by Linda Straker
Before it was named the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it was called the Ministry of External Affairs because it dealt mainly with external matters for the country.
External Affairs or Foreign Affairs is the face of the country in the world of diplomacy, and every care must be taken to protect and respect what a country does through its foreign affairs or external affairs ministry.
In our democracy, it is standard that whenever there is a change in the administration, there is also a general change in some or all diplomats who represent the face of the country. It has become accepted practice and no one is questioning that — although it may well be time to start considering a diplomatic corp such as is seen in many developed countries. But, that is not the point of this commentary.
It is all well and good to announce the recall of diplomats, but in doing so, there is a process that must be followed, if we are to guard the very systems that inform the image of our country.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the face of Government and Grenada to the world. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is the Chief Diplomat. The Permanent Secretary is the accounting officer for the Ministry, and the diplomats who serve in the various capitals, are the gatekeepers. We must, therefore, be careful to not throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water. Processes must be followed. The men and women who serve must also be given due accord and process. They were appointed to serve by the Government of the day. Hopefully, and the Ministry alone can attest to that, they have done and are doing their jobs until the day when they are no longer there. Again, this is not the point of this commentary.
On 23 June we had a change in Government. Several diplomats immediately resigned and did not return to their postings. Several others submitted their letters but stayed on the job to assist with the transition. This was announced to the country by the Minister of Foreign Affairs during the first post-cabinet briefing.
Diplomatic postings and transitions are not overnight processes. Officers have to be repatriated and this is not an inexpensive exercise; neither is it an overnight exercise. I learned that while attaining my certificate in International Relations.
New diplomats must be named, approved, and submitted to the countries in which they hope to serve. Those countries, in turn, must approve and grant them the diplomatic “agrèment” to serve before they can be stationed in those capitals. This is a normal process everywhere. We have seen it take months. We have seen it take a year, in some cases, and therefore what is happening now with our diplomats is not unique.
It was, therefore, rather disheartening to see unflattering articles in the media and via “social media influencers” about the Permanent Secretary in Foreign Affairs, Roxie McLeish-Hutchinson. They criticised and continue to criticise her for explaining that very process to the nation following the post-cabinet briefing on 27 September.
The writers essentially called for her to be sacked from the ministry, for what they saw as her “delaying the process.” I don’t know the PS personally, and we certainly do not break bread together, but I felt compelled to comment on this issue because it is a teachable moment for us as a nation.
We need to safeguard the very systems that we hope to serve us. Those who are waiting in the wings to assume the various diplomatic postings, and their surrogates, must be mindful that they should not destroy the system, malign the ministry and the process, and then turn around and expect to gain the respect of the world. They will one day soon, serve in these same roles. The region is small. The world is getting smaller and more global, so stop defaming the diplomatic process. Diplomacy is for diplomats. Be one.
For once, we are seeing a proper transition process. Let it play out the way thriving democracies should. We continue to criticise the former government for victimisation and bad policies, yet, we are advocating the same for this new government. Every other week, a different government department or individual is being bandied about in the press, and the present government is criticised for being too slow to act to get rid of the people serving in this position or that position.
Is this the transformation agenda that you voted for? Is this the type of society we want to build? There is a reason that the former government is no longer in government. Pay attention.
No one is saying that there cannot or should not be changed in certain positions. Indeed, we have all heard from the Minister that the diplomats themselves offered to resign. That is not the issue. The issue is that we must respect our processes and allow them to work in our best interest, as a nation.
If you ask me, for all the negative talk we have heard of diplomats in the last few months, I think the Permanent Secretary’s press statement was the real and productive voice in the entire equation. Others have spoken emotionally and politically, perhaps agitating a poorly advised agenda.
Be a little more diplomatic in the practice of diplomacy.