Acting Foreign Affairs Minister Priya Manickchand yesterday faced a wave of criticism over her attack on outgoing US ambassador Brent Hardt and diplomats say her actions disregarded protocol.
“When the Minister of Foreign Affairs speaks at a function to mark the departing of an ambassador, it is not a cuss down affair… it is to reflect on his/her works over the period and the areas strengthened between the two nations,” a former diplomat told Stabroek News.
Manickchand was jeered and booed during her remarks at a reception hosted at the ambassador’s residence on Wednesday evening to mark the United States’ 238th independence anniversary and Hardt’s farewell. Her statements came in wake of the ambassador’s recent criticism of the excuses given by the Donald Ramotar administration and the president himself for not holding local government elections.
Efforts to contact Manickchand for a reaction to both her address and the reaction of guests proved futile yesterday.
“Like his President, Barack Obama, there exists a red line. This Ambassador has crossed that line. We have resolved and so informed our partners, with whom we share conventions and diplomatic relations that this is our red line… behaviours such as his would not be tolerated,” Manickchand said during the speech.
The acting minister seemed unmoved by the strong reaction she set off, including shouts of “Oh please,” “Local government elections now!” and “Get on with it” that erupted just as she began her attack on the ambassador.
Stabroek News was told that the government planned Manickchand’s tirade and used her as the “hatchet” to deliver its message of defiance to the US. All PPP/C members of parliament had been advised that they were not to attend the event, save for Manickchand and Presidential Advisor Gail Teixeira. The duo arrived together and right after the minister’s speech left.
Seemingly prepared to give Hardt a blistering sendoff, Manickchand blasted Hardt over his criticisms of government officials’ excuses for not holding long overdue local government elections. Heckles and boos rained as she continued her attack which left guest and diplomats in shock.
Yesterday both parliamentary opposition groups, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC), expressed their outrage at the minister’s statements.
“APNU regards her remarks as vulgar and as worse than useless. APNU calls on President Donald Ramotar to disassociate his administration from these worthless remarks and issue an unconditional apology to Ambassador D. Brent Hardt and the people of the United States of America. APNU is astonished that such remarks could be used by a government official in light of the cordial relationship existing between the Cooperative Republic of Guyana and the United States of America,” the main opposition coalition said in a statement.
AFC said that it was horrified at the acting minister’s behaviour. “The Alliance For Change listened to and subsequently read with increasing horror the language of the acting Foreign Affairs Minister… No doubt inspired by the old Guyanese folk song “Oh Satira,” the Minister displayed behaviour that even the most socially-challenged citizens would be hard pressed to admit let alone defend,” it said in a statement.
According to the party, the country was embarrassed, not only by the tone and sentiments of Manickchand’s comments but also the occasion and circumstances in which they were delivered.
The AFC distanced itself from the statement, saying they do not reflect the sentiments of the people of Guyana who have continuously expressed their support and gratitude for Ambassador Hardt in his unfailing and persistent efforts to advance the quality and way of life of all Guyanese.
“We view the tenure of Ambassador Hardt’s posting to Guyana as extremely positive and beneficial to the national good. We take this opportunity to express our thanks to him and wish him the very best in his continued professional progress,” the statement read.
Meanwhile, current and former diplomats said that Manickchand’s remarks were not in keeping with diplomatic protocol and that government should apologise for the “in your face” attitude shown on Wednesday evening.
“The diplomatic service is something different to what happens every day in the running of a country… you are guided by certain established rules and it is founded on civility and respect, none of which was shown by the minister… this is unprecedented,” one diplomat stated.
A former diplomat explained that the core of diplomacy had to do with interacting with a diplomatic partner in sensible and tactful ways always while adhering to mutual respect and keeping non-confrontational. The former diplomat said that if the government believed that Hardt had overstepped his diplomatic boundaries, it should have arranged a private dialogue to iron out those issues. “…Not this public harangue… out of the question! And I am sure a first here,” the former diplomat pointed out.
When one diplomat was asked if Hardt should have intervened at the heckling and asked persons to remain quiet to give Manickchand the opportunity to complete her speech, he said “That is not the Ambassador’s role. The minister started it and she had to abide with the circumstances.”
Hardt has said that while he was disappointed at the actions of the minister it does not stop his commitment to advancing the goals of his country for a Guyana that is prosperous in all areas.
Several months ago, Manickchand was at the centre of another controversy over remarks she made in Parliament to APNU MP Jaipaul Sharma.