March 20th is celebrated annually as International Francophone Day, but from all appearances enjoyed a fairly low key mention. It may not be widely known, but Dame Pearlette Louisy did sign an accord with the International Francophone Organisation (OIF) recognising French as the second official language of Fair Helen, back in 2010. One valuable outcome of this accord is that French is now taught in 26 schools, funded by the OIF.
This year’s anniversary was marked by the National Commissions for the Francophonie and UNESCO honouring Ms. Lawrence Laurent for her contribution to the Francophonie, at a reception hosted by Her Excellency, followed by an excellent performance by Guadeloupean artistes hosted by H.E. Eriic de la Moussaye, resident French Ambassador.
For those of us who wonder what the Francophonie is, it is a vehicle for promoting the French Language and Culture. As such, it can be considered an instrument of French Foreign Policy, promoting the interests of la République Française.
On the subject of Foreign Policy, I wish to refer to Dame Pearlette’s excellent address to the gathering (http://stluciastar.com/the-more-things-change/) at the recently held retreat for our Foreign Service troops. Her address should be required reading for all of our parliamentarians, senior civil servants and captains of industry, to name a few.
H.E. didn’t mince her words, didn’t couch Her message in diplomatic niceties. Her message suggested an absence of any coherence in the overall conduct of our national affairs in the realm of foreign relations. It is worth noting that these observations cover the entire period of her 16-year tenure as GG, which suggests that this is a failure of governance, and not attributable to a particular shade of government.
As a former Consul General of St. Lucia to the French Departments of the Americas, I share these sentiments totally, and can attest to not receiving a single directive from central government or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during my stint (Apr 2008-Mar 2012), and I’m quite sure that I was not the only head of mission in that position. The trials and tribulations of giving one’s best were at times overwhelming, details of which would fill this entire newspaper!
My heart goes out to the staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, past and present, who, as a consequence of the shortcomings mentioned by H.E., have operated in a vacuum, because of the failure of the management of St. Lucia Inc. to understand or define our place in the wide, wide, world, preferring instead to accumulate air miles, or make inconsequential speeches at the U.N. General Assembly at 3.00 am!
In recent times there have been calls for closures of missions – one recalls the saga of non-payment of dues to the UN, when our Hon. Alba Baptiste was taken to task. The reality is that Ministers don’t pay dues, civil servants do. This was an administrative failure, not the Hon. Alba’s, and he should have said so. It is possible that these calls for closure stem from a lack of understanding of the role and functions of Consular Offices. For those who would like to know, Article V of the Vienna Convention of 1963 lists the 13 functions – believe it or not, I’ve had occasion to supply this to the Ministry. Calls for closure are misplaced.
H.E.’s mention of the French Departments has finally solved a mystery for me: that of the whereabouts of the agreement establishing the Consulate in Martinique. I couldn’t understand why a diplomatic mission was subjected to VAT from its inception in 2003! Resolution of that problem was achieved, not with assistance from the Ministry but rather with the help of the Martiniquan office of accountants’ Crowe Horwath. I had to insist on presenting credentials to Mr. Sarkozy’s representative in Guadeloupe and Guyane, not just Martinique, in the format defined in the GG’s Diplomatic Book, which the Ministry seemed to be blissfully unaware of, and in fact challenged!
We continue not to take advantage of the avenues available to us through a unique, four-way relationship: St. Lucia, the Departments of the Americas, France and Europe/Brussels. This is in addition to the existing relationship with France through the French Embassy.
No other jurisdiction, not even the UK, offers this particular advantage, yet the DFA continue to suffer from the lack of attention from St. Lucia Inc. Prime Minister Stephenson King successfully dodged visiting during his tenure; the last Prime Ministerial visit to the DFA was Dr. Anthony’s to Martinique in 2005!
In contrast, the Presidents of all three Regional Councils have visited St. Lucia at least twice since 2010! There ought not to be a need to remind us that whether it is Tomas or Trough, Martinique is the first to arrive bearing humanitarian and material aid. Perhaps these realities are forgotten, or ignored, whilst we busily make new friends. We would do well to establish closer links with the St. Lucian community in Guyane—they occupy positions in business and politics at the highest levels there, and last time I checked were not represented in prison—not a single one!
Where do we go from here?
Perhaps I may be so bold as to suggest that someone, maybe Dame Pearlette, convene a workshop for all of the non-serving folk whom she appointed over the past 16 years, to reminisce and subsequently avail our collective institutional memory to interested parties under the heading ‘Musings of Would-be Diplomats.’
Perhaps then, on some future anniversary when H.E. has to deliver such an address, She will not need to quote that old French sage, Monsieur Charles Maurice de Talleyrand Périgord who, nearly 200 years ago, uttered: ‘Ils n’ont rien appris, ni rien oublié’.