The prime minister was in top form at the closing of last Friday’s House session, especially while responding to the Leader of the Opposition’s suggestion that someone other than himself was to blame for last year’s erroneous GDP growth figures.
This is how the subject was introduced: “Mr. Speaker, I will turn my attention to the issue raised in Section 3, pages 3-7, of the Budget address, entitled Review of the Domestic Economy, where the prime minister stated that the performance of Saint Lucia’s economy has at best been anemic and quoted an excerpt from my own 2011 Budget address, in which I said the economy grew by 4.4 percent compared to an average of -3.2 percent in the OECS as a whole. The Minister of Finance, in referring to this statement, says the former Minister of Finance, meaning me, threw caution to the winds. To a listener, this suggests that somehow I was irresponsible to have reported the figure given to me by the same technocrats who gave him today’s figures quoted in his Budget presentation. If the honorable prime minister is honest, I will expect that in his rebuttal he will respond to that statement. We don’t create figures. We don’t put the figures together. The technocrats are the ones who put the figures together. I believe it is intellectual dishonesty, whether on the part of the prime minister or the technocrats, to mislead the nation by giving the impression that I gave figures created in my own mind to mislead them.”
He added that back in 2011 he had asked the technocrat in question to “verify the information” and that “two minutes later, he returned to the meeting and informed with great confidence and conviction that the economy had indeed grown by 4.4 percent.”
The prime minister was left little choice but to pick up the gauntlet and, judging by his from ear-to-there smile—with relish. Oh, but he was slick “There can be no doubt that the error in the growth rate for Saint Lucia has caused us some embarrassment,” he said, “because other institutions are aware of the announced rate and the subsequent analysis that fails to confirm it.”
He paused, took a deep breath, exhaled, flashed yet again his best photo-op smile: “I understand the pain and the agony of the Member of Castries North where that is concerned because, truth be told, we are all politicians who have to rely on information and advice from public officers. However, the truth of the matter is that the conventions require that when we get the wrong advice and go public with it we have to take responsibility. That is why in a place like Japan ministers resign left right and center.”
His trap set, his House audience paying rapt attention (not to mention his presumed audience in front of their Courts flat TVs), the prime minister delivered the coup de gras: “I, too, have learned the hard way. When you are standing before an enquiry or commission of inquiry, you are alone. Even if you acted on the advice of your public officers . . .” He paused, looked up at the ceiling, held up his hands, pressed his index fingertips together, held them at his lips for a second or two before proceeding: “Even if you acted on the advice of senior public officers, when the time comes they are not around to protect you.”
The emphasis hinted at where he might be headed. Aiming his banana forefinger in the direction of the Leader of the Opposition, himself absolutely mesmerized, the prime minister said. “It was hurtful, hurtful to watch public officers disowning knowledge of decisions of this government which was communicated to them, which they read about. But the denunciation was restrained. My point is that when you act on advice that is faulty, I’m afraid you have to take responsibility.”
Lest his point was lost on his discomfited target, the prime minister described the Black Bay lands issue as “a serious mistake, an error of judgment,” regardless of the advisor. Again he wagged his huge index finger at the opposition leader. “Lessons should be learned from the Rochamel issue,” he said.
Alas, he did not specify. Neither did he reveal the particular lessons he had learned from Rochamel. At any rate, other than that public servants are not always trustworthy. On the other hand, sworn testimony given by a particular “senior public officer” at the time of the Ramsahoye Inquiry, initiated by the King government, had led the commissioners to conclude: “There was no evidence that high level public servants who were engaged in the offices of Dr Kenny Anthony, the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, were involved in the decision-making process concerning this transaction. All of the relevant documents which supported the liability of the government and people of Saint Lucia to pay monies in connection with the resort were signed by the prime minister . . .” In his final statement at last Friday’s House session, did the prime minister have a particular senior officer in mind?
During his presentation on Friday, the Leader of the opposition had cautioned: “We should be careful what we say about each other. We have children, we have wives, we have relatives.” The prime minister concurred, doubtless not without good cause. On the other hand, when by their private or public behavior politicians betray the public trust should they expect the media to become co-conspirators, whether or not inadvertent? Aren’t politicians protected by the same laws that protect other citizens from malicious attacks? It seems to me the best way to protect innocent relatives might be to do nothing in office that might result in public embarrassment. As always, the ball is in the politician’s court!
By the way, the Gross Domestic Product in Germany expanded 0.5 percent in the first quarter of 2012 over the previous quarter. Just saying!
On Wednesday the Leader of the Opposition suggested it would serve the national interest if the prime minister would initiate an inquiry into the circumstances that had produced GDP growth figures “embarrassing” to that both sides of the House!