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Wednesday 24 July 2019
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'Dominica won't be upset'

Humanitarian: Relief efforts outweigh TT vote against waiver

Richardson Dhalai

Mercy Foundation chairman Nigel Salina is of the opinion that Dominica would overlook Trinidad and Tobago’s vote against the hurricane ravaged country’s request for a waiver of its financial contribution to the Organisation of American States (OAS) for 2018 to 2019.

TT country was the only one in the 35-member bloc to vote against the request at the OAS meeting on March 23, triggering national criticism and leading the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to issue a statement regretting that its position was misrepresented.

However, Salina yesterday said the humanitarian relief efforts in response to the devastation wrecked by Hurricane Maria last year would outweigh any fallout over what some see as a diplomatic faux pas.

“That is one incident that took place but I remember the (Dominican) Prime Minister was here in November and he came to Trinidad to give thanks and we had the joint chambers together with other organisations and he said in everything that happened, the goodwill of the international community, what had touched him as much was seeing the aid and the support that came from Trinidad,” he said.

Salina noted that TT had sent some 100 containers to the island.

“The goodwill would not have been eroded however because so much happened from the aid and the relief that was sent to the island,” he said, adding the foundation, in collaboration with the Joint Chambers, the Living Water Community were in the process of rebuilding a school and several houses in Dominica.In a media statement on March 29, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the incident as a “misrepresentation” and said an “investigation into the briefing arrangements” of the public official and the circumstances involved in the discussion at the OAS is underway.

“The position presented at the OAS is not aligned with the actions, policy or orientation of Trinidad and Tobago towards Dominica,” the ministry stated.

However, according to a newspaper report, TT ambassador to the OAS Anthony Phillips-Spencer, in a letter dated March 29 to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, disputed the ministry’s account as “inaccurate and false” and referred to two memos between the overseas mission and the ministry.

According to a March 22 memo, the mission said Dominica’s request for a waiver of contributions should be supported as a Caricom member that had been devastated by Hurricane Maria and sought the ministry’s instructions prior to the OAS meeting.

In reply via email on March 23, Foreign Affairs Ministry’s staff said at three Caricom meetings in January and February TT stood in solidarity with affected members states but did not support waivers on contributions and proposed a deferral of payments of contributions and a payment plan for annual review. They advised that TT could not “facilitate an increase in its assessed contributions by member states given its own financial constraints.”

The ministry officials advised the OAS mission that the position of TT on Dominica “should remain consistent” with respect to granting waivers of financial contributions as expressed at the Caricom meetings and an Associated of Caribbean States meeting.

This decision was shared by Phillips-Spencer at the OAS meeting.Political analyst Mukesh Basdeo said TT’s relationship with Caricom may be affected by the position it took and wondered whether the ambassador had been briefed prior to the OAS meeting. “It leaves a lot of unanswered questions as to whether or not the Trinidad and Tobago OAS mission was advised to take that position, or did he take it on his own, or was he not given any sort of information as to how to proceed. But I think it will affect the relationship to a certain degree,” Basdeo said. “It can be repaired but it will take some time.”

However, St Augustine MP Prakash Ramadhar said an official apology should be made to Dominica for the “diplomatic embarrassment”.

“When they (Dominica) asked for an exemption for fees, we alone offered a deferral. A fee that amounts to possibly less than the roaming charges of a minister’s phone and a ministry’s jaunt in Tobago for a weekend,” Ramadhar stated in a media release yesterday.

Ramadhar said Phillips-Spencer should not be “made a scapegoat by others who should bear full responsibility” saying it was obvious that he was “very uncomfortable saying what he had said. He is usually very articulate and has served this country well, in more than one capacity.” Former foreign affairs minister Dr Surujrattan Rambachan described the incident as not only “regrettable but utterly shameful and downright disgraceful.”

“It is inconceivable how as a fellow Caricom country that such instructions could have gone out from the Minister of Foreign Affairs as to not to support Dominica’s request,” Rambachan said in a statement yesterday. “The UNC calls on the Prime Minister to explain to the people of TT and the Caricom members the basis for this decision which the UNC declares was wrong.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Dennis Moses could not be reached for comment.

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