Saint Lucia
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Another Taiwan tie-up: Once Bitten, Twice Shy?

Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

ONCE again, a Saint Lucia government is appealing to Taiwan to help it correct alleged wrongs associated with the handling of official Taiwanese funds for local projects.

A previous administration (2011-2016) amended local laws to stop a process of direct funding of local politicians and their sidekicks with suspected political kickbacks, particularly after the controversial 2007 breakup of Saint Lucia’s ties with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) by a breakaway faction of the then Cabinet of Ministers.

That April 30, 2007 Palace Coup triggered a heart attack that then Prime Minister Sir John Compton never recovered from, many here quietly fingering those behind the coup d’etat as having the nation’s first prime minister’s blood on their hands.

General Elections in 2011 again resulted in regime change and the new administration, under then Prime Minister Dr Kenny D. Anthony, took two major related steps:

First, it amended the Finance (Administration) Act to ensure all external finances for Government projects are first to be deposited into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund.

Secondly, in February 2012, it appointed a local four-member investigative team to undertake a ‘Review of Financial Operations of Town, Village and Rural Councils’.

The team was asked to audit transactions of the local government bodies and to report (in two months) by April 15, 2012.

But the exercise was quite extensive, as it eventually involved thorough investigations in the following 13 councils: Gros Islet, Babonneau, Dennery North, Anse La Raye, Canaries, Soufriere, Dennery South, Micoud North, Micoud South, Vieux Fort North, Vieux Fort South, Laborie and Choiseul.

The investigators therefore requested an extension that was granted for another six months, until November 2, 2012.

On May 5, 2013 – after 15 months investigating – the team presented a 190-page report with over-a-dozen chapters, covering subjects like: ‘Breaches’ of the Local Authorities Ordinance and of The Finance Act, ‘Role of Councils in Disbursement of Taiwanese Funds’, ‘Councils Directed by Parliamentary Representatives’, ‘Failure to Account’, ‘Competence and Trustworthiness’ and ‘Conflicts of Interest’.

The team offered specific ‘Recommendations and the government later moved to appoint a Special Prosecutor, but the 2016 General Elections came – and so did another regime change – and the rest is history…

Seven years later, the current administration is alleging that, at some point during the latter-part of the previous administration’s term, the spirit and intent of the earlier amendment to the Finance (Administration) Act, might have been violated.

From statements by current Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre and ex-Prime Minister Dr Kenny D. Anthony during the September 12, 2023 House of Assembly meeting, the latter said that, on approval of the loan from Taiwan’s Export-Import (Exim) Bank (before the 2016 General Elections) he had instructed (as Finance Minister) that the entire US $19.98 million (EC $54 million) loaned for works on the St. Jude Hospital be deposited with the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB).

As per Dr. Anthony, however, after the first tranche was withdrawn, the rest of the deposit at the ECCB was withdrawn and deposited instead with a firm registered in Panama.

The Taiwanese company involved is the Overseas Engineering and Construction Corp. (OECC), officially described as ‘a construction company formed by various Taiwanese syndicates to handle infrastructure projects funded by the Taiwan government in the country’s diplomatic allies.’

The Saint Lucia government is saying two things today:

One, that it was unusual for the funds already deposited to have been withdrawn from the ECCB and redirected to special accounts of a firm registered in Panama.

Secondly, it’s also claiming that a ‘private account’ was opened, into which $2.5 million was deposited as “a Commission’ for an unidentified person or entity.

Members of the last government (now in opposition) are loudly pleading not guilty, some taking to the media to accuse the current administration of biting the hand that feeds the island – and somehow blaming ‘Public Servants’.

Flashing the usual deflective mirrors, today’s opposition is accusing today’s government of biting the hand that feeds Saint Lucia.

However, Taiwan has agreed to cooperate – and Prime Minister Pierre was reassured by Foreign Affairs Minister, Joseph Wu, who he met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Prime Minister Pierre, while reaffirming Saint Lucia’s ties with Taiwan, also reminded Minister Wu that “I look forward to continuing our mutual cooperation for the good of the people whom we serve…” and that his sole intent is, “to strengthen government accountability mechanisms and financial management…”

Meanwhile, the Taiwan foreign ministry has issued a statement, (published locally last weekend), saying (in part): “The process by which a loan was given by Taiwan to Saint Lucia was transparent and executed in accordance with a contract signed between the two sides…”

It also assured that “The OECC is willing to provide all remittance details for review by the Saint Lucia government.”

As with all such issues, the claims and counter-claims, allegations and denials, are being made by governments led by the island’s only two major political parties.

It’s also clear that from previous experiences, the OECC and Taiwan officials do have a “contract” that allowed them to do all they did by way of redirecting the already-approved-and-deposited funds to a new account registered in Panama – and also depositing ‘a commission’ payment into a private account.

Who authorized the changes that have led to this latest apparent scandal involving Taiwanese money meant for local projects?

That’s the big question being asked by Prime Minister Pierre – and from all appearances the Taiwanese are prepared to provide the answer(s).

Whether Prime Minister Pierre will achieve what Prime Minister Anthony didn’t, or whether this will (or won’t) turnout to be a case of ‘once bitten, twice shy’ – only time will tell.

But, also as per usual, John and Joan Public continue to hold that until and unless a politician (no matter who) is charged, prosecuted, found guilty and jailed following corruption allegations, they’ll continue treating all such efforts and promises of ‘tackling corruption’ as ‘Political Ole-talk!’