Honorable Minister for External Affairs, members of Cabinet, Deputy Prime Minister, members of the diplomatic corps, members of the Saint Lucia foreign service, both at those at home and those posted abroad, specially invited guests, media, ladies and gentlemen.
I must admit that I was taken by surprise when the invitation to address this gathering was extended to me, since this is indeed a first in my sixteen years as Governor General. The PS and Ambassador Severin attributed my presence here this morning to my keen interest in external affairs and one might be tempted to think that it is probably as an outsider or somebody who is doing research. But really it is because the Governor General is at the very heart of representation of one’s country at home and abroad.
Now I rather suspect that Mr. Emmanuel may have gladly seized the opportunity for you to hear my perspective, from the horse’s mouth as it were, but no pun, no innuendo, no insinuations intended. I don’t think I will be braying too loudly, or neighing too loudly. I think he invited me so that his ears could get a break from the many calls I have been making to the ministry, not only in recent times, but way before he took up the mantle of leadership. But I do welcome the opportunity to address you this morning.
The views and concerns that I will share with you relate as much to the management of the ministry here at home as to the representatives who serve our country beyond our shores. So I want to start by making the point that with the exception of those officers who I knew previously, either in my professional or earlier personal capacity, there is unfortunately no procedure in place for formally meeting the persons whom I appoint to serve as Saint Lucia’s representatives abroad, before they leave, that is.
I see names and I’m not always able to match them to faces, not even this morning. Sometimes a CV is attached to the letter in which the prime minister advises me to make the appointment under section 37-2-C of the Constitution of Saint Lucia. Sometimes there is no information whatsoever.
I do appoint the heads of missions on conditions discussed, negotiated with the executive and I have to admit I have no idea as to what those terms and conditions are and so whether there is any consistency in the terms and conditions across the range of officers appointed to serve overseas. So I really would like to hope that there is transparency in these negotiations.
Secondly, I am expected to manage relationships that our country has with other countries without any frame of reference. I again admit that I am not particularly familiar with Saint Lucia’s foreign policy or Saint Lucia’s foreign policy positions, so I am not able to advise the missions–those who ask that is–neither can I speak with any degree of confidence when representatives of foreign countries engage me in conversations. Yes, I manage to make myself sound knowledgeable but I know very often that what I say sometimes lacks the type of substance that they are really looking for. I therefore usually speak on what I know best, which is education and culture, and try to frame it within national development and national development issues.
The country briefs I receive when credentials are being presented help me in my responses to the addresses. I don’t know how many people know that the presentation of credentials is not just simply the handing over of the instruments, but a statement made by the ambassador designate to the Governor General outlining positions of his or her government, issues that they would like to see raised and so
I respond to these statements. And sometimes I need to do myself a bit of research in addition to the briefs that I get.
Quite by chance, for example, I learnt that we have honorary consuls in countries with whom we have no diplomatic relations. And so I ask myself well how does that work? And I am sure that that situation puts our heads of missions in some embarrassingly sticky positions. I, for example, am not in possession of a list of honorary consuls, although I have been approached on a few occasions when I travel by persons in foreign countries to offer themselves to serve as Saint Lucia’s honorary consuls.
What I say is “well, this is a matter for the executive. I will take it up on my return,” but I am not always too sure of the country’s foreign policy and whether it is in sync with our own, so I am always very uncomfortable in these situations.
I am concerned too about the length of time that it takes to make certain appointments or to follow up on decisions taken with foreign Governments. Because sometimes the ambassadors raise the issues with me after they have presented their credentials. We sit down over juice or coffee and we talk, and sometimes some issues are raised, some earlier agreements, some negotiations with which I am not too familiar. So I wing my way through and sometimes extol the virtues of golden apple juice and tamarind juice to their health just to give a lightness to the occasion. I am not always in a position, therefore, to give a straight and honest answer.
Let me just cite as examples two decisions that were taken quite some years ago. One was to make our ambassador to the US our non-resident ambassador to Mexico. That hasn’t happened, and it is almost seven years [since] the agreement was made and the decision was taken but not implemented.
I want to cite too the delay in formalizing the decision to make the High Commissioner in the United Kingdom the non-resident representative to France–the French ambassador is here with us and he must be wondering what are we up to–or to Germany and some other European countries. I know that it must be embarrassing to the High Commissioner to have to say to France or Germany when he gets invitations, he must probably make some excuse, he is sick, it’s too cold in France, he can’t speak German, but the reality is that he does not have the authority to even accept the invitation, far less travel to the country.
I know we have our ambassador to Taiwan here and I remember travelling to Taiwan three years ago and in response to a lot of queries from our fifty plus students that we have in Taiwan–particularly after this small tsunami a few years ago–they were concerned who represents them and to whom can they go. And if there was a problem in Taipei that was more serious than it turned out to be, to whom would they report. I know St. Kitts and Nevis has a mission in Taipei and the discussions were that perhaps since we are two OECS countries we could share a mission in Taipei. As I said, I knew of the initial discussions but again that has not been followed up.
Some of the countries I have referred to–France, Mexico, Taiwan–do have resident ambassadors here, and so I think it is about time that we made some show of reciprocity. We have a consulate general for example to serve the French Antilles, that is Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana, but the diplomatic instrument that needs to be drawn up to formalize that agreement with France, since they are overseas French territories, has not been prepared, well at least not to my knowledge. And if I don’t know it . . . I haven’t signed the instrument, which means it hasn’t been done.
So our consul general resident in Martinique really has jurisdiction over Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guiana. So these are some of the delays in implementation of descions or agreements that really do hurt our foreign relations, or at least hamper the implementation of some of the bilateral initiatives that we initiated.
A fourth point is that I find the communications between the office of the Governor General and the missions abroad are based for the most part on how well the Governor General or her staff know the mission personnel. I know a few of them, so I would call and say you know, what’s happening? Or my staff know particular members of staff and would call, although it may not neccesarily be the persons that can deal with the issue.
We have a special relationship with the High Commission in the United Kingdom because of the relationship between Saint Lucia and the UK, and the relationship that the office of the Governor General has with Buckingham Palace [and] the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There is regular communication between the two, and we use the High Commission as the intermediary – the go-between. And sometimes the High Commission does not know exactly what the situation is, where is the instrument, where is the document, and I don’t know either that the commission has the resources to even facilitate that communication.
I know on a few occasions the high commissioner has asked who is going to bear the courier cost of these medals that I just awarded on Saturday, my Independence Awards. I asked the company to deliver it to the High Commission in London; they (receive) it but it needs to get from there to me. They don’t have funds to courier, as I said before; neither does my office have funds to courier so it is usually a kind of give and take, somebody is coming down, add it to their twenty kilos.
We had an earlier arrangement when I was growing up–a diplomatic bag or a diplomatic pouch that facilitated that kind of communication but I don’t think that pertains anymore. That is the reason why there are all these adhoc arrangements, persons coming down–“Excellency, do you know anybody coming down from the UK that I can give the thing to?”–so we really need to put some of these things in place.
The global economic environment is changing as ambassador Severin alluded to, but are our missions enabled to adapt to these new circumstances? We speak of the need to attract foreign investments, whether they be direct or indirect. But where do our missions fit in, since they are the agents on these foreign soils? Sometimes you know a quick decision, a quick response is needed when such opportunities for investment present themselves. So the question I ask is: Can the mission head commit Saint Lucia to even exploratory talks before getting permission from capital to do so? And I ask: Surely if the head [of mission]can be entrusted to represent our interest overseas, perhaps they should have some latitude in this regard?
And I am saying if our foreign policy was well-articulated there would be less likelihood that he or she would lead us down the garden path.
So we need to facilitate, because sometimes we are waiting for a response, the investor is a bit impatient and goes across the road to another country, which is probably a bit more open to the discussion and then we lose that opportunity so we really need to look at that.
We need to look at the skills and competency of our mission staff if they are to be our ears, our eyes and our agents abroad, and again the criticism of our overseas missions, questions as to what exactly are they doing over there with our tax payers money, even from those who don’t pay any tax except for perhaps through the VAT system.
But really without the right systems these criticisms will continue to be voiced.
I am reminded about what Einstein once said about dong the same thing each time and all the time and yet expecting different results. This mind set he calls “insanity”. Perhaps the time has come for us to confront positions such as cultural attaché, commercial attaché and the like, not necessarily as permanent mission staff, but under some mutually agreed arrangement.
And now to the very public face of the Ministry of External Affairs here at home, and I refer to what all of us refer to as protocol. The protocol department in the ministry is expected to take the lead in the observance of and adherence to correct form, not only for Government, but for all national events and activities. But sadly we have fallen far too short in this regard for far to long.
Equally sad is the embarrassment that this defeciency causes, but that embarrassment is often too short-lived. It happens, we complain and then we move on. The time has come for something definite to be done. As one of our eminent clergymen would say, I challenge the Ministry of External Affairs to take this to heart and remedy the situation as expeditiously as possible.
Having said all of this however, I must commend all personnel in the Ministry of External Affairs both here and abroad for the wonderful reputation that Saint Lucia has maintained in the international arena. A reputation one may say, which sometimes is out of proportion to its size.