Castries, Saint Lucia, Saturday November 6, 2021:– It was a triumphant return this week by Dr. Ernest Hilaire to the Saint Lucia High Commission in London.
He’d left the position of High Commissioner in 2016 to contest General Elections here that year — and won.
But after the then ruling St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) having lost the poll 11-6 to the then opposition United Workers Party (UWP), Hilaire came under deep and immediate political scrutiny by the new administration.
The High Commission’s records under his watch were virtually microscopically examined and reviewed in relation to the appointment of a Saudi Arabian billionaire as the island’s Ambassador to the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
Dr. Hilaire was basically politically hounded for five years as the former UWP administration investigated every possible angle of the so-called “Jufalli Affair”.
Between 2016 and 2021, the High Commission was under the leadership of ex-Home Affairs Minister Guy Mayers, who took up the post after the 2016 election, during which campaign his role as Home Affairs Minister in the controversial alleged extrajudicial killings unveiled in the IMPACS Report came under fire.
For a substantial period, the High Commission was also graced with the presence of attorney and ex-Speaker of the House of Assembly Leone Theodore, who was also fingered as having had a key role in the ongoing investigation of Hilaire’s activities.
As the 2021 General Elections approached, the then UWP administration reportedly filed formal court charges against Dr. Hilaire in the local courts after seizing a vehicle he returned to Saint Lucia with as a personal item, but which the then government claimed was state property.
However, given the heavy politicization of the case and every indication it was timed to coincide with the then ruling party’s election campaign, it was clearly seen in legal and judicial circles as an effort to unfairly influence voters.
The case wasn’t heard before the poll and UWP leadership members have accused the judiciary of “protecting Hilaire”, while SLP supporters say it would have been “a travesty of justice” if the case was called during the elections campaign.
Dr. Hilaire again won the Castries South seat – and with a bigger margin this time – and was appointed Tourism Minister by Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre.
The former High Commissioner’s return to London this past week as Minister of Tourism, Investment, Creative Industries, Culture & Information – and as Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Leader of the SLP – was seen by many attending receptions hosted in his honour as a triumphant return by a former diplomat treated as Persona Non-Grata between 2016 and 2021.
The High Commission and the Saint Lucia Tourism Saint Lucia Tourism Authority invited Saint Lucians and other guests to a special reception in honor of “the Honourable Minister” on Monday, November 1, at the High Commission at No. 1 Cullingham Gardens in Kensington, London.
Otherwise described by invitees as “a Jounen Kweyol celebration at the High Commission”, the reception had earlier been scheduled for Saturday evening (October 30), but was later postponed to Monday.
The High Commission and the Tourism Authority also hosted another reception two nights later (on November 3), this time at Ivy’s Restaurant, also in London, where the Prime Minister and Tourism Minister met UK-based tourism and travel officials.
Prime Minister Pierre spoke highly of his Tourism Minister; and likewise, Hilaire reminded the guests that it was under Pierre’s watch as Tourism Minister (1997-2001) that “the most hotels were built in Saint Lucia.”
Meanwhile, the High Commission is still without a High Commissioner, Mayers having returned home during the elections campaign, when he was also named in UWP circles as a possible candidate against former UWP Leader and Prime Minister Stephenson King for the Castries North seat.
In Mayers’ absence, ex-Speaker Theodore has virtually been the Officer In Charge at the High Commission.
The Labour administration hasn’t named a new High Commissioner, but Saint Lucia News Online (SNO) understands an announcement will be made soon.