Moses in the desert of undiplomacy?


I AND OTHERS have invited the Prime Minister to relieve the Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs, Dennis Moses, of his portfolio. No point in holding our breath, of course: government ministers don’t usually act on the public requests of mere citizens (unless votes are at stake), preferring to seek to demonstrate that only they and their immediate circles know best for the country, and are (and must be seen to be) “in charge.”

Let me first clear up one misconception. It has been reported that last March 23 our man in Washington, Anthony Phillips-Spencer, voted against the recommendation for a two-year waiver of Dominica’s financial contribution to the Organization of American States (OAS). He did not. But he didn’t support it, either. Rather, on instructions from Port of Spain, he proposed that payment of the contribution be deferred. The meeting didn’t go along with this, and instead adopted the waiver recommendation by consensus. There was no formal vote.

The furore caused by TT’s position prompted a most extraordinary media release from Moses on March 29. Dismissing Phillips-Spencer as a “public official,” it regretted his “misrepresentation” of TT’s position, asserting that our “solidarity with the people of Dominica (was) without question” and that our OAS stance was “not aligned with (our) actions, policy or orientation… towards Dominica.”

It “reiterate(d)… (the) unwavering support (of the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs, or MFCA) for Dominica,” and ended with a nasty swipe at Phillips-Spencer: “A suggestion by a public servant” – Phillips-Spencer’s status had declined even further – “at an OAS meeting that Dominica’s dues not be collected at this time but be deferred to some future time in no way reflects any change in the demonstrated concern of (TT) for the welfare of the people of Dominica.” A “suggestion!” But the man was faithfully carrying out instructions from Moses’ own ministry! So where was his “misrepresentation?”

I said in a Newsday column last April, and again in remarks published by the Express two weeks ago, that a Foreign Minister should not publicly chastise any of our envoys. It’s not only a matter of being impolite. It also sends a negative message about the minister, undermines the credibility and effectiveness of the envoy, and damages the country’s reputation.

And there is another dimension, at least in this case. Phillips-Spencer was a military man, trained to carry out orders and instructions, yes, but also to place trust in the word and behaviour of his professional superiors. I cannot begin to imagine how he views his boss Moses at the moment.

Then, in his parliamentary motion on November 23, Opposition MP Rodney Charles read from a document he said was an e-mail of March 23 from the MFCA to our Washington Mission. The document speaks of the position previously taken by TT, on the same issue of waiver versus deferral of contributions, at four regional meetings (of Caricom and the Association of Caribbean States) in January and February this year, ie, before the March 23 consideration by the OAS of Dominica’s waiver request.

As reported in the Express, the document says: “At all (four) meetings, Trinidad and Tobago expressed solidarity with the member states negatively impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. However” – and this is central to the discussion – “(TT) did not support the granting of waivers of payment of contributions (but instead) proposed that consideration… be given to the deferral of contributions by member states and the implementation of a payment plan… subject (to) an annual review…”

The document goes on: “Accordingly, the ministry wishes to advise that the position of (TT at the OAS) should remain consistent with those expressed at the (four previous meetings) with respect to the granting of waivers of financial contributions by member states.” The good soldier Phillips-Spencer followed that advice, in essence an instruction.

So there we have it. Contrary to what Moses said in his escapist March 29 media release, there was (is?) in fact a policy, whether Moses’ or the Government’s. It had already been applied to Caribbean countries like Dominica, severely damaged by Hurricane Maria. Thus, Moses’ attempt to demonise Phillips-Spencer for responsibly executing a directive (that Dominica’s dues should be deferred and not waived) which fell squarely within the very policy was not only discourteous and unethical. It was also a cynical and self-serving evasion of the truth.

It’s as likely as a western sunrise that the Foreign Affairs Committee will credibly be able both to debunk the document read by Charles and to find wisdom in Moses’ media release. That would mean further public distrust of the Government. The Biblical Moses led the Israelites out of the desert. My fear is that our local version might lead us in.


"Moses in the desert of undiplomacy?"

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