By Caribbean News Now contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia -- Chairman of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) in Saint Lucia, former minister for agriculture, forestry and fisheries Ezekiel Joseph, is next in line to face civil proceedings in relation to alleged misuse of public funds given to the former UWP government by Taiwan.
Joseph, who represented the constituency of Babonneau for the UWP from 2006 to 2011, has been served with a summons to appear in court to answer claims of misuse of public monies and an abuse of power as set out in a review of the financial operations of the town and village councils completed last year.
Joseph lost his seat at the general election held on November 28, 2011, and was sworn in as an opposition member of the Senate on January 5, 2012.
Last month, the Attorney General’s Chambers in Saint Lucia filed a similar civil action against former tourism minister and current political leader of the UWP 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 United Workers Party (UWP) candidate requested the sum of $38,119 of public funds from the Soufriere Town Council 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 claims that Chastanet knew or ought to have known or was recklessly indifferent that the conduct in question was unlawful.
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.
According to the report in relation to the town and village councils review, the Soufriere Town Council 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. Details of these alleged payments are outlined below:
Further investigations revealed that these payments were made for the benefit and at the behest of UWP candidate for Soufriere/Fond St Jacques Constituency, Allen Chastanet, during the 2011 general elections. These expenses were not part of the operations of the Council, the report continued.
In a subsequent press statement, the UWP accused the St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) administration of using the outcome of the review 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.
In relation to Joseph, the report stated that several cheque payments from Babonneau District Council funds amounting to $72,868.50 were made payable to Joseph’s secretary, Catherine Biscette.
“According to our investigations, Ms Biscette provided no goods and services to Council and it was confirmed by Clerk of Council that the payments were used for expenses such as alcoholic beverages, telephone charges, office supplies, transportation fees and calendars on behalf of the parliamentary representative at the time,” the report said.
The report added that this was unusual since parliament provides an allocation of $30,000 to each constituency.
“The above practice exhibited a significant level of abuse by the former parliamentary representative, Mr Ezekiel Joseph and a failure on the part of Council to fulfill its functions and responsibilities in accordance with Section 15 of the Local Authorities Ordinance (repealed),” the report said.
The report recommended that the clerk of council and former chairman be made to account for these disbursements and, further, that the former parliamentary representative be made to refund the sum expended to the Council.
In addition, the report noted that several suppliers of goods and services to Joseph were paid from the Council’s bank account based on requests from the former parliamentary representative. Again, some of these expenses included transportation fees for political activities and printing of calendars.
“This is again a case of misuse of public monies and an abuse of power by the former parliamentary representative,” the report stated.
The UWP did not respond to a request for comment.