Refashioning the Foreign Service

16 May

Seated from right: Director General in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Audrey Waddell, Veteran Guyanese Diplomat, Sir Shridath Ramphal, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Carl Greenidge, President David Granger and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo with Guyana’s overseas Heads of Missions at State House.

HONEST evaluation of the Foreign Service would acknowledge that it had been reduced to a shadow of its original self by the previous administration. Removal of career diplomats not only placed Guyana at an international disadvantage to cogently articulate and pursue its national interest, but also caused embarrassment to ourselves and allies. It could be recalled then Minister of Foreign Affairs Clement Rohee voting in favour of The Dominican Republic, though Guyana’s vote was intended for our sister CARICOM state, the Commonwealth of Dominica.
Foreign Service is to a large extent conducted by career public servants, who through years of experience have honed their skills. Given the unique and important role of the service — i.e. the face of Guyana to the world — government usually seeks to present an image that can reflect and serve the country’s interests. Recognition of the importance of the service would inform the need to ensure it is professionally staffed and that employees are appropriately qualified and trained. Yet the society had observed — not without lamentation and condemnation — career diplomats were emasculated, recalled, dismissed, or given a desk with no work.

Accusations that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government was pursuing a discriminatory staffing policy, though denied, were later admitted under oath. In 2011, then Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon, testified before Justice Reynolds in a libel suit brought by then President Bharrat Jagdeo against personnel of Kaieteur News, that Africans were not appointed as heads of mission because there was none so qualified.
The discriminatory hiring policy not only denuded the service of important skills and talents, but also created the avenue to politicise it. In our society, it not only became a case of ‘jobs for the boys’ and girls,’ but that of pushing a racist agenda, and suppressing the nation’s diversity.
The politicisation of the service also saw the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) becoming a casualty. This institute was established to ensure continuous training and education for the staff. Its abandonment also meant the abandonment of preparing and equipping the staff to function efficiently and effectively. Where global politics and trade are becoming more complex and require not only intellectual acumen, but the ability to attend to various issues cross-cutting and intersecting the country’s national interest, the importance of ongoing training and education cannot be over-emphasised. Guyana’s Foreign Service was once second to none in the Caribbean, earning the admiration of many, and respect for country and citizens. This reputation was made possible by a cadre of personnel-policy makers (ministers) and technical staff (Heads of Mission and supporting team)- within the ministry. An instance of how far Guyana had slid is recognised in the statement of then Jamaica Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who had said that President Jagdeo was going around the world with a begging bowl.

Noted efforts by Vice-President and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge, to halt the service’s disreputable image and decline deserve recognition. The re-establishment of the FSI allows for improving the staff’s performance in the discharge of their duties. Where it is seen that professionalism will be given the opportunity to function, it would boost morale and attract those who want to make the service a career.
And where the general appointment of Heads of Mission is notably more reflective of Guyana’s diversity, making the PPP/C’s policy a disgrace, it also demonstrates in an environment where equal employment opportunities are available, all have a chance to aspire and succeed. The faces and talents of Guyana’s diversity on the international stage send a message that the Government of Guyana is proud of all its people and wants to make it known to the world.

The recent conference held in Georgetown for Heads of Missions is a feature that was absent for some time. The conference allowed persons to get better acquainted as it facilitated opportunities to collectively strategise towards helping each mission in articulating Guyana’s position. Efforts to enhance the service’s image, including the quality and performance of its personnel in the complex 21st century, are just what Guyana needs. Being a small-state society, though we could be ignored or taken for granted because of size, where our intellectual might and negotiating acumen can be felt, Guyana would rebound and return to its pinnacle, when we were not only admired in the Region, but also able to influence decisions consistent with our national interest.

Our feats under the leadership of persons like Sir Shridath Ramphal, Frederick Wills and Rashleigh Jackson are reminders of Guyana’s ability, in spite of size. Minister Greenidge, though having never served as minister of foreign affairs, mindful of the legacy of this ministry and equipped with his own experiences in public service — local, regional, and international — is evidently onto something good.

(Sourced from Guyana Chronicle– May 12, 2017)

Editorial, Featured, News

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