A STATEMENT TO ALL DOMINICANS BY FORMER CHIEF MINISTER FRANK BARON

STATEMENT FROM FRANK BARON

TO ALL DOMINICANS

 

 

            It is with extreme sadness that for the first time in my public life, one which has spanned over 65 years, I have decided to write a personal statement to my fellow Dominicans.  I served in the Roseau Town Council in the 1940s.  I served in the Dominica legislature in the 1950s.  I served as Dominica’s Chief Minister in 1960.  I served in her Majesty’s opposition in the 1960s.  I vigorously opposed the Labour Party in the 1970s.  I served in the Diplomatic Corps for nearly 15 years in the 1980s and 1990s. 

            I have fought many long and bitter political battles.  I have made numerous public addresses in my time.  I started a newspaper in 1951 to wage a political fight against the likes of R.B. Douglas, Earl Leslie and Harrison Peter, all of whom have since gone to their maker.  I fought Edward Oliver LeBlanc on what I regarded as a neglect of Dominica’s economic well-being.  I fought side by side with Mary Eugenia Charles against what I perceived to be corruption under the United Workers Party government.  I fought through my newspaper, against corruption in government in the 2000 campaign.  Ms. Charles and I were united in our opposition to corruption in government.  I have been sued numerous times because of my unflinching stance.  I have been called every name under the sun.  I proudly bear the financial scars of all those fights and campaigns.

BUT TODAY, IN THE MIDST OF A DEAFENING SILENCE FROM FORMER POLITICAL FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES, I RISE, LIKE A WOUNDED KNIGHT, TO WAGE THAT FIGHT ONCE AGAIN!!

            My body is not as strong as it used to be.  But I am not, to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “declining into dotage.”  I am not ignorant of the things that are taking place in my country, things we have fought long and hard to prevent.  I have not forgotten the battle waged in the 1970s or the reason why the Dominica Chronicle, as it was known then, was firebombed.

            I have not lost hold of my senses.

            In the early 1990s, when internal dissent threatened to destroy the Dominica Freedom Party government, I wrote to my close friend of over 40 years, Mary Eugenia Charles.  I warned her to take control of her government.  I warned  her that selfish ministers were eating away at the innards of her party.  I warned her to silence the conspirators and to pursue an economic programme that would benefit the people.  I warned her that to avoid political defeat, she should pursue a development strategy conducive to capital formation and job creation.

            On other occasions, I also warned her that she should beware of Greeks bringing gifts.  I warned her about the perils of economic citizenship and its potential for abuse.  I warned her about becoming pawns in the hands of foreign powers who would use Dominica for their own selfish reasons.  I warned her, as her then U.S. Ambassador, about the problem in Grenada and the fact that it could happen in Dominica.

            Today, in the name of Mary Eugenia Charles, in the name of the cause of freedom, dignity and integrity in government, I must severely reproach Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, a man I have long admired, for corruption in government to an extent I have never seen.  If I do not do so, then my tenure in government would have meant nothing.  If I do not do so, then the ghost of Mary Eugenia Charles would haunt me like the ghost of Shakespeare’s Banquo.  If I do not do so, then I would be telling Dominicans that as long as the government did something, government officials would get away with everything.  If I did not do so, then the fight I waged against what I regarded as corruption in the late 1990s would have been in vain.

            I simply cannot look away from what is happening in government today.  Mary Eugenia Charles was virulently opposed to any of her ministers profiting at government expense.  As an Ambassador for almost 15 years, Miss Charles refused to pay me a salary;  she said that I had enough money.  When Ms. Charles told me before she died that she was not going to make a will, I got angry at her.  I couldn’t believe that she had so little regard for money.

            This is why I feel compelled to condemn the rapid accumulation of wealth by our young Prime Minister.  This is why I must now condemn his receipt of gifts of land, worth tens of thousands of dollars.  Mr. Skerrit, if you are an honest man, do what Mary Eugenia Charles, my friend and Prime Minister, and also Edward Oliver LeBlanc, my political foe, would have done.  Turn them down!  Give the land to the Nation!!

            If you were a leader in the mould of Ms. Charles and Mr. LeBlanc, you would not have any interest in villas worth millions of dollars.  There would be no “garbage bin bobol,” or inflated invoices for fertilizer.  There would be no allegations from a Dominican ambassador of free gifts including sexual favours.  This is wrong!  This is wrong!  This is wrong!!  I cannot stay silent in the face of this wrong!!

            Many of my political friends say to me:  “So what if he makes a little money on the side!”  It is a slippery road to hell!  It sends the wrong message!  It creates a culture of crime! It erodes respect for law and order in Dominica!   It undermines the enforcement duties of the police!  It robs the government of its moral authority to fight crime!  Government becomes a proxy for greed!  It puts a price on all the values that we hold dear.  It threatens to destroy Dominica as never before!  It creates a dangerous precedent!  It makes Dominica a pariah nation.  A banana republic.  That is why it is wrong!!

            The Prime Minister and the government ministers are employees of the people.  No right thinking business would continue to hire an employee who personally profits over and above his income, while doing his employer’s business.  No right thinking businessman would tolerate this.  Writing in my newspaper in 1998, Waddy Astaphan, one of our most successful businessmen, wrote that “government is a company owned by the people, the voters and it is the people who vote/elect politicians on the Board of Government.”  Waddy went on to advocate the criminalization of corruption in public office.  If unjust enrichment is not corruption in public office, I do not know what is.

            Where are the Freedomites who fought corruption in the 1970s?  Where are the Freedomites who won three successive elections in the 1980s and 1990s?  Where are those men with whom we fought, in every village, warning them about integrity in government? 

            Lord Acton said that “Absolutely power corrupts absolutely.”  No one seems to have the guts to say that to our Prime Minister.  I, Frank Baron, say that to him now!!  The enemies beside you, Sir, are greater than those who oppose you.  Those who feed your ego and lust for ever more power and financial gain are those who will abandon you and disown you at the earliest opportunity.

            I take no pleasure in this. One of my sons supports the opposition.  I have close family and friends who support the government. 

            I have nothing to offer except my years of service and my role as custodian of all that is good in Dominica!  I have nothing to expect except the censure and criticism of others.  I have nothing to gain but the pain occasioned by this decision.

            But I must now sound the alarm.  Dominicans!! Save your country!!  Save your self respect!!  Save your reputation as an honest and law abiding people of distinction!!  History will judge you harshly for your silence!!

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