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Diplomatic briefings

Sunday, April 8, 2018

As the foreign policy conundrum involving this country’s vote at the OAS on the request by Dominica to seek a waiver of its annual fees to the organisation for the years 2018 and 2019 continues to simmer, there appears to be some hope that a resolution of the matter will come.

The Prime Minister has decided to place an interpretation of the facts into the hands of former ambassador Christopher Thomas who will try to make sense of what appears to be a very complex situation based on the report the Prime Minister has read.

That means that both Foreign and CARICOM Affairs Minister Dennis Moses and T&T Ambassador to the OAS, Anthony Phillips-Spencer, have been given a temporary reprieve pending the determination to be made by Thomas for the consideration of the Prime Minister.

The issue of the constitutional doctrine of individual ministerial responsibility must play a part in any analysis of this situation.

This doctrine is supported by three main rules, namely (i) the advice rule, (ii) the culpability rule, and, (iii) the propriety rule.

In breaking this down, it is critical to understand that ministers are entitled to departmental advice in the discharge of their duties before making any policy decisions.

Also, ministers are to be held culpable for policy error, and finally, ministers are required to maintain good standards of personal propriety.

The statement that was issued by the Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs clearly points to policy error on the face of the record.

An excerpt from that statement as reported in the Guardian on March 30 says:

“In an unqualified way, the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs regrets the misrepresentation of the position of T&T offered by a public official of T&T during a meeting of the OAS’ Permanent Council (held March 23) relative to a request from Dominica for a waiver of its financial contribution to that Organization for 2018 to 2019.

Currently, an investigation into the briefing arrangements of the public official and the circumstances involved in the discussion at the OAS is underway.”

For the ministry to state that it is investigating the “briefing arrangements” is ominous because it will eventually put the minister front and centre where this controversy is concerned.

The ministry has already publicly confessed to a “misrepresentation” of the position of the Government of T&T in respect of the statement made by its ambassador who is being referred to as a “public official” which is a slap down to him.

He was not even afforded the courtesy of being publicly addressed as an “ambassador” which is what he is.

In the diplomatic world, the use of words must always be very carefully examined to get clues to the intention behind what is being said.

What comes through in that statement was the attempt to temporarily shield the minister by putting the blame on “briefing arrangements” as opposed to the minister’s policy.

Secondly, the “ambassador” has been downgraded to a “public official” and, thirdly, there is an open confession of policy error.

Ambassador Thomas will have a lot more to consider than the documents that have been leaked to date in this matter.

The one thing that the public has is the official statement of the ministry. Prime Minister Rowley did not hide the fact that he was shocked by the contents of the report that he received.

It is apparent that the T&T delegation to the OAS was in favour of giving Dominica the two-year waiver however, the ambassador sought guidance from the ministry itself (not the kind of thing that a rogue diplomat would do).

He apparently got his directive and he faithfully complied with it. Now we hear that that was a “misrepresentation.”

If the ambassador deviated from his brief, then he is at fault. For everything else, there is individual ministerial responsibility.


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