The following is the full text of a speech given by the Governor General of Saint Lucia during a retreat held here in March for the heads of foreign missions. We originally carried the speech in two parts in the STAR Newspaper and on the website. The online files were inadvertently deleted and so we are reposting the speech in its entirety. (STAR Editor T.N.)
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. I rather suspect that Mr. Emmanuel may have gladly seized the opportunity for you to hear my perspectives from the “horses mouth” as it were – no pun or innuendoes or insinuations intended – so that his ears would get a break from the many calls I have been making to the Ministry, not only in recent times, but way back 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.
1. I want to start by making the point that with the exception of those whom I knew previously either in my personal or earlier professional capacity, there is no procedure in place for formally meeting the persons whom I appoint to serve as Saint Lucia’s representatives abroad. I see names but am not always able to match them to faces. Sometimes a CV is attached to the letter in which the Prime Minister advises me to make the appointment under the provisions of Section 87(2)(c) of our Constitution ; sometimes there is no information whatever. The terms and conditions of these appointments are approved by the Executive, so I have no idea whether there is consistency in these terms and conditions. I would really like to hope that there is transparency in these “negotiations.”
2. Secondly, I am expected to manage relationships that our country has with other countries without any frame of reference. I’m not particularly familiar with 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 conversation. Yes, I manage to make myself sound knowledgeable, but I know very often that what I say sometimes lack substance. I therefore usually speak on what I know best : education and culture. The country briefs help in my responses when credentials are being presented, but I could do with a little more information on the relations that exist between Saint Lucia and the country presenting. Quite by chance I recently learnt that we have Honorary Consuls in countries with which we have not established diplomatic relations. How does that work ? I am sure that this puts the Heads of our Missions in some embarrassingly sticky positions.
3. I am concerned about the length of time it takes to make certain appointments or to follow up on decisions taken with foreign governments. Because sometimes their Ambassadors raise the issue with me, and I am seldom in a position to give a straight and honest answer. I speak for example, of the decision taken quite some years ago to make our Ambassador to the US our non-resident Ambassador to Mexico ; of the delay in formalizing the decision to make the High Commission in the United Kingdom, the non-resident representative to France, Germany and some other European countries ; the lack of progress in establishing a joint Mission with St. Kitts and Nevis in Taipei. Some of these countries have resident Ambassadors here, and I do believe that it is about time we made some show of reciprocity. We do have a Consulate General to serve the French Antilles – Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guyana – but the diplomatic instrument that needs to be drawn up to formalize that agreement with France has not been prepared – at least not to my knowledge.
4. Communication between the Office of the Governor General and Missions abroad are based for the most part on how well the Governor General and her staff know the Missions’ personnel. Because of the special relationship between Saint Lucia and the United Kingdom, notably with Buckingham Palace, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Commonwealth Secretariat, there is a lot of liaising that needs to be done between the Office of the Governor General and the High Commission in the UK. But we have our troubles. What roles the High Commission plays in facilitating these exchanges and what resources are made available to it and to my Office to enable us to deliver? The earlier availability of a “diplomatic bag” or “pouch” has gone out of the window. No one is sure as to who should incur courier costs for dispatches between the Palace and the FCO and the Office of the Governor General.
5. The global economic environment is changing, but are our Missions enabled to adapt to these new circumstances ? We speak of the need to attract foreign investment – direct or indirect. But how do our Missions fit in, since they are the agencies on this foreign soil ? Sometimes, a quick decision or response is needed when such opportunities for investment present themselves. Can the Mission Head commit Saint Lucia to exploratory talks before getting permission to proceed from “Capital” ? Surely if the Head has been entrusted to represent us overseas, he/she should have some latitude in this regard. And I would suggest that if our foreign policy is well articulated, then there is less likelihood that he/she would lead us down the garden path !
It is perhaps way past time for us to look seriously at the skills and competencies of our Missions’ staff, if they are to be our eyes and ears and our agents abroad We have heard a lot of criticisms of our overseas Missions ; questions as to what exactly are they doing over there with our taxpayers money – even from those who pay no tax except through the VAT perhaps. But really, without the right people, these criticisms are likely to continue to be voiced. I am reminded of what Einstein once said about doing 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 consider positions such as cultural attachés, commercial attachés and the like, not as permanent Mission staff necessarily, but under some mutually-agreed arrangement.
6. And now to the very public face of the Ministry of External Affairs here at home. I refer to what all refer to as “Protocol”. The Protocol Department of 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. Sadly, we have fallen too far short in this regard for far too long. Equally sad, is that the embarrassment that this deficiency causes is often very short-lived. It happens, we complain, and we move on, until the next time it happens, when we complain again, and again move on. The time has come for something definite to be done. As one of our eminent clergymen here would say, I challenge the Ministry of External Affairs to take this to hand and remedy this situation as expeditiously as possible. I can make a recommendation now, if the Permanent Secretary wants to take up that challenge.
7. However, all this having been said, I must commend you all on the wonderful reputation that Saint Lucia has maintained in the international arena – a reputation, one may say, is out of proportion to its size. Just last week, Dr. Jan Yves Remy, in her Independence Lecture, corroborated what I myself can confirm : that people marvel at our presence, our achievements and our contribution to international debate, discussions and policy upon learning that we are a country of 238 sq miles – with a population of less than 170,000. Much of this reputation is due to the nature of our representation overseas and I want to thank you for that. I thank you for keeping St. Lucia’s head high in spite of the many challenges that we face. Just imagine the possibilities that await us if we could get some of these challenges straightened out ! Many thanks for the services you give to our nationals overseas. I know of the many trips that some of you in some jurisdictions have to make to detention centres, police lock-ups and prisons. I share the embarrassment you feel when Saint Lucia is portrayed in an unfavourable light both at home and in the countries you serve. I can see you cringe when people make disparaging statements to you like “what’s happening in Saint Lucia !” It does not matter that similar or even more negative things are happening elsewhere, but they do not expect that of Saint Lucia, so positive has been our image abroad.
I thank you for your efforts at garnering help and support for our country when disasters strike, even when we are tardy in giving you the information that you need to elicit a more generous response. I thank you for the many briefs that you prepare for our officials’ attendance at meetings, for holding our hands and walking us through the complex international labyrinth and maze that these Conferences have become, and for standing in for us when some go AWOL.
Let me end by wishing this Retreat every success. May it bear fruit a hundredfold, and that at the end of it all, you go back to your respective stations, refreshed, renewed and re-invigorated, ready once more to give of your best in unity and dedication, for the good of the nation.
Belated Independence Anniversary greetings to all of you.