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Castries South MP Dr. Ernest Hilaire has said he will not be distracted by Prime Minister Allen Chastanet’s announcement that an investigation is ongoing into his tenure as Saint Lucia’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom (UK).
“Well let me say to the prime minister, that he has just started to announce investigations. In fact, he should be prepared to have a thousand million investigations in me, because I will ask him a thousand million hard questions. I will not let up,” Dr. Hilaire said at a press conference on Wednesday, March 28, 2018.
Chastanet put the Opposition member on notice during his rebuttal to the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure debate on March 22, 2018, that an investigation is underway into Dr. Hilaire’s ties with the late Saudi billionaire, Dr. Walid Juffali, who was appointed St. Lucia’s permanent representative to the International Maritime Organisation in April 2014 when he was High Commissioner to the UK.
Dr. Juffali’s post with Saint Lucia became controversial during a bitter divorce battle in which the UK Court of Appeal overturned the High Court’s dismissal of his legal immunity, but ruled that his immunity was not relevant to the divorce claim, which it allowed to proceed.
The issue was used against Dr. Hilaire and his Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) during the 2016 General Elections.
The prime minister has suggested that the Saudi businessman was given the appointment in order to get him immunity.
“The member from Castries South also said in an interview that he had with Timothy Poleon …. He said that Dr. Juffali needed the immunity because he was not living in the UK. But what’s interesting is when the courts finally ruled, the courts finally ruled that the immunity did not apply to him because he had homes and was a resident of the UK for years. So you see there’s a conflict. So we know that Dr. Juffali was appointed in order to get him immunity,” Chastanet had said in parliament.
However, speaking at Wednesday’s press conference, Dr. Hilaire said Chastanet is trying to destroy him because he is one of the “biggest” critics of the prime minister and his administration.
He said: “The prime minister has to do everything he can to discredit me. Everything he can. It is an attempt to discredit me, it is an attempt to embarrass me. It is an attempt to shut me out. Why? Maybe because my mouth is the biggest and I criticise the most and I ask the most questions. So the Prime Minister has to find a way to go after me to destroy me. I am convinced at that. When I spoke in parliament, budget last year, I said, I know I am a marked man. I said I know I am a marked man, and I know over the next few months, there are so many questions I will have to ask this government that they will do every and anything they can to come after me.”
Dr. Hilaire went on to say that the announcement of investigations against him and other colleagues are meant to distract the public from the real issues in the prime minister’s Cabinet.
He said: “There are persons in his Cabinet that he has to address whether or not they are being investigated for true, because he announced to St. Lucians that he was going to set up an investigation to find out if one of his ministers is being investigated. We are still waiting for the results of that investigation. He had a minister who was fired, and up to today the prime minister has never addressed the nation as the prime minister to explain why a government minister had to be fired. When you fire a government minister, it is a serious act, and there were a lot of speculations as to why that minister was fired. The prime minister was out and the acting prime minister made a statement. He came back as prime minister and up to today, has never told us the true story behind the firing of that minister. One day it will come out. And, he has another minister who was involved in a matter that is now before the courts. And of course, you have to ask the question, if you have a Cabinet with at least three ministers with question marks about them, what do you do now, you try to flip the switch.”
During the 2016 elections, Dr. Hilaire sued Chastanet for defamation for certain comments. The matter is still in court after several adjournments, but Dr. Hilaire has denied reports by Chastanet that the adjournments were at the MP’s request.
“The matter has never been adjoined at my request. I have been to court and the prime minister has not been there, never been there, never been there, and I have been there. But I will leave that to my lawyer at the right time to address and to know where the boundaries are, what can be said. All that I am telling you is that I am waiting for my day in court and I am certainly sure that my lawyers are waiting for the prime minister to sit on that witness stand, and I want to encourage him to keep talking about the Juffali matter. Keep talking about it,” Dr. Hilaire said.
In a March 28, 2018 press release, SLP Party Leader Philip J. Pierre expressed confidence in two members of parliament – Dr. Hilaire and Shawn Edward – who are said to be under investigation by the prime minister.
Pierre states: “As Leader of the Party, I have full confidence in Dr Hilaire. I have full confidence in his work as Parliamentary Representative for Castries South, his work as High Commissioner to Saint Lucia in London and I believe what’s happening is a political witch hunt which is not new to him. In fact the Honourable member for Dennery North is under investigation into the so called Minister’s account. I’ve spoken to both of my colleagues and I have full confidence in them and I believe it’s a political witch hunt and at some point the truth will come to the forefront.”
The prime minister also announced at the March 22 sitting that probes are under way into the incomplete St. Jude Hospital project and the ‘Minister’s Account.
He said: “So I certainly want to say that there are some investigations that are ongoing: one is in the St. Jude’s. We also have an ongoing investigation, Mr Speaker, into the ‘Minister’s Account’ in terms of what took place there. And we also have an investigation taking place into the Juffali matter. So, hopefully, those pieces of information will come out and we will see where that goes.”
Government officials said last year that the new St. Jude Hospital had already sucked up $118 million and is just 50 percent complete, following an audit of the project. Windowless and poorly ventilated recovery rooms, small A&E (accident and emergency) entrances, a maze of dark swirly corridors, bumpy ramps and low-lying ceilings were some of the sights that greeted journalists on a walk-through of the St. Jude Hospital construction site in September 2017.
St. Jude Hospital patients and services have been housed at George Odlum stadium since 2009 after a fire destroyed the main hospital structure. Staff and patients face difficult conditions at a facility that itself is falling apart.
The so-called ‘Minister’s Account saga involves former youth and sports minister and Dennery North MP, Shawn Edward, who has been criticised and questioned by government officials for his alleged mishandling of funds disbursement for sports development from the National Lotteries Authority. Edward has denied any wrongdoing, claiming he is the victim of a political witch hunt.