Guilty ministers beware: Top technocrats, obey the oath of office

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Allen Chastanet

By Peter ‘Pel’ Lansiquot

My article inspired by Caron Tobiere: Apologies for calling the PM a “gor-gor has ignited even more inspiration, on the part of many concerned Saint Lucian citizens. Many of these citizens were also intrigued by some of my statements to Calixte George Jr., The Lunch Room – June 22, 2021.

The performance of some permanent secretaries

The reality is that tens of thousands of Saint Lucian taxpayers, who pay the salaries of top government officials, including permanent secretaries, are deeply saddened and upset with the performance of some, if not all, permanent secretaries in our country. For the truth is that, if our permanent secretaries would stand up like the real men and women that the Saint Lucia Constitution and the Public Service Staff Orders require and safely permit them to be, our corrupt, thieving and arrogant government ministers – most turned businessmen and businesswomen in less than five years – would have been brought to heel, long ago.

Of the dozens and dozens of works contracts – hundreds of millions of dollars – that have been illegally conceived, commenced, and are still in implementation in Saint Lucia under this rogue regime of prime minister and finance minister, Allen Michael Chastanet, let me mention, for the purposes of this article, only the St Jude Hospital (SJH) Project; that essentially entails the construction of a second SJH, side by side with the original SJH, that was nearly 90 percent complete when the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) government was removed from office by an uninformed and maliciously disinformed population in June 2016.

It is widely believed that under the instigation and leadership of the notorious Guy Joseph, minister of economic development, Saint Lucia’s “not so bright” prime minister and minister of finance, joined the predictable and predicted train wreck of building a “new” SJH, under the criminal pretense that the original SJH had preserved structural and other defects, which allegedly made it unworthy of completion. But guess who got the hastily contrived contract for the illegal commencement and construction of the “new” SJH, for tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. A company-owned and directed by officials – including some ghosts in yellow apparel – who comprise the friends and family of you already guessed who!

But the commencement of these works run contrary to all the laws, norms and conventions guiding public sector procurement in Saint Lucia. For one thing, works amounting to millions of dollars of the taxpayers’ money, must obey the design and negotiations standards established for decades in public and private sector construction projects. Every permanent secretary in the public service knows this. And based on his/her Oath of Office and job description, a permanent secretary is corrupt if he/she participates in such blatant disregard of these rules, norms, standards and conventions.

The Oath of Office

Now, here is the Oath of Office that each and every permanent secretary (and minister) takes, with hands laid on the Bible, on his/her assumption of duties: “I, John Doe, do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Saint Lucia, that as a Minister/Permanent Secretary of the Government of Saint Lucia, I will discharge my duties and perform my functions honestly, to the best of my ability, faithfully in accordance with the law, and always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of Saint Lucia.”

The commencement and implementation of works of the financial magnitude of the “new” SJH project by this incompetent, rogue United Workers Party (UWP) administration, clearly and blatantly violated the physical planning laws of Saint Lucia as well as the rules of public sector procurement in Saint Lucia.

The absence of the official written concerns and objections by the relevant permanent secretaries (PS) in this matter constitutes grave dereliction of duty and a violation of the Oath of Office by the relevant permanent secretary/secretaries, and they will have to account for such dereliction of duty in due course. If the relevant ministers of government were officially advised by the relevant permanent secretaries of the errors of their ways, the relevant ministers will also have to account in due course.

But the plot thickens because even if the relevant ministers were advised but disregarded the PS’ warnings, the relevant permanent secretaries will still be guilty of not officially stopping the relevant ministers’ high-handedness. As the chief executive officer of the ministry, the PS must not allow any actions by his/her officers that conflict with the Oath of Office.

What do all the above arguments say to the people of Saint Lucia?

They affirm that at the end of the day, the fundamental and vital responsibility for the protection, conservation and sustainable development of the people’s patrimony, is the preserve of the permanent secretary and his/her technocrats. And that “preserve” may have been precisely the consideration that guided the thinking of the “founding fathers” when they created the “Permanently Secretary” category of public sector management personnel.

Respect for the Oath of Office

At this juncture, let me share with the citizens of Saint Lucia, a concrete example of respect for the Oath of Office established by the Constitution of Saint Lucia. Soon after the newly elected SLP government stormed into office in 1997, with a whopping 16-1 mandate in Parliament, I was given the privilege of personally handing the “get out of Saint Lucia” letter to the Taiwanese ambassador at Cap Estate.

About two weeks later, a meeting was held at the prime minister’s official residence at the Vigie Peninsula. At one side of the table were foreign minister George Odlum; permanent secretary Earl Huntley; and myself. The Chinese ambassador to the United States and his Aide, sat facing us. I was then a senior foreign service officer and head of the political and economic section of the foreign ministry. Pauline Medar was the deputy permanent secretary. As senior technocrats and functionaries, we all had to abide strictly by the Oath of Office, and we did. At the meeting with the Chinese, we agreed on a package of four projects, as a Chinese gift in commemoration of the new era of diplomatic relations that was being ushered between Saint Lucia and the People’s Republic of China.

These projects were a national stadium, a free trade zone, a national cultural center, and a new national hospital. Thus, the China-Saint Lucia Development Programme was born, and I became the chief technical negotiator. An opportunity to demonstrate one of my finest examples of respect for the Oath of Office, beckoned on the horizon.

A few weeks after the agreement with the Chinese, the Chinese Technical Team arrived in Saint Lucia for technical negotiations for the construction of Saint Lucia’s first national stadium. Here are two (of three acts of patriotism on my part and on the part of the Saint Lucia Technical Team) actions that respected the Oath of Office:

National Stadium Seating Capacity: In my capacity as chief technical negotiator, I was shocked, as were some team members, when the Chinese side suggested the construction of a 4,000 seat stadium. This stadium has since been renamed the George Odlum Stadium.

I immediately made it known that while Saint Lucia was appreciative of China’s generosity, we would not be “boxed into” a structure of only 4,000 seats, in what would effectively be Saint Lucia’s first stadium. After much discussion and to-and-fro manoeuvres, coffee breaks for apparent calls to Beijing, etc., we finally agreed on a 100 percent increase in Chinese financed and constructed seats (8,000 seats) and a stadium project design for 15,000 seats, with the understanding that the government of Saint Lucia would someday construct the additional 7,000 seats.

National Stadium Construction Aggregates: To my utter amazement, the chief technical negotiator for the Chinese Technical Team, informed the meeting that they had received our foreign minister’s endorsement of their request to use a plot of land near Pierrot, where they would produce their own aggregates for stadium construction. I immediately made it clear to the meeting that this would be highly inappropriate in Saint Lucia’s political, social, economic and cultural conditions, and that such an agreement would be deleterious not only to Saint Lucia’s economic sovereignty (in a country where several companies produced construction aggregates) but also to the government’s political standing with the electorate and taxpayers.

I advised the Chinese Technical Team that the local business sector, led by the Chamber of Commerce, would quickly and loudly express grave displeasure with the government on that matter, and it would be in a context where that same government had just unceremoniously sent the Taiwanese packing out of Saint Lucia.

I explained that the new government would be severely embarrassed on that score. I made it clear to the Chinese that given all the above, and more factors that I had not even brought to the table, they would have to purchase the construction aggregates for stadium construction from a local company. After private discussions with Albert Jn Baptiste, the representative of the ministry of communications and works on our technical team, I advised the Chinese Technical Team that the ministry of foreign affairs would request the approval of the Cabinet of ministers, for the exemption of the government tax on each cubic meter of construction aggregates. The Cabinet subsequently approved the request.

In both examples shared above, the top technocrats representing the government of Saint Lucia, from the perspective of the Oath of Office, acted to “the best of” their “ability” and “always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, wellbeing and prosperity of Saint Lucia.”

Significance of the permanent secretary

I ask all our concerned citizens to spend just a few minutes to ponder upon the very essential roles and great institutional significance of the permanent secretary in our daily lives and in the management of the national development issues of our country, and you will see the absolute importance of the permanent secretary to our future and that of our children.

It, therefore, behoves our permanent secretaries to stand up like men and women and be counted among those top public sector technocrats who stick to the word of the law, their Oath of Office, the rules and the conventions that guide the proper management of the business of the public sector of our country.

There can only be rogue governments where permanent secretaries and other senior technocrats allow the rogues to flourish. In the wake of the most absolute violation of all the most basic rules of public sector procurement and management by the failed 2016-2021 administration of Allen Michael Chastanet, future governments of Saint Lucia have a duty to pay unprecedented attention to the rules of engagement, starting with the Oath of Office.

The taking of the Oath of Office by ministers and senior officials must assume very public and ceremonial postures, where the entire population observes the taking of the Oaths by all and sundry. Future governments also have an urgent duty and responsibility to secure the elusive constitutional and legal reforms to which only lip service has been paid for too many decades.

‘Corrupt ministers’ who shout in the public’s face: “… if I can give my wife 10 schools, I’m giving my wife 10 schools” have to be brought to the courts of law for their misdemeanours and other alleged corrupt actions and abuses. There must be constitutional and legal reform to allow ‘thieving ministers’ to be taken to court for corruption in the mismanagement of the country’s business.

Public sector corruption must be classified as criminal offences under our legislative reforms, and corrupt ministers and other top enabling officials must begin to visit the Bordelais Correctional Facility to taste the rod of correction.

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