Publication of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into a Trio of Events in Public Administration in Saint Lucia
STANDARDS IN PUBLIC LIFE IN SAINT LUCIA: PUBLICATION OF THE REPORT OF THE COMMISSION OF INQUIRY INTO A TRIO OF EVENTS IN PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION IN SAINT LUCIA
DR THE HON. KENNY D ANTHONY
MINISTER OF FINANCE, PLANNING, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, INFORMATION
AND PUBLIC SERVICE
THE CONTEXTUAL BACKGROUND
During the election campaign of 1997, the Saint Lucia Labour Party made "good governance" a solemn electoral promise and agreed to appoint a Commission of Inquiry, to review all cases of alleged corruption. This pledge was enshrined in the Contract of Faith as follows:
This was the first step.
Mr Speaker, Honourable Members, it has always been the view of this Government, that the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry was not solely about the indiscretions of the former regime. This Commission of Inquiry is also about setting standards of behaviour for this generation of politicians, officials of statutory boards and public officers. It is about the future. It is also about cleansing the body politic, allowing our society to discard the past with dignity, by closing an unsavory chapter of our political history.
WHY THE SO-CALLED DELAY?
Mr Speaker, some, have taken issue with the "so-called" delay in the issuance of the report. Some have even said that there is nothing in the report, that is why the Government does not wish to release the report. What is there to gain from the non-issuance of the report? Why should this Government undermine its credibility? What is so difficulty to understand about releasing the report through Parliament, the cradle of our democracy? Surely, Mr Speaker, this Government has no history of concealing public inquiries or of destroying the careers of police officers by relying on Reports which the public have never seen.
Mr Speaker, there are a number of steps which had been followed after receipt of the Draft Report by Her Excellency, the Governor General. Observance of these procedural requirements made it impossible for the earlier release of the Report.
Firstly, the Draft Report was read by Her Excellency prior to its submission to me. I had to study the Draft Report and make notes of matters I wished clarified and/or errors and omissions which I had identified.
The Draft Report was then passed on to the Hon. Attorney General for further review and for any necessary communication with the Commissioner on errors/omissions or corrections which were identified.
Following communication between the Attorney General and Sir Louis, the Draft Report was then submitted to Counsel for the Commission, Allan Alexander, for review. Mr Alexander’s input was particularly necessary to ensure the legal correctness of the matters contained in the Report.
A further round of discussion followed between Mr Alexander and Sir Louis relating to matters which Mr Alexander had noted in the Report. The two parties agreed to certain further corrections.
On June 19th, 1999, Sir Louis communicated to the Hon Attorney General and indicated what corrections should be made. At this stage, the Report was ready to be published to the public. I announced publicly that the Report would be published at the next sitting of the House (at the time scheduled for July 13th, 1999). In consequence of my travel itinerary, that date was shifted to July 27th, 1999.
With the publication of the Report, "Standards In Public Life In Saint Lucia", the Government will take one further step towards remodelling accountability in public life. This Government supports the findings in relation to the events covered by the Commission’s terms of reference (which I shall deal with shortly). Overall, the Commissioner concluded that:
I believe that the findings of this Report, although limited in their factual compass are a sure foundation upon which to begin to build a new tradition that will dispel the pervasive culture identified by the Commissioner. With the publication of this Report, Saint Lucians should be assured that failures and malpractices in Government will not go publicly unnoticed.
THE TERMS OF REFERENCE
When the Commission of Inquiry was established on 15th April, 1998, under Section 2 of the Commissions of Inquiry Ordinance, the terms of reference was limited. The Commission was asked to inquire into the circumstances leading up to and surrounding each of the following three events:
Mr Speaker, Honourable Members:
An examination of the terms of reference regarding these three events make it pellucidly clear that none of these items involved, directly, the personal conduct of former Prime Ministers John Compton and Vaughn Lewis. The terms of reference focussed on three events which occurred during their administration, but in no way impeached them personally or directly. The two items which focussed on these two gentlemen exclusively, were never placed before the Blom-Cooper Commission. These items were withheld pending the litigation in the Monica Joseph matter. How, then, could the reputation of John Compton and Vaughn Lewis be on the line, when none of the terms of reference considered by Sir Louis Blom-Cooper focussed on them?
"O what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive". [Scott]
The following quotation is instructive:
"I would have been helped towards my task had Sir John not been so keen to indulge his political appetite over the Commission’s terms of reference instead of meeting the potential criticism of his actions head on. I feel that Sir John would do better to adopt the role of elder statesman… rather than to rake over the embers of political battles of the past or to fight fresh political issues." [P. 28]
These are not my words. They are taken from Sir Louis Blom-Cooper’s report of his inquiry. Of course, others have expressed similar sentiments regarding John Compton. Alas, it would seem the adage about the inability of old politicians to learn new tricks couldn’t be more apropos of John Compton. Rather than conducting himself in a statesmanlike manner, he continues at every opportunity to put impediments in the way of progress.
Even though John Compton knew well that the Blom-Cooper inquiry hardly dealt with him personally, he could not resist the temptation to mislead the general public. Everyone knew precisely what had gone on during the weeks of the inquiry. After all the whole thing was televised live. It was not conducted in secrecy behind closed doors. But the mischief makers, unable to face the truth, insisted on making it appear that this government was bent on conducting a vendetta against certain individuals.
Finally, John Compton and his immediate successor set out to make it appear that this government had stained their reputations without cause and now that the Blom-Cooper inquiry had proved them innocent on all counts the government was reluctant to release the Blom-Cooper report.
I ask you, what reputations? In their own time, when public pressure forced them to conduct investigations, except in the matter of the so-called UN Scandal, they kept the result of such investigations to themselves. Worse, as in the case of the 1988 Hudson-Phillips Commission of Inquiry into the working of the St Lucia Police Force, Prime Minister John Compton decided not to release the related report. Instead, he took to the airwaves to deliver a scathing speech that linked leading members of the police department to drugs, drug lords and robberies. Indeed, he accused certain members of the force of hiding their criminality under their uniforms. The service of three leading police officers were terminated on Television by the Prime Minister.
We still don’t know whether in fact the report said certain officers were criminals under their uniforms. It still has not yet been established that the Prime Minister’s action in relation to the named former officers were recommended by the Hudson-Phillips report.
Ours is a small country. We must be careful when we hurl unfounded accusations at other people. I need not tell you that the price paid by Messrs Cuthbert Phillips, Andrew Frederick and Norbert Frederick.
Mr Speaker, all this government sought to do, via a properly constituted commission of inquiry, was to uncover certain hidden facts relating to matters of public interest in keeping with its manifesto promise.
Noted Sir Louis Blom-Cooper: "In winning the election so decisively, the Labour Party was bound not merely to fulfil its promise but was also carrying out a public demand. The new government in St Lucia might positively have laid itself open to serious criticism had it not set up the Commission of Inquiry."
Let us now turn to the findings.
THE SALE AND PURCHASE OF ROSEAU BAY LANDS
Model Farms Ltd had been set up by the previous government to supervise the Roseau Valley Small holder Project which intended the area of Roseau to be "…developed into model agricultural small holdings". By September 1991 the Government decided that Model Farms Ltd should be voluntarily wound up and the land sold to farmers.
In relation to Roseau Bay, the events and evidence heard by the Commission centred on Mr Ausbert d’Auvergne, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Planning, Personnel, Establishment and Training, from September 1992 until 11 August, 1994. Mr d’Auvergne was also Chairman of the Board of the Development Control Authority established under the Land Development (Interim Control) Act.
Mr d’Auvergne had been in public office since 1981. In July 1992, prior to his appointment as Senior Civil Servant in the St Lucia Government, Mr d’Auvergne set up Genesis Ltd and became Director and Principal shareholder of the company.
As a result of his dual positions, the Commission found that Mr d’Auvergne was in breach of Order 4.7 of the Staff Orders of the Public Service of St Lucia, in that he had placed himself in a position which conflicted with his official duties and responsibilities and that he had used his official position for private benefit as promoter and principal shareholder of Genesis Ltd.
The Commission went on to state that Mr d’Auvergne’s explanation in his evidence that his private activities did not warrant declaring such activities to the Public Service Commission within the provision to Order 4.7 because the majority of civil servants in St Lucia engage regularly in such activities would not in anyway excuse Mr d’Auvergne from compliance with Order 4.7. I concur with the Commissioner that civil servants should be made aware of their duties under the Staff Orders, and agree that this is perhaps another case for the need to review the 1983 draft of the Orders.
The Commission found that Mr d’Auvergne’s conflicting activities between July 1992 and August 1994 amounted to behaviour that was "highly reprehensible" and "fell below the standards of public life expected in democratic society"
On 13 April, 1994 at the 5th meeting of the Development Control Authority, the application from Genesis Ltd for the purchase of the beach front land at Roseau Bay was heard. On 25th May, 1994, at the 7th meeting the member of the Authority granted approval in the principle of the application. On the basis of the documentary and oral evidence considered, the Commission found that Mr d’Auvergne as Chairman of the Authority, was in breach of section 3(10) of the Land Development (Interim Control) Act 1971 in two respects. First, that at the 5th meeting, having declared his interest in the matter to be discussed, Mr d’Auvergne failed to ensure that he took no part in the discussion of the application by withdrawing from the meeting at the outset. Secondly, that having withdrawn from the meeting, when the application was considered, Mr d’Auvergne failed to observe that the meeting had become inquorate by operation of section 3(5) of the Land Development (Interim Control) act 1971.
Mr Nathaniel Husbands, the liquidator of Model Farms Ltd, was found to be "…questionably negligent in failing arguably to perform a public duty…".
In his evidence to the Commission, Mr Husbands had recognised that it was "strange" that Mr d’Auvergne (on behalf of Genesis Ltd) the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Planning, was himself negotiating for the sale of the land at Roseau Bay. The Commission found that Mr Husbands, having at one time been the Chairman of the Public Service Commission had failed in his public duty to report the matter to the Public Service Commission in order that there could be a proper investigation of a possible breach of the Staff Orders by Mr d’Auvergne.
CONSTRUCTION OF SHANTY TOWN ROAD
The construction of the Shanty Town Road centres around the proper administrative procedures for the authorisation of Government contracts. On this matter the Commissioner concluded thus:
The Commission’s findings are clear that the failure to adhere to the proper system of authorisation of government contracts was solely that of Peter Josie and that John Compton was not a party to authorising contracts for the unpaved road in Shanty Town.
NATIONWIDE PROPERTIES LTD
The Inquiry into the events surrounding Nationwide Properties Ltd (established to manage government housing) was not included in the terms of reference of the inquiry set up under Ms Monica Joseph. This Government undertook a complete review of Nationwide on entering office and received a report of auditor, Mr Eustace Francis, on 15 October, 1997 that revealed "misappropriation of company funds and the lack of adequate documentation to support material account balances".
The Commission of Inquiry identified a series of failures on the part of the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Nationwide, Mr Peter Philip. The Commission identified the failures of Mr Philip as:
The investigation of Nationwide was prompted by the report of auditor, Mr Eustace Francis, in which it was stated generally that there had been misappropriation of funds of Nationwide Properties Ltd. The Commission concludes that "misappropriation of funds" means nothing more than maladministration of companies monies in a manner indicated in the auditor’s report and in relation to the conduct of Mr Philip, as I have described.
STRENGTHENING GOOD GOVERNANCE
Mr Speaker, the Commissioner has exposed the darker corners of our past backwardness in the public offices of St Lucia. By his Report he had made the darkness more visible.
A tradition of ‘good governance’ cannot be achieved by an election promise or sustained by a Commission of Inquiry. The process of rejuvenation of the standards of public administration is continuous.
With the publication of this Report, St Lucians should be assured that failures and malpractices in Government will not go publicly unnoticed.
The Commissioner in his Report has advocated the forming of a (permanent) independent Standing Commission for Standards in Public Life. The Commissioner identifies an inherent shortcoming of such a Commission, that is its ability to produce with the small population of St Lucia and the Caribbean islands with OECS, the necessary independence and expertise to staff such as body. I hope that following the publication of the Report all member-states of the OECS will consider the advantages of a unified approach to the setting of such a Commission.
The Government of Saint Lucia has decided to go one step further. It will introduce anti-corruption legislation modelled in some measure, on legislation presently before the Jamaican Legislature. This legislation will be presented to the legislature in the near future. This new legislation will strengthen the work of the existing Integrity Commission.
APPRECIATION TO COMMISSIONER
Mr Speaker, Honourable Members, let me pause and thank the Commissioner, Sir Louis Blom Cooper QC, for what is, I believe, a thorough and fair Report into the three events under inquiry.
We are especially grateful to Sir Louis for conducting the inquiry upon such short notice following the suspension of a Commission of Inquiry under Ms Monica Joseph pursuant to the judgment of the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal in February 1998. Those proceedings have, I believe, demonstrated the limitations of judicial review over Commissions on Inquiry. This Government agrees with the Commissioner that if there is a complaint about the impartiality of a Commission of Inquiry any judicial review must be directed at the Governor General under whose warrant the Commissioner is appointed.
On behalf of the Government, I would also like to thank Ms Monica Joseph for her work in the latter part of 1997. It is a matter of profound sadness that some attempted to impugn the integrity of this outstanding and gracious regional public servant. Sir Louis, an eminent jurist, commented that "On any interpretation of the established facts, a finding of bias was … unwarranted". [p. 20]. This is little comfort for Ms Joseph, but she can, in this twilight, reflect that the ruling of the Court of Appeal has forever altered the position regarding the continuation of tenure of judges beyond the retiring age.
Mr Speaker, Sir Louis Blom Cooper is a highly distinguished jurist, recognised as such throughout the Commonwealth. He has, on more than one occasion acted as Commissioner to inquiries in his native England and in other parts of the Commonwealth. Indeed, Mr Speaker, Sir Louis, in his more youthful days, was part of the legal defense team, which defended the former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.
It was therefore, particularly distressing, not to say offensive, to hear the scandalous and racist accusations launched against Sir Louis when it was announced that Her Excellency had appointed him to be Commissioner for purposes of the inquiry.
In addition to being described as a white colonial imposition on the people of Saint Lucia, he was frequently called a "hatchetman", being used to do this government’s "dirty work". It was declared that the results of the inquiry was preordained and Sir Louis was part of the conspiracy, a mere cover for victimisation and oppression.
That is why, Mr Speaker, it was so amusing to hear that the same persons who lacked the dignity, and good manners, to accord respect to Sir Louis had written him purportedly seeking his protection. After having treated Sir Louis in the manner that John Compton and Vaughn Lewis did, it was nothing short of laughable that these same two gentlemen were asking Sir Louis’ help in getting the Report released.
It should be pointed out further, Mr Speaker, that the very same Sir Louis who it was said was merely a cover for government’s desire to victimise members of the former government, went out of his way to be fair, balanced and objective in his Report. Throughout this Report his graciousness, honesty and balanced approach is evident and his final determination bears testimony to the fact that his integrity is impeccable unlike that of those who criticised him.
In the final paragraph of the Report, Sir Louis notes that the Government’s White Paper on Public Sector Reform "has not appeared", but expects that it will "address more, if not all, of the issues thrown up by the Inquiry". I am pleased to advise Honourable Members that the White Paper will be launched on August 06th, 1999.
Mr Speaker, now that this Report has been exposed to the public, I have no doubts that much will be said about its contents. I take this opportunity to remind us all that a Commission of Inquiry is essentially preventive and curative; it is not primarily about punishment.
However, having said this, I wish to state clearly that the evidence contained in the Report may well constitute a basis for further action against those involved in the maters dealt with by the Commission. Therefore, I have instructed the Attorney General to immediately submit a copy of the Report to the DPP so that he can study its contents and advise the Government whether any legal action can and should be brought against any person.
Mr Speaker, this Report has shared a light on the past malpractices
which breeds corruption. I assure you and this Honourable House, that this government will never allow this light to go out. No more will we revert to the dark old days of malpractices, maladministration and deceit.
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