Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit
By Caribbean News Now contributor
ROSEAU, Dominica -- Some six years ago, on December 4, 2009, Brent Hardt, then chargé d'affaires at the US Embassy in Barbados, reported in a cable published by Wikileaks
that Dominica’s economic citizenship program, as well as the sale of diplomatic passports and ambassadorial rank, have all occurred in a less than transparent manner, with allegations that some of the money charged for these programs makes its way to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.
“As the economy flits among uncoordinated infrastructure projects of dubious benefit, multiple corruption cases have received increasing media coverage. In every case, there are allegations that Skerrit has abused his privileges and is benefiting financially from his position,” Hardt wrote.
According to Hardt, at the time, the most prominent focus of corruption charges is Skerrit's personal residence, whose construction costs appear to be far in excess of his official assets.
In addition, allegations of no bid contracts awarded to the brother of minister of trade Collin McIntyre for garbage bins and fertilizer had caused a stir, as the prices charged were multiples above the normal cost.
“Adding to the rumours are recent claims that Skerrit is the owner of a multi-million US dollar villa complex that houses Ross University (an American Medical School) faculty – a property he could not possibly afford to purchase on his public sector salary and limited declared assets,” Hardt continued.
He noted that Skerrit's reaction to the most recent allegation had been to turn to Tony Astaphan, his personal lawyer, to answer questions from opposition and the press.
He continued that, according to opposition contacts, Skerrit uses official travel and sick days to avoid answering questions in Parliament about these cases. Skerrit also attempted to use legal means to clamp down on inquiries into these alleged abuses, suing the Times newspaper for slander based on its article "Million dollar assets, $5,000 (US$2,000) salary".
“In filing the case, Skerrit looks to be taking a page form the political playbook of his regional mentor, St Vincent PM Ralph Gonsalves, who routinely sues any entity that publicly criticizes or questions his policies or activities,” Hardt noted.
Almost two years later, on August 12, 2011, former government press secretary, Sean Douglas, broke a one-year silence following his termination by the Skerrit administration, exposing what he described as a culture of nepotism and a flagrant disregard for the values of honesty and integrity in the governance of Dominica.
Douglas, a nephew of the late Rosie Douglas, former prime minister of Dominica, said that the country’s institutions had become ineffective under the Skerrit regime, with Skerrit creating a personality cult as the supreme leader and prime minister.
“My refusal to be an apologist for the actions of unscrupulous politicians was the underlying reason for my ‘sacking’. Even as I tried to focus the public mind on the good work of the government in many areas, I just could not, in conscience, defend the many blatant contradictions and lies. The government wanted a party political propagandist to defend corruption rather than a press secretary to disseminate information on government policies,” Douglas said.
He noted that it was farcical that the Dominica Labour Party (DLP), which was swept into power in 2000 on a moral crusade to slay corruption in government, is now itself mired in sleaze, adding that the Skerrit administration has unscrupulously, clandestinely and corruptly, been enriching itself at the expense of Dominica’s overwhelmingly poor majority.
“There have been reports of immense meddling by this administration in the bidding processes for public sector contracts. The garbage bin scandal, the fertiliser transaction and Roosevelt Skerrit’s alleged ownership of the villas have left an indelible stain on the reputation of this regime,” Douglas said.
He also pointed out that the DLP has never satisfactorily responded to claims that the sum of US$400,000 that was channelled through that organisation was payment for a diplomatic passport issued to Cayman Islands resident Susan Olde in 2004.
According to commentator Clint Lowe, hard evidence supporting these claims has yet to be found but neither have the claims been challenged by Skerrit, with an attempt to bring it up in parliament being blocked.
“Speculation is that this money, after having been transferred through multiple bank accounts at just as many financial institutions, in an apparent effort to mask its purpose and origin, ended up at a non-profit company called ‘Citizens for a Better Dominica’, which allegedly listed Mr Skerrit as a signatory. When word of the backdoor dealings broke, it is said that Mr Skerrit's name was removed,” Lowe wrote recently
In what he described as the latest embodiment of Skerrit’s passport selling business, former Nigerian petroleum resources minister Diezani Alison-Madueke, suspected of misappropriating billions of dollars and found to have stashed away hundreds of millions of dollars in her home, turned up with a Dominica diplomatic passport and an official government of Dominica job appointment.
Skerrit quickly issued a statement attempting to disassociate himself, saying that he had met Alison-Madueke on a "stop-over" in London in early May 2015, and that he had a due diligence investigation done on her.
“But what Mr Skerrit fails to realize is that his attempt at escape from this debacle is deeply flawed; Ms Alison-Madueke was issued her diplomatic passport by the third week in the same month that he supposedly first met her, so exactly what kind of due diligence was done in such a short period of time? Furthermore, a basic internet search would have revealed a vast amount of incriminating data on Ms Alison-Madueke, information that should have rendered her persona non grata within the ranks of Dominica's diplomatic corps,” Lowe pointed out.
The matter of diplomatic passports being issued in questionable circumstances by small Caribbean countries famously arose two years ago when an Iranian bearing a St Kitts and Nevis diplomatic passport tried to enter Canada, claiming he was there to see the Canadian prime minister, in breach of all protocols relating to the visit of foreign officials entering a country on official business. He had no appointment; he was an unknown; he could not state the nature of his diplomatic engagements.
When questioned, Alizeera Moghadhan, told Canadian officials that he paid $1 million for his diplomatic passport.
The government of St Kitts and Nevis later acknowledged issuing a diplomatic passport to Moghadhan, purportedly as a special envoy to Azerbaijan and Turkey with the mandate “to explore areas of interest to the Federation.”
Some years earlier, in 2004, Reuben Morgan, a relative by marriage of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) attorney general Judith Jones-Morgan, was arrested in London travelling on an SVG diplomatic passport but also carrying a kilo of cocaine in his luggage.
Morgan apparently had no official ties to the country's foreign affairs department or diplomatic missions overseas and Morgan never had any diplomatic standing.
The misuse of diplomatic passports was referred to in a February 3, 2006, cable sent by Mary Kramer (then US ambassador to Barbados and the Caribbean), in which she suggested that influence may be purchased to further legitimate business concerns, but in the case of "the bearers of passports to which they are not entitled", such influence could be used for more nefarious purposes.