The Kalinago Territory Act (Cap. 25:90) is an Act to provide for the establishment of a body corporate for the Kalinago Territory. It makes provision for the administration of the Territory and for matters connected therewith. The Act provides for a Council that shall be a local government body with the same powers as a Village Council.
One of the Council’s main functions is to provide financial resources authorized by law, to be allocated towards various developmental projects in the territory. These are expected to help to enhance the quality of life and the lifestyle of the original inhabitants of Waitukubuli. Councilors are assigned responsibilities, which range from Tourism, Arts & Craft, Cultural Development and Special Events, Health, Social and Gender Affairs, Community Development, Education, Public Relations and Research, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Sports and Youth Affairs. Part of the Council’s duty involves the construction and maintenance of village roads, water supplies, health centers, playing fields, public conveniences, and community center. The Council is also responsible to ensure that the Kalinago community is kept in proper sanitary conditions while serving as the agents of the Central Government for the distribution of public assistance to indigent community members. It is also expected to be a channel via which information on Central Government policies and programs are conveyed to the local community. It possesses the authority to settle non-judicial disputes amongst the residents of the Territory.
Recently, however, we have been reading some unflattering headlines in various media outlets including local newspapers, online blogs, and social media postings such as:
· “Kalinago Chief announces audit of Kalinago Council finances amidst allegations of misappropriation of funds”;
· “Director of Audit given a deadline to publish audit of Kalinago Council finances”
· “Audit of the accounts of the Kalinago Chief and Council” and
· “Audit of Kalinago Council Released but hidden Councilors and the people.”
As reported by Dominica News Online (DNO), in its publication of Tuesday, August 4th, 2020, the matter seems to have come to light in comments made by UWP senator, Anette Thomas-Sanford on Thursday, 30th July 2021 during the 2020-2021 National Budget Debate, when she questioned what she perceived to be the “silence” of the parliamentary representative for the Salybia constituency and Minister for Kalinago Upliftment, Cozier Frederick on the matter.
DNO reported that just about a year after being elected as the youngest Kalinago Chief ever, Lorenzo Sanford and his councilors are now faced with allegations that have, for some time, been circulating within the Kalinago Territory and on social media platforms. The Online Newspaper reported that Senator Sanford pressed Frederick in parliament to confirm whether or not he had authorized the transfer of money from the Kalinago Council’s accounts at the Marigot Credit Union and the First Caribbean International Bank and whether he had given authorization for those funds to be paid back in installments. It was reported that she stated,
“Since he has been silent on this issue, I take this opportunity today in the highest court in the land, to ask that the Commissioner of Police and the investigating officers at the CID to launch a criminal investigation into the allegations of misappropriation of funds in the Kalinago Council…As a leader from the tribe, I will not be silent while watching the integrity of the Chief and Council office be compromised.”
Senator Sanford noted that in addition to his silence, Minister Frederick failed to call for an investigation into the allegations nor did he request the auditor’s report from the Local Government Commissioner. Interestingly, when Cozier took to the floor immediately following the contribution of Senator Sandford during the budget debate, he did not address the concerns and questions raised by Senator Sandford. As for Chief, Lorenzo Sanford, he accused Senator Sanford of seeking to misinform the public and urged her to desist from such action.
The above drama, notwithstanding, the Kalinago people and Dominicans by extension expect to get answers about these allegations surrounding their the Kalinago Chief and the alleged misappropriation of Kalinago Council funds, which was reportedly audited by the Local Government Department with its oversight and supervision authority over all Local Authorities in Dominica.
On Monday, October 12th, 2020, DNO published another story informing the nation that some residents of the Kalinago Territory had written to the Director of Audit, threatening legal action if the office fails to take “prompt” action to complete the audit of the finances of the Kalinago Council and to have the findings of the report published in the Official Gazette within 14 days of receiving their letter. The letter, dated the 1st of October 2020, was sent on behalf of the group by attorney Joel Paris.
At the centre of the concerns, according to Paris was a cheque of just over $2 million four hundred and fifty thousand dollars(EC$2, 450,000.00), which, was issued, in June 2019 in a few months prior to the December 6, 2019 general elections by the Ministry of Finance to the Kalinago Chief and Council’s Office accompanied with clear instructions from the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Housing to the then Kalinago Chief Charles Williams “not use money from the said cheque pending the inauguration of the incoming Chief and Council, given the impending fresh elections for the Office of Chief and Council in July 2019.”
Attorney Paris questioned the District Development Officer’s request to Chief Lorenzo Sanford and Councilors to put the Clerk of the Kalinago Council on immediate leave on or about the 3rd of March, 2020, pointing out that he has informed his clients that at all material times a presumption of any wrongdoing, error or inaccuracy could not only operate against the Clerk, since payments from the accounts of the Chief and Council cannot be made solely on the written order of the Clerk but all payments MUST be countersigned by the Chief or other persons designated by the Council as provided for at Section 93 (2) of the Kalinago Act. Paris also pointed to “material revelations and omissions” contained in Chief Lorenzo Sanford’s response in which he dismissed the demands contained in a letter to Chief and Council from one of his clients, requesting the bank accounts of the Kalinago Chief and Council for the period since the inauguration of Chief Sanford along with statutory minutes of meetings, and an audience with the Chief and Council regarding the management of public finances in their care.
According to Paris, the Chief’s response reveals that the Chief and Council’s accounts are being audited for the first time in ten (10) years by the Local Government Department and Audit Department and the audit will predominantly focus on Chief and Council, which predates the current. He identified material omissions in the Chief’s response as failure to state the commencement of the audit, its expected duration and failure to make clear whether or not the tenure of the current Chief is of priority of the audit. He further advised that his clients have been informed of the failure of the Audit Department to conduct an audit of the Chief and Council’s accounts for a continuous period of twelve (12)years, which has put the Kalinago people at risk of being deprived of protection from possible financial abuse which the statutory oversight of the Audit Department is designed to avoid.
Attorney Paris noted that where audits of the Chief and Council’s accounts are not conducted with the prudence required by law, timely and with reasonable pace, the people of the community are at risk of being deprived of protection from possible financial abuse which the statutory oversight of the Audit Department is designed to avoid. He submitted that no reasonable Director of Audit, properly guiding him/herself on the relevant law as aforementioned and the mischief to be avoided to the Kalinago people could have properly allowed the accounts of the Chief and Council to remain unaudited for a continuous period of 12 years.
He further advised that it is unreasonable for the accounts of the current Chief and Council to have been excluded from the review of the Director of Audit or for it not to have been subjected to an immediate robust investigation since there was sufficient reason to do so on or about the ending of February, 2020, based upon the timing of the unfolding circumstances detailed. Further, prior to the commencement of the audit, the Kalinago public was required to be consulted in good faith on all material aspects of the audit, including the reasons for the audit, the period being covered and duration before its completion pursuant to Articles 18,19,23,27 and 32 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Over the last few weeks, however, the people of the Kalinago territory have been whispering aloud that a preliminary Audit report of the Council has been completed and reportedly presented ONLY to the Chief with no copy circulated to the other Councilors or community members. The reports are that the Chief and some Councilors have been “confessing” to the allegations of wrongdoing and seeking ‘forgiveness’ and ‘mercy’ as some individuals may have to repay thousands of “looted’ funds from the Council. Even NEP funds seem to be part of the loot, with the tacit or constructive knowledge of senior government officials, while some Councilors are have been kept in the dark of the affairs and dealings of the Chief and some Council members.
As far as the Kalinago people are concerned, forgiveness and mercy notwithstanding, they want the Audit Report to be made public and every Councilor out of office with immediate effect in accordance with the recommendation of the District Development Officer (DDO) to the (Local Government Commissioner (LGC) and to have the present Council dissolved.
As observed by a social media commentator, the people of the Territory are of the view that the present, young, inexperienced, and impressionable Kalinago Chief is a product of the polarization of the territory by the DLP government, which mirrors the corruption and inefficiencies of the Central government. The vulnerable young Chief is motivated and inspired by his idol (the leader of the DLP and Prime Minister), who seeks to have a bountiful harvest of funds belonging to the apparatus of the state for non-state actions. The Chief feels emboldened, and confident that he will be favoured and protected by the big hands of those who run tings’ in central government. Per the commentator, “Fish first begins to stink at its head and monkey see, monkey do!”
Whatever the status of this matter and the secrecy that surrounds it, it is time to have it in the open. The people are demanding that the Audit Report must be shared with the entire council, discussed and appropriate action promptly taken by the relevant authorities to restore confidence in the Council and the management of the affairs of the Kalinago Territory.