By Caribbean News Now contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia -- Recent civil proceedings filed in Saint Lucia against two former United Workers Party (UWP) ministers have led to accusations of political manipulation and double standards on the part of the leaders of both major political parties.
In December last year, the Attorney General’s Chambers filed a civil action
against former tourism minister and current UWP political leader Allen Chastanet, alleging conduct amounting to a “breach of his fiduciary duties as a minister of government, in bad faith and/or constitutes misfeasance in public office”.
According to the statement of claim, Chastanet while a minister of government and UWP candidate requested the sum of $38,119 of public funds for the unlawful purpose of a campaign and political event for his personal and political benefit or the benefit of his political party.
It further claimed that Chastanet knew or ought to have known or was recklessly indifferent that the conduct in question was unlawful.
In a press statement issued in response to the court filing, the UWP accused the St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) administration of using the outcome of a questionable audit as a tool for political mischief.
“It is evident by these actions that the Labour Party administration is intending to diminish the ability of Mr Chastanet and the main opposition to challenge the government on critical issues pertaining to the plight of the citizens,” the statement said.
This was followed late last month by a similar claim
filed by the Attorney General’s Chambers against the UWP chairman, former minister for agriculture, forestry and fisheries Ezekiel Joseph, in relation to the alleged misuse of public funds given to the former UWP government by Taiwan.
According to an audit report, local town and village councils received funds from central government and Taiwanese government for the execution of various projects. However, it appears that payments were made from these funds for unauthorised purposes, the report said.
In relation to Joseph, the report stated that payments amounting to $72,868.50 exhibited a significant level of abuse by him, along with other alleged instances of misuse of public monies and an abuse of power by the former parliamentary representative.
Government attorney, Anthony Astaphan said that these civil actions were the first of a likely series of similar claims stemming from the alleged misuse of Taiwanese funds.
However, in telephone interviews with local media last week, Therold Prudent, political leader of the Lucian People’s Movement (LPM), took the government to task for hiring Astaphan in the first place, given his long history of political activism on behalf of the SLP and other socialist governments in the region.
“It should be noted that this man actively campaigned for [Prime Minister] Kenny Anthony and the SLP in past elections,” Prudent said.
Prudent also took issue with the initial US$40,000 retainer that comes with Astaphan’s hiring, with an unquantified and open-ended total amount, in the light of Anthony’s own admission that the country’s finances are in bad shape.
“Therefore, why not use a local attorney as counsel? Is this a reflection of the competence of the battery of five attorneys employed in the Attorney General’s Office? The government may have already compromised its case against the defendants by opting for Astaphan,” he said.
Prudent’s comments were echoed by president of the Bar Association Andie George, who said the historical practice of outsourcing lawyers from the region to provide legal counsel in high profile cases is unjustified.
The Attorney General’s Chambers has been fortified with capable lawyers, George added.
In a recent open letter to Anthony
, the LPM said that the civil actions against former UWP ministers for alleged breach of fiduciary duties and misfeasance is not enough and, by itself, simply raises suspicions of purely political motives.
“We call for the full force of the law to be applied to all persons and corporate entities regardless of political affiliation that have committed crimes against the state, and to strengthen the anti-corruption legislation,” the LPM said in its letter.
Other local observers have also taken the opportunity to revive discussion on the revocation of the US visitor and diplomatic visas
of former UWP housing minister Richard Frederick, an issue about which Anthony was very vocal during the 2011 election campaign.
In particular, Anthony made a so far unfulfilled promise in this regard: that “all would be revealed” concerning the circumstances of Frederick’s visa revocation once the SLP was returned to power. This has not happened in the two years since the polls.
In fact, Anthony has remained mute concerning persistent reports of revocations and/or limitations on the visas or other restrictions on travel of his own government and/or other public officials.
Local publisher Rick Wayne recently suggested that “the US visas held by certain cops were under threat -- the justice minister’s too -- if the government continued to drag its feet on promises to the State Department relating to the suspected human rights violations by local cops.”
In fact, according to a US government source, last month’s denial of permission
for deputy commissioner of police Pancras Albert to board a LIAT flight to St Croix in the US Virgin Islands is in itself compelling evidence that Albert’s US visa has been revoked or suspended.
“Being denied permission to travel to the United States for a personal visit has nothing at all to do with the suspension of US government funding to the local police, it is simply a matter of not having a valid visa,” our source explained.
The incident involving Albert followed a similar one
that occurred last year at Hewanorra International Airport, when police commissioner Vernon Francois was not permitted to board a flight to participate in US organized and financed training programmes.
Anthony subsequently claimed in an address to the nation that this resulted from a suspension by the US of all assistance to the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force, contradicting an initial claim by Francois that it was a “ticketing issue”.
All of this follows persistent but unconfirmed reports from another government source that the US State Department has placed certain travel restrictions on the visas issued to at least one senior minister, broadly reminiscent of the Cold War 50-mile travel restrictions placed on Soviet diplomats at that time.
However, the prime minister’s press secretary has not responded to requests for comment in relation to this from as long ago as October 2013.
Equally, a faction within the UWP itself has used the visa revocation against Frederick, even though there are no factual grounds for the apparent disloyalty or antagonism displayed towards the popular Castries Central MP, to a point where in all likelihood he will be expelled from the party.
Shortly after Chastanet’s election as UWP political leader, notwithstanding that he has so far failed to win any elected seat in parliament, he announced that he would not and could not work with Frederick. He has since tried to deny these widely publicised pronouncements because, in the words of one party member, “He is now hoist on his own petard,” following his own legal difficulties.
In fact, Chastanet just last week called for a truce in the party infighting but this also seems to be regarded as self-serving and, according to a letter to the editor today, may even have escalated into a “cat fight
” among the UWP women’s group.
Some UWP members have contrasted Chastanet’s campaign against Frederick based upon false and spurious allegations with the party’s failure and apparent unwillingness to address the two civil actions alleging actual misfeasance and abuse of public monies on the part of Chastanet and Joseph, other than to claim that they are politically motivated and to impugn the audit report on which they are based.
In many countries, accusations of misfeasance and abuse of public funds filed in court against party officials would have led to their immediate stepping down, if only temporarily until the legal issues have been resolved.
However, according to one local observer, “It seems that no one in the UWP has called for either or both to step down, at least temporarily until the claims are settled, and of course Chastanet can hardly ask Joseph to step aside, or vice versa, since they are both in a similar predicament.”