IN the winter of his years Compton had vowed never to let a Barnard lead this country, in reference to Kenney Anthony’s return to local politics. Later, as if to prove he was correct, he accused the Anthony government of undermining the very institutions upon which a free, fair, and functioning democracy is built. He was at the time referring to the reckless shuffling and reshuffling of public servants, placing square-peg-friends in round juicy holes. Compton did not live to see the full extent of the accuracy of his words. Today, the Public Service is small potatoes compared to the damage which new Labour has inflicted upon the most important institution of all – Parliament. Parliament is the lynchpin and pivot on which the whole social and economic fabric, the very life blood on which Western democratic revolves.
Parliament is the only authority which has the power to tax its citizens, pass laws and regulate the conduct and affairs of the State. Under the present constitutional arrangements there are three important arms or committees of Parliament which are designed to strengthen democracy and help keep the Government and opposition functioning as they ought to. Perhaps the most important of these parliamentary committees is the Public Accounts Committee.
The Public Accounts Committee is made up of members from both sides of the elected House – the Government and the Opposition. Traditionally this very important committee has been headed by the Leader of the Opposition. My earliest recollection of Parliamentary debates was standing at Columbus square (now Derek Walcott square) opposite the Catholic Church, and listening one evening to the praises that were heaped upon George Charles for the work he was doing as leader of the opposition, and chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.
It appeared that George Charles was a far better accountant and mathematician than his foes had imagined. From that early period I learnt to appreciate the wisdom of the checks and balances (I had actually heard these words from the mouth of one of the senior citizens at Derek Walcott square that evening), and the fact that the opposition was an integral part of the Legislative Council (later renamed House of Assembly). The reader should note that in all British administered countries, and later adopted by others, the Leader of the Opposition has always been the head of the Public Accounts Committee. Always!
This was the practice in Saint Lucia before and after independence and until the arrival of new Labour. Does anyone know who the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee is? More importantly, when last did the Public Accounts Committee meet and report to Parliament? Whose fault is it that such an important institution of Parliament is observed more in the breach? Still another question, who or what will correct this neglect and force those responsible to inform Parliament and the general public, the true state of the finances of Saint Lucia.
I now turn to the Integrity Commission, whose last chairman was the well known and well liked Canon Randolph Evelyn of the Anglican Church at Trinity Church Road in Castries. Each year at a stated time, high ranking public officials and politicians whose salaries are paid by the tax payers of this country, are supposed to supply to the Integrity Commission certain facts and figures about their incomes, its sources, disbursements, savings etc. etc. and that of their spouses. When last was a report from the Integrity Commission tabled in Parliament or made public? Has any report of the Integrity Commission reached the government controlled radio station or its NTN television or its weekly propaganda rag which, each weekend disgraces the 135-years old VOICE newspaper?
For further clarity here is part of Canon Evelyn’s report of 2014. Quote: “Increasingly, fewer and fewer people comply as delinquents are not prosecuted as provided by law. In ten years not one person has been called to account. There is an urgent need for enforcement as well as strengthening the law in this regard. Further, persons whether from the public service or otherwise before being appointed to a post that would make them a ‘Person in Public Life,’ should be informed by the PSC or the relevant Ministry, of their obligation to file a declaration in accordance with the Act on behalf of themselves and their spouse. At the moment, there is a contemptuous disregard for the ‘Integrity in Public Life Act’ and by extension the Commission; this should be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
Then there is the third watch dog known as the Ombudsman of which Hunter J. Francois was its first chairman. Here too, several reports have been shelved. The ombudsman’s first duty is to the average Joe, who has been wronged by the action of the government or its agencies. The report of the ombudsman should therefore be of interest to every Saint Lucian, particularly those who value their rights as citizens. How many have there been since Hunter Francois? I recall Lawrence Laurent, Madison Stanislaus – all sharing the same lack of proper funding to make the institution of ombudsman work, in the public interest. Again I ask whose job is it to fund the office of ombudsman. What can be done about this lack of funding and neglect by the government?
Shouldn’t these be the questions foremost on the minds and lips of a strong, vibrant opposition? In addition to the neglect and lack of funding of these agencies there is another frightening development. It is within the Royal Saint Lucia Police Service! Does the opposition (within and without Parliament), have any comment on the treatment of former Police Commissioner Francois? Or are they too fearful or shallow or both to tackle that huge State security problem seemingly waiting to explode?
Richard, whom a small minority UWP opposition seems to like, must be turning in his political grave. A local politician when in opposition was up and down Barbados at a certain embassy reporting all sorts of untruths about the police and persons like ‘you know what I know you know.’ Then truth took flight! So did facts. Now that same politician is being pressured by the same embassy for more action especially since ‘the killings.’ But that politician is pregnant with lies and cannot deliver truth. He must therefore bend the facts when he meets with his new bosses in Barbados. Sadly, more senior police officers will be sacrificed in order to appease an angry embassy. The man squealed like Christmas pig and now…?
And then there is the constitution – a document which ought to be fashioned by community leaders, teachers, policemen, civil society and politicians for the guidance of all. Politicians tell us we are a country of laws yet, in respect to the constitution – these same politicians stammer and scurry like frightened rats. Hopefully, a new administration will introduce a new constitution and remodel the Ombudsman, the Integrity Commission and the Public Accounts Committee and see that they all work. In the meantime we are persuaded that, Compton was right. Pity his party has not used his insight to get rid of these jokers.