This Government’s pledge to act against persons and entities found to have misused or misspent Saint Lucian taxpayers’ money has bred a mixture of optimism and pessimism.
Expectations are generally high that the government will succeed where others have failed. But while expectations are sky-high, most supporters of the United Workers Party (UWP) continue to echo their leadership’s loud and persistent denials that there was no mishandling of the nation’s finances.
None see anything wrong with the billion-dollar foreign debt and a near-empty Treasury inherited by this administration, or the hundreds of millions unaccounted for across various departments and projects over the last five years.
The list of bad governance appears endless: over $900,000 paid for an invisible report that led to the closure of the near-complete St Jude Hospital in 2016; the chaotic financing involving millions in project finances for both the St. Jude and HIA projects; the $7.3 million vaccine scandal; the numerous other porous deals through Direct Purchase (non-bidding); awards that cost the Treasury untold millions, without the nation earning a cent; the millions borrowed in the name of COVID, but never spent for that purpose; the use of taxpayers’ money to fund exploratory foreign private investment start-up entities staffed by locals; the pre-election deals ranging from purchasing outdated printing equipment, to long-term leases aimed at tying the hands of the next government after elections.
Persons of Concern
Never mind the prime minister’s insistence on not going the route of being Judge, Jury and Executioner in pursuit of uncovering corruption regarding the handling of public funds, members of the public have their own virtual lists of veritable Persons of Concern.
Former Economic Development Minister Guy Joseph ranks high on the government supporters’ list, with his numerous roles as Minister with Responsibility for virtually all governments projects involving external funding.
Having figured prominently in the controversial Asphalt & Mining (A&M) financial fiasco between 2007 and 2011 and with the same connections reappearing in the current 2016-2021 investigations into the HIA project, Joseph may also have reason to wonder and ponder how long his charge list may be on a Special Prosecutor’s desk.
Ditto ex-Education Minister Dr. Gale Rigobert, who had difficulties explaining how her government salary enabled her to purchase multi- million-dollar, up-market Cap Estate properties.
Labour supporters are Gung Ho and gunning “for those who stole the people’s money to take a jail”, but even among them there are pessimists who cautiously prefer to wait-and-see.
Many witnessed how similar efforts by the previous (2011-2016) Kenny D. Anthony administration never came to fruition, only to be thrown-out by the succeeding administration – led by some of the very persons accused.
When the UWP returned to office in 2016, they withdrew the cases against the new Prime Minister and other fellow Cabinet ministers named and shamed in the contents of a Forensic Audit.
And then there were the explosive findings uncovered in the 2013 Review of Financial Operations of Town, Village and Rural Councils that looked at allegations and found breaches of financial norms in the councils in Anse La Raye and Canaries, Babonneau, Choiseul, Dennery North and South, Gros Islet, Laborie, Micoud North and South, Soufriere and Vieux Fort North and South.
The cautious pessimists also point to the Anthony administration’s experiences with the IMPACS Report, when a regional crime detecting agency, after thorough investigation, accused the Royal St. Lucia Police Force (RSLPF) of participating in extra-judicial killings.
Overtime in Overdrive
The UWP’s propaganda machine has indeed been working overtime to present current Housing Minister Richard Frederick as not worthy of ministerial office and has gone into permanent overdrive to predict the prime minister will somehow regret including him in the ‘inclusive Cabinet’. Same with King, who, like Frederick, benefitted from controversial political funding by Taiwan between 2007 and 2011.
PM Pierre, who’s never been accused of corruption in his decades-long political career, is seen by supporters and even some opponents as a model politician in the handling of the nation’s public finances.
He has held virtually every top government ministry associated with finance and commerce, banking and investment – and never once been accused of playing with taxpayers’ money.
He was Deputy SLP Leader and Deputy Prime Minister when the last Forensic Audit was held (in 2013) and his management and accounting skills have helped Pierre better understand that in fighting corruption the race is not for the swift, but the meticulous and relevant evidence gathering that can stick in time for prosecution, before political climate change allows the sun to set on the process.
The wheels of justice always turn slowly, and the skeptics insist that’s always too slowly for timely results.
The current administration is out to straddle the thin line between persecution and prosecution and the prime minister seems sure — in his mind at least — that his administration’s efforts will not fall victim to the process that resulted in the alleged perpetrators retaking control of the reins of government quicker than the judicial process was able to deliver justice.
A Permanent Body?
Appointment of a Special Prosecutor is okay, but given that corruption is a permanent factor, many supporters of both major parties feel it’s necessary that this administration consider making it a permanent position by creating a full-time office – and with teeth to bite crime where it hurts.
Unlike the virtually toothless Integrity Commission and Parliamentary Commissioner, any proposed new entity, like the related law governing the Medical and Dental Council, should follow existing examples in most major capitals and be given the legal power and judicial backing to act regardless of who the guilty party is, or which party is in office. But there’s no indication government is looking in that direction – at least not yet! (ends)