluments.
The Speaker said he’d put his ruling on hold and given Chastanet two weeks to respond, but from all he’s said publicly since, it would appear that if the MP indeed responds, he may do so by electing to mount a legal challenge.
But that was not all the nation heard from the former Prime Minister, who, during his contributions in the House on Tuesday criticized the brand-new Pierre administration over everything from its First 100 Days in Office to its handling of the inherited COVID pandemic, to its management of the economy in the past three months and ongoing investigations into how taxpayers’ money was lavishly spent under his watch on the St. Jude Hospital project.
Totally disregarding the continuing disbelief and demands for answers to questions about his handling of the nation’s finances during a term that ended with the unbelievable $7.3 Million vaccine purchase scheme, which left taxpayers holding an empty bag, the former Finance Minister accused the current administration of badly-handling the scarce finances his administration bequeathed to its successors.
In separate statements at a press conference at his newly-selected Office of the Leader of the Opposition (at Hewanorra House, Pointe Seraphine), Chastanet also took the new government to task over the findings of an investigative team examining the sorry state of the still-unfinished St. Jude Hospital project that went into its 12th year of construction under his party’s five-year watch.
The investigating professionals found the structure deficient and only one-third complete, at a phenomenal cost of over $108 Million, but Mr. Chastant rubbished their findings.
Where they found that certain necessary facilities like specialized infrastructure for electricity, water, communications, oxygen and air conditioning were absent from the ground floor, Chastanet explained that the missing lines were instead located “on the top floor.”
Where the team concluded the unfinished structure was far from anywhere near the start of a new hospital, the former PM instead invited members of the public to go down to Vieux Fort and “see for themselves”.
And where Prime Minister Pierre said the costly structure wasn’t anywhere near reflecting the value of the cost paid for the first phase, Mr. Chastanet suggested it could easily be used as “a medical center.”
Chastanet also said that while he maintains respect for the House of Assembly and the election results that gave his party only two of the 15 seats in parliament, shifted his focus was his political allegiance to “the people’s parliament”.
The UWP Leader claimed that while “only 27% of eligible voters” elected the SLP’s 13 candidates and “63% voted against the Labour Party”, he was more interested in representing “the 38,000 who voted UWP.”
But most politically distasteful to many citizens was the UWP Leader’s descent into the politicization of the COVID pandemic by insensitively comparing the number of Saint Lucians’ who died from the virus over 16 months under his watch, with the number under the new Pierre administration in its first 100 days.
Chastanet’s loquacious return to parliament offered, within hours, countless signs that, rather than being ready to account for his only term in office and the serious charges of financial mismanagement under his watch (that led to the country having the highest and heaviest debt burden since Independence four decades ago), he continued to dash all hopes for continuing peace in the national political arena, as the country prepares to avoid a fifth COVID wave in the upcoming holidays.