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Dodging ministerial responsibility

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Would Dr Keith Rowley, as leader of the Opposition, have accepted Kamla Persad-Bissessar absolving her Foreign and Caricom Minister of responsibility for T&T’s non-support of Dominica’s attempt to have its membership fees to the Organisation of the American States waived for two years?

This is not merely a case of individuals in the public service being irresponsible and or “usurping ministerial authority”; it is an indictment on the functioning of T&T’s Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs (at home and abroad), led by Minister Dennis Moses, and the government of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

So far confirmed, is that T&T’s Ambassador to Washington DC Anthony Phillips-Spencer advised the ministry to support Dominica’s request for the waiver of membership fees from the OAS.

Contrary to that advice, the ambassador received direction on the T&T position to be adopted at the meeting of the Permanent Council of the OAS while the meeting was in progress.

Permanent Secretary in the ministry Jennifer Daniel, with a good measure of candour, admitted that she ignored the advice of T&T’s eyes, ears, and intelligence (Embassy in Washington) in favour of a static position based on historical precedent.

It has been suggested in newspaper comment that given the vital importance of the ambassador’s presence in Washington, and the immediacy of the matter, he should have called his minister for direction.

Could he have done so? And if he did, what advice did he receive from Minister Moses?

If opposition MP Rodney Charles is correct in his allegation that PM Rowley has not attended several meetings of the UN General Assembly, where the leaders of the world gather annually to outline policies, take decisions, and have informal discussions, that can mean that PM Rowley does not place high value on T&T’s relations with the rest of the world.

Not seeking to absolve in any way, Foreign Minister Dennis Moses for his “he was not told” attitude to his responsibilities, has PM Rowley’s alleged non-attendance of UNGA meetings set the tone for his foreign minister’s disinterest in the deliberations of a critical international organisation?

But notwithstanding the above possibility, it surely is unacceptable for Foreign and Caricom Affairs Minister Moses to be so completely removed; oblivious of the meeting of the Permanent Council, the institution that runs the day-to-day affairs of the most significant multilateral organisation of the Western Hemisphere.

But notwithstanding his inattention to the OAS meeting, Minister Moses, through his ministry, sprang into action when the matter became a public issue and laid responsibility for the “misrepresentation of the position of T&T offered by a public official…during a meeting of the Permanent Council of the OAS.”

This was an intemperate display of over-anxiety by the minister to arbitrarily and without the facts shift responsibility elsewhere.

And he did so presumably without finding out from his PS as to the source of the misrepresentation.

To compound the ministerial failure of Moses is the fact that he once worked at the OAS, and so should have been fully aware of the functioning of the PC. Is it that Minister Moses is saying through his lack of awareness of critical meetings of the OAS that there is not too much value in T&T’s membership of the organisation?

Maybe Minister Moses is overburdened and distracted by his responsibilities in the Ministry of National Security. This diplomatic faux-pas should indicate to the PM that the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs is too critical a ministry, linked as it is to the economy, to T&T’s survival in the international arena and more, to tag the minister with other ministerial responsibilities.

All of the above suggest disorganisation and lack of focus of the ministry. Maybe Christopher Thomas will recommend structural reformation of the ministry. Ultimately though, the buck stops with the PM to cure the malady. Could he be forced to double back to again make yet another ministerial change?


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