WHATEVER the position taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stemming from its “investigation” into the circumstances surrounding this country’s failure to support a motion to waive Dominica’s membership fees for the Organisation of American States (OAS), the damage has already been done. We will hereafter be viewed as either uncharitable or incompetent.
The position taken by our OAS representative, retired Brigadier General Anthony Phillips-Spencer, is bad enough on its own terms. But it is compounded by the fact that it is inconsistent with the express policy of the Executive, and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley in particular who has called on citizens of this country to show compassion and to welcome Dominicans into their homes. It was only four months ago that Dominica’s prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit thanked this country specially.
In a media release on Thursday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs characterised the position taken by Phillips-Spencer as a “misrepresentation” but in the same breath stated it will look at “the briefing arrangements of the public official,” among other things, suggesting this is where the problem really arose. However, the OAS meeting took place more than a week ago. If an error was made, the Ministry’s unexplained delay in ascertaining the facts and responding to such certainly made matters worse.
All of this makes us question how far our foreign policy has come. In this regard, an episode recounted by former diplomat Reginald Dumas in his book, The First Thirty Years, is instructive. In the book, Dumas notes that in the 1960s, Trinidad and Tobago’s diplomats were left to act without formal instructions. So much so that Sir Ellis Clarke once noted that when this country was admitted to the United Nations at New York on the afternoon of September 18,1962, the Ministry of External Affairs was likely unaware of the fact!
We must ask, therefore, whether our foreign policy is still being run as though we are in the Dark Ages without the benefit of e-mails and mobile phones.
Certainly, Phillips-Spencer, who once served as vice chief of defence staff, seemed to be of the view that he was acting consistently with the position adopted by this country at other multi-lateral forums in the hemisphere. Why was he left to formulate this position on his own? Was he previously corrected by the ministry?
All of this has done a considerable disservice to the people of this country and to Phillips-Spencer himself, assuming he was labouring under a misunderstanding. Whatever the case, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has dropped the ball in relation to a matter that could one day have serious repercussions for us when we need help from our neighbours.