“What a week! I believed that the system would work even if some don’t believe that it usually does. This week my confidence was justified,” says Dr Ernest Hilaire, Minister of Tourism.
“Monday was the usual Cabinet meeting with the slight difference that I was in the Chair as the Prime Minister was out of state on official duties. As the PM attended the official ceremonies to recognise Barbados as the newest Republic, it was a time to reflect on our own journey in Saint Lucia. I am not a Monarchist so my position is very clear.
Tuesday was the Opening Day of a 3-day Post-Election Seminar hosted by the Parliament Office and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK Chapter. The Seminar was to provide information and training in the various functions of our Parliament. It was another immensely educational exercise for me as I continue to learn about Parliament and how we can use its functioning to enhance our democracy. On Tuesday night, I hosted a working dinner with various agencies and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. There has been a long standing interest of Royal Caribbean in the modernisation of Port Castries. Two MOU’s, the first in 2008, have been signed by Allen Chastanet in various capacities but nothing has ever been developed. This time it is our turn to lead the effort.
Wednesday was a memorable day. I attended a session of the Parliamentary Seminar which was thoroughly educational. I also participated in a walk about with Royal Caribbean to assess plans to enhance the visitor experience in Castries. There is still a lot of planning, discussion and decision-making to place.
Bear with me but I must deal with the situation relating to my vehicle. Wednesday afternoon was the mediation session in the matter relating to charges leveled against me by the Comptroller of Customs claiming that I had not submitted an invoice for the purchase of my vehicle. This resulted in the Comptroller ordering that my vehicle be seized. I have explained from the onset that Customs did have the only invoice that I knew about.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was handling all processing on my behalf as a returning diplomat, and that any questions can be explained by the staff which handled all the arrangements for shipping the vehicle. I have provided evidence through my bank statements, an affidavit from the staff member who handled the transactions on my behalf explaining and offering further explanation if needed and finally my lawyer asked as far back as February 2018 what exactly was the issue of concern with the importation of the vehicle. My lawyer was never responded to. Maybe because two Comptrollers found there was never any issue with the vehicle except that Ministry of Foreign Affairs had not paid the outstanding VAT. It was only during the mediation, requested by the Court, that we found out that the new Comptroller, Chiquot (who was chosen to deal with this matter) wanted the invoice to be in my name!!! Repeating Allen Chastanet claim that if the invoice was in the name of the High Comnission then it belonged to the State notwithstanding the explanation that this was to facilitate the receipt and shipping of the vehicle. The Comptroller seem to deliberately bypass the fact that issues of ownership or supposed theft is a Police matter and not Customs. He seemed to bypass the fact that so many goods are imported into Saint Lucia having been purchased by other persons on behalf of the owner.
It is amazing that this story has taken so many different spins or is it deceit – I had stolen a state asset, I had committed fraud in the UK, I owed taxes to the UK and Saint Lucian Government and that I did not have legal documents to show ownership. The lengths to which Allen Chastanet and his Government went to destroy me is simply unbelievable. They first asked the UK Government to assist and asked Scotland Yard to investigate me for fraud. Many persons in the UK were interviewed. Investigating officers were sent up twice to London to carry out investigations. The results were always the same. They even begged the US Justice Department to find something on me. The results were the same.
So on Wednesday, the new Comptroller of Customs submitted that this matter must be brought to a necessary end and my vehicle returned to me with the appropriate remedial action to be instituted. The Courts were informed on Thursday and at our scheduled hearing, the charges were formally withdrawn.
Wednesday night I held a community meeting in Goodlands to discuss land ownership and outstanding matters. It was a great feeling to be back in touch with my constituents doing what I love best. We will be addressing their issues in the coming weeks and create a legacy of empowerment through land ownership.
As stated above, Thursday was my Court hearing and the Customs matter was suitably dealt with. By then, as expected, surrogates were on the offensive but my faith was fulfilled. My resolve was tested but I stood predominant. It is interesting that so many people have reached out to me suggesting that I should forgive Chiquot and drop my civil suit against him. I smile.
Friday morning was spent meeting various interest groups. Friday afternoon was intense but good natured brain storming session with staff on the implementation of one of the Ministry’s signature programmes – village (community) tourism programme. We are preparing for the launching of the programme and are excited about the role the programme can play in transforming the tourism industry in Saint Lucia. My work week ended at the Rodney Bay Marina at a short ceremony to welcome the first boat in the 2021 ARC Race. Congrats to the skipper and crew of the 12 Narcia 69.
Today, I am with the Saint Lucia Labour Party Women Organisation as they host their Annual Conference. The Castries South Women’s Group is in the vanguard of the movement and they’re my staunchest supporters and hardest workers. Love them all.”