Address to the Nation by Hon. Prime Minister on the Resignation of Hon. Walter Francois as Minister of Planning, Environment and Housing
“NO ROOM FOR IMPROPRIETY”
Address to the Nation
By: Dr. Kenny D. Anthony
Hon. Prime Minister of St. Lucia
On the Resignation of
Hon. Walter Francois
As Minister of Planning, Environment and Housing
July 28, 2002
My Fellow St. Lucians,
The subject of my address tonight causes me much anguish, sadness and disappointment.
When I entered the political arena I promised you, in association with my colleagues who now form the government, that we would seek tirelessly to usher in a new political culture in Saint Lucia. That new political culture was to be based on the principles of honesty, transparency, openness and accountability in government. We promised to fight against wrongdoing by public officials, and we promised that these principles would apply to every one regardless of rank, class or station.
Unquestioned Integrity in Public Life Public life requires unquestioned integrity. It is a life of constant sacrifice in an unyielding environment and culture. As I said in Parliament during the recent passing of the Integrity in Public Life Act, no one should enter into politics unless they are prepared to adhere unfailingly to the fundamental principles that govern political life. Indeed, I warned that every intending and practicing politician, should keep the new Integrity in Public Life Act as a constant companion.
This Government has had reason, in the past, to terminate the appointments of persons in public employment when it has been discovered that they did not possess the qualifications which they claimed to have held, particularly where their employment was contingent upon such qualification. It is wrong for this principle to be applied to public officers while it exempts our politicians.
My fellow Saint Lucians, I am here to confirm what you already know. Following a thorough investigation and discussion with Hon. Walter Francois over the last few days, I became aware that Mr. Francois did not possess a PhD degree, as had been assumed.
It is quite normal for varying degrees of time to elapse between the submission of a PhD thesis, and the formal conferment of the degree. It is also often a requirement of the examiners to recommend alterations to a thesis for resubmission before a formal conferment can occur. It is highly irregular for persons, particularly those holding public office, to cultivate the impression of possessing a PhD degree, and to use the title in formal documents, when no such official conferment of the degree has occurred.
Walter Francois’ failure to clarify the situation with respect to his formal qualifications has exposed him to relentless and intense media scrutiny and speculation. The disclosure that he had not been formally conferred with a PhD has caused tremendous anguish to his colleagues in government, his friends, and his constituents in Soufriere.
Having enunciated the principle that a Minister who misrepresents his academic or professional qualifications cannot remain in the Cabinet, I accepted the resignation of Hon. Walter Francois which was tendered on July 25th 2002. It is without question that his actions had rendered his tenure in the Cabinet of Ministers untenable and unacceptable.
An Unfortunate Episode This decision fills me with much sadness, particularly as Walter Francois held such promise as a Minister of Government. Walter Francois has worked tirelessly for the people of Soufriere. The evidence of his work is there for all to see.
It is not often that one can find in our midst persons who can earn a first class in Mathematics as Walter Francois did at the University of the West Indies. Moreover, this unhappy episode was totally avoidable. Had Mr. Francois advised me in 1997 that he needed time to undertake corrections to his dissertation, I would have gladly facilitated a period of leave. Walter Francois has paid the price for recklessness.
The Issue of Parliamentary Representaion The resignation of Walter Francois’ appointment as Minister of Planning, Environment and Housing, has led to much speculation about his continued role as Parliamentary Representative for Soufriere and Fond St. Jacques. A number of persons who should know better, have created the impression that Walter Francois can be dismissed as Parliamentary Representative for Soufriere. The constitution is abundantly clear on the grounds on which the removal of a member from Parliament can be effected. Some among us apparently wish to disenfranchise the people of Soufriere. No one should attempt to subvert the constitution by denying the people of their power to determine their choice of representative. Mr. Francois has indicated his intention to continue to serve the interests of the people of Soufriere from the back benches of the parliament. It is well within his constitutional rights to do so. His place in the Parliament was determined by the people of Soufriere, and it is only the people of Soufriere who can decide his future.
The Opposition United Workers’ Party has no moral basis on which it could add its voice to calls for the removal of Walter Francois as an elected representative. Far worse, and far more reprehensible acts of moral turpitude were committed by their Ministers and they remained in Cabinet, and in Parliament. At last a Government, the Government of the Saint Lucia Labour Party, has had the courage to set new standards and conventions of behaviour in Public Office.
ALLEGATIONS OF CORRUPTION The UWP, in the person of Dr. Vaughn Lewis, has sought to use this opportunity to attack the Government. This is understandable. An opposition party will always use any apparent failings of a minister to highlight what it believes are weaknesses or inadequacies of a government in power.
However, Dr. Lewis has sought to use this event to cast wide aspersions about corruption in this government. Notwithstanding that the issue here is one of ministerial carelessness and complacency, suddenly, in the eyes of Dr Lewis and his party, Walter Francois’ indiscretion is part of a web of Governmental corruption and wrongdoing.
There is more than a hint of desperation in these charges as they continue the U.W.P tradition of levelling baseless and unsubstantiated charges of corruption. The time has come for Dr. Lewis and his party to abandon this practice of leveling charges without producing a shred of evidence or even basic information to substantiate their charges.
The people of Saint Lucia must be treated with respect and it is disrespectful, even contemptuous, of the intelligent people of this country to expect them to take seriously baseless charges. I have said it before and I will repeat it today, the days of the politics of bluff, bluster and deceit are over.
This government has championed a new politics and a new mode of governance which respects the intelligence of our people and never takes them for granted. I challenge Dr. Lewis and the U.W.P to embrace this new politics and to abandon their old style which is based on a view that our people can be persuaded, not by facts and information, but simply by making charges loudly enough and often enough.
It was Dr. Lewis who demanded that Walter. Francois make certain revelations to the Integrity Commission, notwithstanding that the matter in question is the subject of a lawsuit. I now challenge Dr. Lewis to take his charges of widespread corruption in this government to the Integrity Commission and produce facts, figures and names. He will be protected under the law and so cannot claim to be afraid of being sued.
Unless Dr. Lewis can do this the people of Saint Lucia will be justified in believing that he is no more than a worthy successor to the U.W.P’s politics of bluff, lies and deceit. Dr. Lewis must remember that it is this Government which finally enacted legislation to define acts which constitute corruption, so, I say to him, be guided accordingly.
Appointment Of New Minister Consequent on the resignation of the Hon. Member from the Cabinet, I have decided to shift the Economic Planning section of the Ministry of Planning to the Ministry of Finance where it naturally belongs. The former Ministry of Planning will now be called the Ministry of Physical Planning, Environment and Housing. The Ministry will now be headed by Ignatius Jean, who will be promoted to the rank of Minister. Given the Government’s focus on Agriculture, I have decided to transfer Hon. Cyprian Lansiquot to the post of Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture to assist Calixte George in the continuing efforts to revitalize our Agricultural Sector. These changes will come into effect on August 3rd 2002.
Commitment Against Wrong Doing For the information of the public, the Ministry of Education, Human Resources Youth and Sports, has, over the past four years, been working closely with the Caricom Secretariat and the OECS to establish a National Accreditation Authority. This mechanism is now in an advanced stage of readiness and will be submitted shortly to Cabinet for approval. Such a mechanism will be responsible for reviewing academic, technical and professional qualifications assuring their quality, and establishing their equivalence.
I wish to reiterate the commitment of my Government to set new standards in public life. I have promised you in the past that I would move resolutely against any wrongdoing at any level in my government. I remain committed to my pledge. My ministers continue to give me every reason to be proud. This latest episode is however a painful reminder of how easily we may slip if we compromise our standards and our ethical responsibilities. There is no room for impropriety whether moral or otherwise within this administration. We have made a statement about our commitment to strengthening the standards of public accountability in Saint Lucia. I ask you to continue to support and work with us as we build a more open, honest and accountable society.
God’s blessings to each and everyone of you.
I thank you.
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