Opposition Leader Allen Chastanet is again embroiled in a dispute with the Speaker of the House of Assembly Claudius Francis, this time over the recent parliamentary ruling to suspend the legislator from House proceedings, unless he (Chastanet) recants accusations of “corruption” leveled at the government relating to the sale of government property at Banannes Bay, Tapion.
In his rebuttal to the house ruling, Chastanet indicated that he is considering taking legal action against the Speaker of the House, following Tuesday’s parliamentary session.
Citing what he claims are ‘procedural breaches’ in the Speaker’s management of the chamber proceedings, Chastanet says, his civil rights and liberties have been violated.
At the core of this controversial matter, is reportedly a parcel of land in the vicinity of Tapion Bay that was acquired by a local purchaser, after the St Lucia Air and Sea Port Authority (SLASPA) showed no interest in acquiring these lands.
Housing Minister Richard Frederick had stated the lands in question were originally part of one parcel that had been sub-divided into two parts. Ultimately, the parcel of land in focus, referred to as Parcel 11 had been identified as two separate lots – Lot 50 and Lot 51. He explained that, in 2014, the land was sub-divided into two Parcels 50 and 51, which thus rendered Parcel 11 non-existent.
On April 28, during his Budget presentation, the Micoud South MP accused the Minister of Housing and the Cabinet as a collective of being corrupt, stating, “If you want to really resolve crime in this country… it starts in Cabinet. The level of corruption of members in your own Cabinet has to be addressed. This situation in Banannes has to be addressed”.
Chastanet added, “How could you have a piece of land… that was valued in 2013 at almost $7 million, and in 2021 it was revalued to be at 3.5 million? The crime situation is serious. The Government needs to address it in their own Cabinet. The Prime Minister keeps on playing this game that he is the big, bad, tough guy, and the buck stops with him. We have not seen that. And we have to set the example as leaders. There are too many examples …of members not doing that.”
When the house session resumed on Tuesday (May 2), the speaker noted that Chastanet had not produced sufficient evidence to stake his claim relating to a corrupt deal in the sale of the land. Francis then requested the Micoud South MP to withdraw his statement regarding the Member for Castries Central and by extension the Cabinet, as making a corrupt deal in selling the land.
However, Chastanet indicated that he would not be withdrawing the statement and walked out as Speaker Francis was giving his ruling.
Though the speaker sought the assistance of the police to stop the MP from leaving the parliamentary chambers, the opposition leader walked out nonetheless but returned to the house sitting soon after that.
Leader of Government Business Dr. Ernest Hilaire responded to the Speaker’s intervention, to determine what sanction, if any, the other legislators would like to place on Chastanet. He contended that the member should be again asked to apologize and withdraw his statement and not be allowed into the Chamber until he does so.
The Lower House then took a decision to suspend the Leader of the Opposition, until he withdraws the statements and issues an apology.
This decision was taken in accordance with Standing Order 43 (4), which deals with a member showing disregard for the authority of the Speaker.
In a post on his Facebook page, Chastanet accused the government of exercising abusive behaviour.
He argued, “Now the Speaker of the House sided with Mr. Frederick and said he refused to recognize the valuation that was done in 2013 and is asking me as an MP to prove that there was corruption. It is my job as a Leader of the Opposition and as an MP in parliament to question and hold this government accountable. It is for them to satisfy all of us that there was no corruption.”
Chastanet added, “Why is it the government has refused to answer basic questions? Why was it not put out to tender? Why would you sell it at a price so much less than what it was being valued at? All of us are St Lucians, we all live here, where can you buy waterfront land in Castries for $27 a square foot? Why wasn’t that land offered to somebody else? Who is the person that bought the land? How did they identify that person? What’s the plan that’s going on the land? Up to now, there’s no answer but you want to come to the House and you want to censor and cause me to apologize, I refuse to do it! And I will stand up for the people of this country all the time! This government is abusing their office.”
This is the second time for the year that the Opposition Leader and House Speaker have been involved in a legal showdown.
Chastanet successfully filed an injunction against Francis in the recently settled Privileges Committee saga, where the court, this year, handed down a consent order stating that the Speaker had no ‘locus standi’ to proceed with disciplinary actions against the Micoud South MP.
The Opposition Leader contends, “There are a lot of similarities in the actions of the speaker in the privileges committee case. And so the same way we took him to court and challenged the procedure, more than likely we will consider doing the same thing.”