SINT MAARTEN/CARIBBEAN (COMMENTARY - By Joel B. Liburd) - Our mothers and grandmothers generally grew up in an era of "less is more". There were less opportunities for education, lower incomes, and little to none of the luxuries that we take for granted today... especially the Internet. But before there was Google, there was Grandma!
You see, the wisdom and experience of our unschooled foreparents actually begat the so-called smart professionals who comprise the status quo today... doctors, lawyers, actuaries, engineers and the likes. But the business executive of today simply is no match for the farmer or market vendor of yesteryear. In spite of all the PhD and MBA qualification from globally recognised institutions, the so-called elite professionals of this generation are still, in effect, employees of a vertically integrated society. On the other hand, Grandma's generation – through sheer hard work, determination, and a strict moral code – achieved their ambitions to make a better life, own property, and ensure that their offspring did not have to toil in the fields as they had. But in hindsight, to what end?
Grandma, in her eternal wisdom, always espoused the vast difference between "book sense" and "common sense".
In the political drama that continues to unfurl in the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis, the latest chapter sees a very educated man – on paper – seeking to use his superior affiliation with textbooks to gain an unfair advantage over a much more common type of man. To make it worse, instead of seeking forgiveness for his transgressions, he continues to operate with impunity and is desperately holding on to elected office, even as he has been convicted of massive fraud.
Lindsay Grant's grandmother must surely be asking herself, in heavenly company, how could her standards have been so criminally altered in just two generations.
Grant will surely go down in history has the politician who almost was, and the honest man that never was.
A child of the Kennedy Simmons People's Action Movement, Grant was supposed to be the star that changed the path of Labour policies that had dominated the tiny twin-island nation for more than a generation. Never mind he was never awarded silk for his legal exploits, his mere attendance at Harvard Law set him well above the rest. Or so it seemed.
With a firm grip on the leadership of the PAM, Grant galloped into the 2004 elections where he was whipped by Labour's Rupert Herbert, and was sent to the stables of Opposition. In the next election cycle, he charged again, only to be stopped by a Labourite newcomer, Glen Phillips, by 29 votes. Grant must have surely taken it for granted that his title of leadership was worth much more than having a comfortable seat across the Assembly floor.
In what must have been an act of unrepentant shame disguised as martyrdom, Grant gave up the PAM leadership in 2012. This was just two years after a greedy Grant was filmed soliciting a million-dollar bribe from an undercover journalist – a major crime in the Commonwealth and a capital offence in a Communist regime.
It is after all these losses that Grant was somehow finally able to gain a governing seat in the National Assembly, and so put the brakes on the runaway Constituency Number Four. What didn't go his way was the fact that his aspirations for the highest elected seat in the land, would instead eventually fall into the lap of a mere boy who only managed a Masters degree in Accounts, Shawn Richards, who was also now Grant's Political Leader. It must have hurt even more that they both had to go to Barbados to renounce their dual citizenships of the United States, so that they would be eligible to contest the polls.
What is critical here is that in spite of Grant being almost 10 years senior to Shawn, the younger PAM man had already decided early in life that he was always open to the option of running away from the land of his birth, and pursuing the American dream. Ironically, in 2015, the Prime Ministership was placed before the Boy King Shawn on a gilded platter. Grant, for his years of salivating, could only watch as the insecure and unsure Shawn allowed his former Labour antagonist Timothy Harris to manoeuvre the ring of power onto his own finger, and he – Grant – had to silently bow and kiss it.
Even before that, his frustration at having been so close, but yet so far from real power, was quite evident. His hoodlum tactics and subsequent arrest during a rowdy protest in2013 did not earn him any martyr points, never mind he and his cohorts inciting a near-riot outside the police station. In the end, his legal learning got him off on bail, and probably germinated the idea that "self" is more profitable than "service".
According to High Court documents, on December 22, 2017, Tanzania Tobin Tanzi filed a claim against Grant and PAM's Constituency Number Two hopeful, Jonel Powell, alleging breach of trust, breach of fiduciary duty and failure to account or misappropriation of US$460,000 belonging to a client, Tanzania Tobing Tanzil.
The funds represented a purchase, under the Citizen by Investment programme, of a condominium which failed to materialize. Grant and his co-convicted then sought the relief of the Appeal Court, but to no avail. It is striking that a man who claims so many years of legal expertise – his Ministry's website says "a practising lawyer for the past 25 years, specializing in corporate and commercial law" – that the common-sense route was not taken.
Grandma would have said either "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" or "you can't get something for nothing". In fact, she may just be itching to tell greedy Grant that "God don't like ugly".
It's a smacking insult to the Federation and Constitution of St Kitts and Nevis that a so-called learned man would think that he can break the law, and then use those very laws to save his mottled skin. Astounding! It's akin to the September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed cowering behind "infidel" layers and learning the "kuffar" United States law in order to see another sunrise from Allah. You can't be all-or-nothing, but still want something when you get nothing.
So, without venturing into sub judice, the question is now on everyone's lips: Now that Grant and Powell have failed to hoodwink the St Kitts and Nevis judicial system (even with very familiar names and connections well present), are they going to take the chance to prostrate before the Law Lords of the Privy Council?
This is always an extremely trying scenario. For one, ordinary attorneys cannot appear before the Privy Council. Queen's Counsel or Senior Counsel is your starting point. Fees to get to London can easily cross USD200,000, or about half of the money that was stashed away following the failed condo transaction. Then there is the objectivity of that particular court, which as one barrister noted "can be more objective on some days than others".
Not that there is a fault in the law and the deliberation of the Law Lords... but for anyone who has endured university studies in jolly old England, it's an undeniable fact that the Queen's Men invariably tend to perceive Caribbean people as former subjects who aim to attain the lofty heights and qualifications of Empire's status quo.
Many will argue that for the most part, Privy Council decisions tend to favour natural justice as opposed to legal State protocols from Caribbean practitioners. The most famous of these was the Pratt & Morgan ruling, which basically told developing Commonwealth countries that if you can't get to the hangman in five years, then you will take care of the killer for the rest of his or her natural life. This, of course, places a massive financial burden on the state, but also passively shows up the inadequate and inept prosecutorial systems that masquerade as the judiciary in many small countries.
This is why many countries in the Caribbean, especially, moan about case backlogs, low conviction rates, legal loopholes and judicial "affirmative action", when things don't go the way of the governing administration. Given that case law is basically an interpretation of constitutional law, once decisions made by friends and family in the sunny islands meet the cut and thrust of foggy London, there is little chance that natural justice will be stifled... even through the complicated maze of examining prosecutorial procedure and judicial instruction.
It's why Grant and Powell know they have a better chance of having vanilla sundaes in a cool part of hell, than it may be possible to reverse two court decisions that have found them liable for the disappearance of more than a million EC dollars.
And while our constitution doesn't expressly forbid convicted criminals from running for office, it is again, the sense of natural justice that must prevail. There are all too many examples of elected officials and appointed team leaders who have had to eat humble pie and relinquish their posts when their integrity is dissolved before a court of law. It sometimes doesn't even matter if a person is eventually vindicated; it takes years to rebuild a reputation. But, it takes a split second – signing a document, giving a nod, or locking a door – that really brings the mightiest of men crashing back down to earth.
Grant is a mere mortal. He's made a massive miscalculation in his dealing, and the courts have exposed him for it. The stain is a personal one for now, but it threatens to permeate Grant's Ministry, his party and indeed the very fabric of the tenuous coalition Team Unity government on the eve of a General Election. In the vein of natural justice, Grant and Powell should consider – as so many other public figures across the world have done – stepping away from party's institution and infrastructure and finally putting service before self.
Joel B. Liburd