Last month the government brought out of the uncomfortable cold several representatives of our multitudinous overseas missions (imagine the cost!) for what was described as a retreat.
At the start of her address on the occasion, Dame Pearlette Louisy expressed disbelief at her invitation to participate. She seemed convinced her countless calls to the foreign affairs ministry “not only in recent times but going way back . . .” had been responsible.
She started out by placing her fatted elite audience on notice. What she planned to say to them related “as much to the management of the ministry here at home as to the representatives who serve our country beyond our shores.”
As if the mission heads were uninformed visitors from Mars, she revealed that there was no procedure in place for formally meeting the individuals she appoints to office.
She also shockingly acknowledged her ignorance of Saint Lucia’s foreign policy positions, and her consequent inability properly to advise overseas missions.
She served the following jaw dropper: Only recently had she “quite by chance learned we have honorary consuls” in countries with which we have not established diplomatic relations. While she had not a clue how the unusual situation operated, the governor general was nevertheless “sure it puts our heads of missions in some embarrassingly sticky positions.”
The governor general cited several complaints that tended to support those who consider her office merely symbolic and an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer (since it seems, as she has herself stated, the executive pretends her office does not exist!).
As for the day-to-day operations of our overseas missions, for which taxpayers fork out an annual $46 million for wages alone, this is how Dame Pearlette addressed the disaster:
“We have heard a lot of criticisms of our overseas missions, questions as to what exactly they do over there with taxpayers’ money, even those who pay no tax except VAT, perhaps.”
She suggested it was “perhaps way past time to look seriously at the skills and competencies of our missions’ staff.” Without the right people, she cautioned, “these criticisms are likely to continue.”
Despite the many shortcomings she had identified, the governor general diplomatically referred to “people who marvel at our presence, our achievements, contributions to international debate, discussions. Much of this reputation is due to the nature of our representation overseas.”
She neglected to define the peculiar nature. Neither did she identify the “people who marvel” at our surprising abilities. (Talk about the low expectations of soft bigotry!) Hopefully some remembered Derek Walcott, Sir Arthur, Sessene and, well, our internationally revered thespian Alva Baptiste.
The governor general seemed especially impressed by what our “eyes, ears, and agents abroad” were doing for overseas-based Looshans in distress. She particularly referred to their “many trips to detention centers, police lock-ups and prisons,” conceivably an energy-sapping, time-consuming endeavor.
Indeed, Dame Pearlette expressed the hope that at the retreat’s conclusion that participants would “return to their stations refreshed, renewed and reinvigorated, ready once more to give of [their] best.”
Hopefully that will now include scouting for projects and encouraging particularly adventurous entrepreneurs to set up shop in easy-to-do-business, stress-relieving Saint Lucia.
Although I reread umpteen times the governor general’s address before the mission heads I could not find a single good reason why her own and the overseas stations she referred to should not be shut down, the sooner the better.
By all the governor general herself had acknowledged, the executive hardly had much need of her services, save to appoint to public offices people about whom she knew precious little.
I formed the impression that in today’s world, with its instant-communication facilities undreamed of when we first established beyond-our-means missions in Washington, in New York, London and Canada, we might easily save ourselves annually multi-millions of dollars that could be far
better spent, say, on healthcare for the especially poor, as opposed to luxury living for no-beliefs unconscionable party hacks.
The word reaching me as I write is that a shared US$3.1 million mansion—now a health hazard—that had served as the OECS embassy in Washington, was recently abandoned in favor of rented digs in Virginia, at a cost of some $40,000 a month.
Said the normally perspicacious Dame Pearlette:
“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 and indirect. But how do our missions fit in, since they are the agencies on this foreign soil?”
The unvarnished answer is that recruiting appropriate personnel capable of dealing with “these new circumstances” would leave the untalented—except in one regard—bloodsuckers out in the cold to fend for themselves. And that our governments evidently cannot afford!
As if she’d never heard of Charles Fleming and Earl Huntley, the governor general recommended that mission heads should have the authority to seal deals in the name of the people, without necessarily having to check in advance with “capital.”
Did she learn nothing from Huntley’s transfer of ownership of the Helenites Building in New York, without informing the foreign affairs minister, or, for that matter, the prime minister?
Few were surprised to learn from the little big man himself who had headhunted for him the famous Jack Grynberg when Huntley needed an expert to confirm his fantasies about the hidden secrets of the sea at Dauphin.
The headhunter was none other than a Washington-based mission head. As for Fleming, well, that’s a whole other inquiry.
Then again, from the onset the governor general had acknowledged her ignorance, both concerning the people she is directed to appoint as mission heads and their respective functions.
She recently admitted she knew absolutely nothing about a license issued Grynberg in 2000 that only the governor general is authorized to grant.
The question is: Why does she tolerate the numerous official insults—especially when they are so costly, both to real taxpayers and “those who pay no taxes, except VAT, perhaps?