The level of contempt at which the current Unity Labour Party administration holds for the Vincentian population knows no boundaries. It is absolutely shocking how low this administration is capable of taking itself as it navigates its way through the cesspool of corruption that surrounds it, and how it attempts to justify itself amidst the shady handling of the nation’s business. I write in response to the article that was published on the Caribbean News Now website on June 3 captioned “Scaremongering and falsehoods by ‘internet crazies’, says St. Vincent government
In respect of the press secretary’s remarks, i will begin by reflecting on the role of a press secretary to a government. In a civilized political environment, a press secretary is a public relations specialist whose job is to build relationships with the public and the media. Among the knowledge and skills required of a press secretary are the mastery of media production and information dissemination, mastery of the English language - including excellent writing, editing and speaking abilities - and mature judgement. Hence, your reference to Vincentians who engage in political discussions on the internet as ‘internet crazies’ falls significantly below the expected standards of professionalism in your field of work.
This attempt at discrediting public discourse and opinion that the latest amendments to the Passport Amendment Act is intended to exonerate corruption, is merely the latest in a string of blaring attempts by the administration to mislead the public as to its handling of the people’s business. Therefore, Mr Press Secretary, if indeed the government’s intentions were of any merit, you would be explaining the government’s position to the Vincentian taxpayers in a clear and precise manner. You have instead chosen to use demeaning language to debase individuals whose right it is to have a political discourse over matters that affect them on a daily basis.
Allow me to remind you that government is answerable to its citizens for its actions. It also has an obligation to be transparent in its handling of the people’s business and as such is accountable for any wrong doing. In the case of the Passport Amendment Act, it will be quite difficult to convince anyone that the Act is not intended to exonerate corruption within the administration considering the fact that this Bill is flying in the face of irregularities concerning the issuance of passports and allegations of attempts to defraud persons seeking legal residency status in the United States; and whereby a politically appointed deputy consul general was just recently recalled from his position at the consulate offices in New York.
Despite the government’s acknowledgement of the fact this individual was being recalled because he was “involved in activities outside the scope of his duties and inimical to the interest of the consulate general, and the government and people of St Vincent and the Grenadines” the individual was allowed to leave the country on the very day he set his feet on Vincentian soil after being recalled from his post in the United States. Why was he not detained or had his passport removed from his possession pending the outcome of a full investigation? How is it that the audit was able to identify that the official receipt books were abandoned for private receipt books and yet there is no evidence in the matter? Had the US intelligence not detected a problem which may have prompted the US State Department into action, would the said deputy consul general still be at his post in New York? Was this individual working under the instructions of his superiors? Mr Press Secretary, many Vincentians may not be as well schooled as you but they are not stupid – and the Passport Amendment Bill speaks for itself!
But why should we be surprised by these developments? It is not the first time we have seen these types of shenanigans taking place. Just recently, the registrar was relieved of her duties because of the disappearance of a large sum of cash (in the hundreds of thousands) she was in control over that belonged to the state. The prime minister spoke of it in a press conference and informed the public that all manner of authority was investigating, including the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force, the attorney general’s office and government auditors, yet this young woman – of St Lucian origin – exited the country via the Arnos Vale Airport within 24 hours of having been relieved of her duties. Again, this was another political appointment and the lady in question is married to a former senator for the Unity Labour Party, who is also a cousin to Prime Minister Gonsalves.
How about the case of William Wise and the Millennium Bank Ponzi scheme that Wise operated for many years under the watchful eye of this administration? The bank’s licence to operate was revoked back in 2003 based upon an auditor’s report that reported gross irregularities. William Wise filed a case in the court to have the licence reinstated and according to the court documents the case was never concluded. However, for some reason Millennium Bank was allowed to continue operating and subsequently went on to fraudulently sell millions of dollars’ worth in certificates of deposit to unsuspecting investors. Many investors reported that they bought into it because they had the assurances of the prime minister in the form of a letter posted on the bank’s website. As minister of finance, the prime minister is responsible for overseeing such matters so what was his role in allowing this crime to take place? Were there any persons close to the administration that were beneficiaries of Millennium Bank’s ill-gotten gains?
What about the money that went missing over a period of time from the treasury unnoticed by that agency? How is it that only one person was penalized when there was a whole department of professionals paid by the state to see that this doesn’t happen? So this little girl from the countryside, not long out of high school, was so smart that she could outwit a whole department of professionals for so long? Then there were the financial discrepancies at the International Airport Development Agency in February, 2012 and two individuals were identified, yet no charges were ever laid. I have a question: are these people given jobs at these institutions because of their political affiliations? The fact that perpetrators of these types of crimes are seldom brought to justice, is it a case of ‘monkey see, monkey do’?
In June, 2012, the permanent secretary in the ministry of agriculture was also allegedly involved in a scandal to do with financial discrepancies at that ministry and while he demitted his post, there has been no official report as to the outcome of that matter. He was subsequently appointed to the position of deputy to the CEO at Invest SVG. Why? Is it because he is the son of the speaker to the House of Parliament? This is the same politically appointed speaker who ordered the state security to remove opposition parliamentarians from the House of Parliament in March 2011 because for some reason he was empowered to do just that. In response to that order, the security proceeded to manhandle opposition parliamentarians and summarily threw some members down the stairs like sacks of potatoes. To date, no public apology has ever been made, neither by the government, the speaker of the House of Parliament or the security services involved. Parliamentarian, the Honourable Daniel Cummings is still suffering severe medical problems as a consequence of that incident.
How can we ever forget the events of the day several hundred Vincentians came out to peacefully protest a $1 tax that was being imposed on Grenadines’ residents and other commuters to the Grenadines in March 2007. The brute force at which people were manhandled by the police at that event, and the fact the government actually passed a law after the fact to legalize their own actions was absolutely shocking, and inexcusable. If I had not seen it with my very own eyes, I would not have believed it. In fact, I even published an article about it in the News newspaper captioned “All ah dat for a dollar!” Why such a tax in the first place? Was it to generate some revenues to justify the employment of some political supporters? The tax was unfair to Grenadines’ residents and downright wrong so what was the purpose of using excessive force in an otherwise peaceful protest? Was it to break the spirit of public opposition to official misconduct?
Such abuse of power is totally unconscionable but it has sadly become a fact of daily life for Vincentians to cope with, along with unbridled corruption that seems to have permeated every facet of government institutions, including the police. Crime not only undermines the quality of life for Vincentian citizens, it is the single most debilitating factor to national development (UNEP, 2012). The increasing number of unwarranted intrusions into people’s homes and businesses is becoming an everyday event to intimidate law abiding Vincentians, while the real criminals go scot free.
I wish I had more space and time to refresh our collective memory on similar type cases but before I end this piece, I would like to reflect on the circumstances around the death of the former press secretary, Glen Jackson. He was the victim of a crime, which remains unsolved and has been placed among the cold case files. The person who murdered him is still out there – going about his business as free as a bird. Mr Jackson was a very well-liked person in Vincentian society, who used his celebrity and talents over and beyond the call of duty to secure success at the polls for the Unity Labour Party in two consecutive general elections. Why then would he have met his demise in such a brutal way? Did he know too much? And why was the investigation of his murder such a colossal blunder?
Finally, Mr Press Secretary, I am very pleased that you decided to have your latest comments published on the internet because now the entire region and the world is able to have first-hand exposure to your performance as a press secretary, and the manner in which government operates in St Vincent and the Grenadines. As to your reference to Vincentians who discuss matters of state on the internet as ‘internet crazies’, I am one of those persons and I shall wear the title like a badge of honour. I will be so proud of it that I shall also wear it to the polling station in the next general election where I shall vote against the Unity Labour Party. That will be my contribution towards putting an end to this administration’s utter disrespect and mismanagement of the people’s business, and your vile attitude and lack of professionalism.
G. Marlon V. Mills