Friday, December 13, 2019

The King is dead, long live the King

What should have been the serious business of the Saint Lucia House of Assembly on August 16, 2016, descended into farce as former prime minister Stephenson King tried valiantly but in vain to guide his successor Allen Chastanet, who looked more like a blundering French-born dauphin than the new king of Saint Lucia.

Chastanet’s defiance of the constitutionally mandated parliamentary structure by his refusal to nominate a deputy speaker simply extends the comedy of errors since the new United Workers Party (UWP) government took office in June.

Of course, according to postings on social media, we must “be patient, give the government a chance” or “people just don’t understand that after a government is installed our responsibility is to pray for our leaders”.

These laughable and ludicrous assertions would apparently have us wait for a miracle to tackle the serious economic challenges and the current crisis of governance in the country that nevertheless prompts apologists to comment, “Give the man a chance son,” and “You have done immense damage to the iota of credibility you had left, Alphonse! Go figure!”

Absolutely, there is a need to “go figure” the naivety of Chastanet’s report on a three-country trip over the course of eight days to London, Paris and Morocco, followed by his standup comedy of procedural errors in parliament on his return, inconveniently broadcast to the world.

As reported earlier, “Pursuant to the constitution of Saint Lucia, the office of deputy speaker has now automatically been vacated because the office holder, Flood Beaubrun, has become a member of the Cabinet. 

“However, again pursuant to the constitution, her replacement may only be an elected member of parliament and, since all elected members of the governing United Workers Party (UWP) already have ministerial posts, one of the existing elected ministers will have to be reshuffled in order for him or her to qualify for the post of deputy speaker.

“The alternative might have been for an opposition St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) elected member of parliament to agree to stand for election as deputy speaker but, according to leader of the opposition, Philip J Pierre, that is not going to happen. The SLP is not interested in the post of deputy speaker.” 

The defiance by Chastanet against speaker Leonne Theodore-John’s three requests to call on parliament to appoint a deputy speaker is witness to an unprecedented level of cynicism, and political posturing that can only serve to degrade and trivialise the House of Assembly.

It seems pretty insulting to make a mockery of the constitution, relying on the interpretation that it is not “convenient” to elect a deputy speaker at this time, thus creating a self inflicted mess that has gone beyond ridiculous. 
Regardless of how long this saga drags on, Chastanet will have to give up one minister as a sacrificial lamb, in spite of philosophy and his erroneous interpretation of the constitution of Saint Lucia. 

Not only is this very distasteful and hardly beneficial for the international image of Saint Lucia, this is a threat to democracy and the future of the country.

Tuesday’s sitting of parliament leaves open the possibility of litigation as to whether parliament was properly constituted and, consequently, the legality of bills tabled and “passed”, in order to facilitate EC$55 million to replenish the government’s overdraft; US$29 million for re-issuing financial instruments, and US$13 million and EC$80 million respectively, for refinancing the existing debts.

In this cycle of refinancing, government has yet to deal with serious debt and balance-of-payments issues and the need for debt consolidation, against the backdrop of an election promise for the reduction and ultimate removal of VAT. Also, it would be edifying for government to publish the unemployment statistics. But, as the ayes have it, it’s not “convenient” at this time.

These pose many risks of rising debt, which prompts the mad rush for new investments, but not without concerns from the United States and the European Union in relation to lending and security issues. 

Notwithstanding the tolerance of speaker Theodore-John, Chastanet remained severely challenged in open view of the cameras in numerous attempts to present bills to the House.

Seated next to him was the former King (Stephenson), who tried repeatedly to provide step by step guidance via an open microphone. But the relentless errors, body language and incompetence were embarrassing to watch.

The question is, if Chastanet is so challenged simply to read and follow parliamentary procedures, and present bills prepared for him in advance, with plenty of time to practice, how can Saint Lucians trust his understanding and interpretation on his current trip to Asia, surrounded by Chinese influence, “to confirm or dispel first hand, some speculation surrounding the company’s (Desert Star Holdings Limited) track record” in relation to the purported US$2.6 billion development project recently signed by the government?

This ought to be a significant worry in relation to Chastanet’s thin covering of respectability, which apparently needs adult supervision.

The people of Saint Lucia deserve better.


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