By Rupert Sorhaindo
Election after election, since 2000 (almost 20 years) the United Workers Party (UWP) has run its election campaigns on mostly a single issue: alleged corruption associated with the “sale of diplomatic passports to crooks and criminals”.
Allegations of corruption continue to dominate the airwaves of select radio stations, and the pages of discredited blogs and other disseminators of fake news and disinformation – the likes of Mas in the Cemetery, thedominican.net, Kenneth Rijock blog, and others.
Sensational stories continued to appear regularly, alleging that assets of prime minister Skerrit were well beyond his legitimate earnings, and embellished with reports of his ownership of villas in the north of Dominica and apartments in New York and millions of dollars in offshore accounts. Misplaced references to documents that appeared in Wikileaks, Panama Papers and other sources were regularly featured in blogs and social media as evidence of corruption. Mere references to individuals who were alleged to have been holders of diplomatic passports, and who had subsequently run afoul of the law, were given as evidence – even after credible explanations were offered.
Dr Thompson Fontaine former UWP Senator in the parliament of Dominica and editor of thedominican.net, one of the sources of disinformation and fake news, is currently facing a defamation lawsuit that has been languishing in our sluggish court system for years, for statements made in connection with some of those matters.
The UWP campaign reached a high (though a more appropriate term would be a low) in 2017, when its leader appeared on the popular CBS 60Minutes television programme repeating the allegations about the corrupt sale of diplomatic passports and characterizing Dominica’s citizenship programme as “a passport mail-order business”. Ironically, the chairman of Henley and Partners, a company that had an interest in promoting Dominica’s programme and is believed to have financed the UWP’s 2009 election campaign through Alexander Nix’s SCL/Cambridge Analytica,’ featured alongside Lennox Linton.
In the wake of hurricane Maria, Linton kept repeating the allegations in Denver, Colorado, and more outrageously in New York at the same time when prime minister Skerrit was at a United Nations/CARICOM forum making an appeal for international support for the realization of his vision of a Climate Resilient Dominica. Linton informed the world then, that, “Dominica was committing crimes against humanity”.
As fate would have it for the UWP, its “anti-corruption” campaign strategy hit a roadblock when former UWP insider Sam Raphael presented “concrete” evidence to indicate that the UWP, while in opposition in 2003/2004, received millions of dollars (US$1.55 million – EC$4.185 million) from six Europeans, “in exchange for [promise of] diplomatic positions”. Raphael gave a detailed account of all the funds received (with dates and amounts), and of disbursements, also providing cheque numbers, dates and recipients.
To date, neither James nor Linton (who had been installed as party leader by James because of his “ability to raise funds”), has been able to come clean with the electorate to comment on Raphael’s damning disclosure – quite apart from Linton’s public confession that Raphael had delivered a “body blow” to him and his UWP.
In that connection, it is particularly worrying that we did not hear a squeak from the vocal Dominicans at home and in the diaspora, who call themselves patriots, and who call for Skerrit’s removal from office “by any means necessary” on the basis of mere unsubstantiated allegations. They have also been mute on the indisputable evidence disclosed during the UK parliamentary hearings on fake news and disinformation, that a foreign company, (Strategic Communications Limited/ Cambridge Analytica) was on the ground in Dominica managing the UWP’s 2009 election campaign.
At this point, the UWP must have come to the realization that their anti-corruption campaign strategy would not gain much traction with the electorate and that they were likely to suffer the same fate as in previous elections. And it seems obvious that they chose to implement another strategy, looking forward to the 2019/2020 general elections, and saw the “electoral reform” issue as one that could bring them success in their quest to wrest leadership of the country from the Dominica Labour Party (DLP).
Continuing with their mantra of the elections having been “stolen” through acts of bribery, personation and “dead people voting”, the party strategists appear to have embarked on a plan that involved engagement of various groups that would not have been identified with the UWP (Concerned Citizens Movement and Electoral Reform Group) to lay the foundation for what has turned out to be a massive electoral reform fraud.
The UWP, along with their “allies” continued to ignore the genuine efforts of the government toward addressing the two main electoral reform issues – cleansing of the voters list and issuance of ID cards to eligible voters, and placed roadblocks (literal and otherwise) in the way – with threats of violence and filing of an application for an injunction seeking to prevent the amendments required to effect the desirable changes, from being entertained in the parliament.
The ‘Joint Observer Mission’ invited by the government to assist with moving the reform process forward complicated matters when the OAS-dominated Mission made recommendations, which if accepted, would not have resolved the issues of clinical cleansing of the voters’ list and the issue of ID cards. In fact, it would have led to a ‘Pandora’s Box’ of administrative confusion on polling day and beyond.
In a previous commentary – I suggested that the Organisation of American States (OAS) seemed to have been on a “regime change” mission, after having examined the manner in which the OAS, through the organization’s secretary-general acted during crises in Venezuela, and more recently in Bolivia.
The Dominica minister of foreign affairs exposed the fraud to the world in her effective presentation at a recent special meeting of the OAS. She meticulously and calmly informed of the efforts made by the government acting in good faith toward resolution of the electoral reform issues, and of the actions of the opposition and its allies at stalling the process.
All the facts indicate that the UWP never desired to have electoral reform effected, but instead wanted to use the issue to create confusion, with the intention of portraying Dominica as an unstable and undemocratic country to their “friends” in the outside world, and setting the stage for “regime change” a la Venezuela and Bolivia and so many other “regimes” elsewhere in the world.
The fraud, having been exposed to CARICOM and other countries in the region and progressive leaders around the world voicing their support for Dominica’s cause, it seems that the UWP is reverting to its age-old campaign strategy that has not borne fruit time and time again. The issue of ‘sale of diplomatic passports’ has once again resurfaced, this time, mere days before the December 6, general elections in a documentary released by Al Jazeera on Monday, November 25, titled “Immunity For Sale: Diplomatic Passport Trade Investigated”.
Initially, Linton and former leader UWP leader James took to the platform and Q95 airwaves and gleefully anticipated disclosures that would have embarrassed Skerrit and the DLP. But again, as fate would have it, the tables turned dramatically as evidence released in the documentary indicated that a “deal” was brokered between UWP operatives and an Aljazeera investigative journalist posing as a prospective diplomat. In that “deal”, the promise of a diplomatic assignment was to be exchanged for campaign financing – to the tune of US$400,000.
That revelation brought back memories of the 2003/2004 deal disclosed by Sam Raphael. What is curious though, is that no mention was made of the earlier thoroughly documented deal; quite likely because it was a sixteen-year story.
The most recent exposure of Linton’s hypocrisy has thrown his UWP in the throes of desperation, in these dying days of a crucial election campaign when an energized and informed electorate are yet to be informed of the party’s plans for developing Dominica.
When the voters enter the voting booths on December 6, they shall no doubt be reflecting on the damage done to the image of Dominica by Linton and his colleagues, while thinking about the transformation that has been taking place, especially after the devastation wrought by hurricane Maria, two short years ago.