Friday 15 November, 2019

Pierre Accuses Government of Suppressing Free Speech

A testy exchange between a Helen Television System (HTS) reporter, Miguel Fevrier and Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee at a pre-Cabinet meeting yesterday has the opposition St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) accusing the government of suppressing free speech.

The exchange become today’s hot button issue, as St. Lucians took to the airwaves to voice their opinion on the matter.

Opposition leader Philip J. Pierre outlined several instances where members of the government, including Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, involved themselves in situations that seem to interfere with free speech.

 Pierre told reporters at a press conference today that Fedee, as a former employee of Sandals, should have recused himself from any issue involving Sandals for the very reason that perception of bias would be clear.

“Dominic Fedee’s last job before he became a Minister was as an employee of Sandals, therefore the Prime Minister should have exercised the necessary judgment and advised Dominic Fedee to not only recuse himself but try as far as possible not to make statements that seem to favour Sandals,” Pierre said, adding that government seems to be on a policy of oppression of free speech.

“There is a disposition of the government towards vindictiveness and suppression of free speech and this is very worrisome,” Pierre said.

He said he is concerned about the government’s tendency towards a lack of transparency, government seeming to engage in conflicts of interest and government taking deliberate steps, some of them publicly, to suppress free speech.

What started it all was a question by Fevrier on whether duty-free concessions on 97 vehicles for the hotel chain Sandals would fall under the Tourism Incentive Act and in what category.

Fedee, it seems, did not take kindly to the question and batted it away by calling on the reporter to provide proof of what he was talking about.

An undaunted Fevrier asked of the Minister whether it was true that duty-free concessions for a large amount of vehicles were being considered by Cabinet.

An equally impervious Fedee kept on ignoring the question, persisting in asking Fevrier to substantiate his question to which Fevrier made reference to a document he said was ‘floating around’. Fedee then called for the document to be produced.

During all of this, Fevrier asked Fedee whether he took a request from Sandals for concessions on vehicles to Cabinet.

Fedee, without missing a stride, said he would not waste his time responding to rumours and things heard on the streets or by the market.

The exchange reached a stage where both men were talking at the same time with neither one willing to give in to the other. Fedee, however, remained adamant that he would not answer Fevrier’s question while Fevrier insisted that the question required a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

The exchange reached a point where Fedee referred to the query as 'a joke question' and one which devalues Fevrier as a journalist.

Efforts by the Senior Communications Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister, Nicole Mc Donald to stop the hostilities were to no avail. Another reporter was able to do so when he cut in and asked Fedee whether it was not his responsibility to respond to questions that pertain to his portfolio.

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