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Friday 20 July 2018
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Commentary

If I were…

REGINALD DUMAS

THE FOLLOWING are the musings of an old man.

If I were the permanent secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs, I would ask myself why, contrary to what I call “standard procedure,” I did not forward the recommendations on the Dominica OAS subscription waiver request to my minister.

Would this omission have been an example of what the Prime Minister (PM) calls “usurpation” by ministry officials of the minister’s authority?

If I were Ambassador Anthony Phillips-Spencer, I would have considered it prudent (as he did), still to seek instructions from Port of Spain on the matter for the March 23 meeting of the Permanent Council, even if the March 15 meeting of the council’s Administration and Budget Committee had recommended to the council that the request be supported (with no financial implications for other OAS members, including TT).

If those instructions were at variance with the March 15 position, what would I then have done? Would I have attempted to contact anyone in PoS to point out the contradiction and seek guidance? If so, who, and why? If I were Minister Dennis Moses, I would not have issued my quite extraordinary media release of March 29, which chastised Phillips-Spencer, dismissing him as “a public servant” and accusing him of misrepresenting TT’s position on the Dominica request. Since he faithfully carried out the instructions he had received, where was the misrepresentation?

If TT had another position, what was it? Nowhere in the release is it stated. Rather, one reads about “unswerving commitment” and “unwavering support” and “solidarity” and so on, and that what the “public official” said was “not aligned” with this or reflective of that. All of which is fine, but what was our policy position?

If I were Moses, I would have borne in mind that government ministers do not publicly attack their own countries’ envoys abroad; that is a no-no in international diplomacy. Humiliation of one’s envoy is bad enough, but worse is the negative message sent about the attacker (in this case, about me) and his or her government. Even worse is the damage to the country’s image. I would try to explain to the public what my release meant by “an investigation into the briefing arrangements of (a) public official.”

I would ask myself why my PS never told me about the March 23 meeting, let alone about the Dominica waiver request to be considered then. I would wonder if her silence was part of the pattern about which my PM says I have been complaining to him, namely, that officials in my ministry have been usurping my authority and apparently making policy on their own.

I would reflect on why my attempts to “ensure discipline in decision-making among (my) senior staff” — this is how the Express of April 8 reports the PM as speaking of my efforts — have not been succeeding even after my two-and-a-half years in office.

If my officials are ignoring and upstaging me, I would wonder what I have been doing, or not doing, to cause them to distance themselves from me and disrespect me. I would consequently wonder whether I could then logically be seen as being in charge of my ministry, and, if not, whether I am capable of redressing existing shortcomings or, given the doctrinal imperatives of individual ministerial responsibility which I seem to have forgotten, whether I might be better off elsewhere.

If I were the PM, I would quickly have called my Dominica counterpart, Roosevelt Skerrit; direct personal contact, especially at certain levels, is crucial in our small Caribbean. I would have told him something like: “Roosevelt, boy, TT got its wires crossed, and I’m sorry. I’m looking into it, but you know we stand strong with Dominica and Caricom, and I just wanted to assure you that we fully support your waiver request.”

And I would not have gone public with quotations, selectively chosen, from reports submitted to me, giving the clear impression that I was pointing fingers at “public officials” and exculpating my minister, and then added that I was sending the reports to someone (in this case, Chris Thomas) for review and analysis.

Such an exercise, if it is to be properly done, must involve close examination of the reports, comparisons of information therein, detailed discussions with the reports’ authors and with others (in which more information will certainly emerge) etc.

What if Thomas’ findings contradict, at least in part, what Moses and I have already said, and may say, in public? Someone might then send Stuart Young for us, because we would be perceived as having prejudged the matter and spoken without possessing all the facts.

Ah well, old men can muse, even fantasise. These days, perhaps that’s best. Reality dispirits.

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