There are not many ways for a small country to project itself in a world of something like 195 independent states, especially when, in addition, the economic and military heavyweights have commandeered so much of the public space. One of the few avenues open to such a nation is to maintain foreign missions in those states (or unions) which are perceived as critical to its economic and political interests.
In our case in more recent times that has meant our immediate neighbours in the form of Venezuela, Brazil and Suriname; the key Western power centres of the USA, the UK, the EU and Canada; countries which have substantial investments in Guyana, namely, China and India; the Caribbean island of Cuba, on whose medical personnel and training our health service is so dependent; South Africa; and the rather recent mission in Kuwait. We have also maintained a permanent representative at the United Nations in New York, in addition to which there are a number of consulates dotted around the globe, although the latter really just fulfil technical functions.
When the current government came to office seven months ago, there was much talk of revamping the foreign service and the implementation of the standard policy to rotate personnel in the overseas missions. The public was also informed that there was to be an emphasis on economic diplomacy, something which, everyone surmised, explained Mr Carl Greenidge being assigned the Foreign Ministry, rather than the Finance Ministry, his natural home, as might be thought.
On May 22 this year, SN reported Minister Greenidge as saying that the administration would soon be looking at ambassadorial replacements and an announcement would be made after the new envoys had been chosen. Yet here we are, seven months down the line, and only one senior diplomatic appointment has been announced, namely, that of Ms Cheryl Miles in Caracas, who replaces the ineffectual Mr Geoff da Silva.
The Minister had said at the same time that only two ambassadors would be retained, viz, Mr George Talbot, Guyana’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, and Mr Keith George, Ambassador to Suriname. Everyone else, the public understood, was to have resigned. Whether they have all done so or not, is not clear, but the GNI website, if accurate, giving this country’s diplomatic postings lists among the current heads of mission, Ambassador Patrick I Gomes in Brussels; High Commissioner Marsha Caddett in Ottawa; Ambassador Bayney Karran in Washington; and High Commissioner Laleshwar Singh in London, who, if he had been an oak tree, would have put down roots a long time ago.
There are in addition, chargés d’affaires listed for Beijing, Havana and Kuwait, and acting high commissioners in New Delhi and Pretoria, South Africa. No one, it seems, is representing us in Brasilia at any level.
Now exactly what all of this means, is not clear to the electorate, and may not be clear either to some of those left in their posts who may regard themselves as being in something of a limbo.
There had been talk of several nominations, more especially those of Mr Hamley Case to London, and Ms Clarissa Riehl to Ottawa, but as said above, there have been no formal announcements to date. Given the absence of appointments and the uncertainty surrounding the whole exercise, what we have to all intents and purposes, is a vacuum.
One thing which cannot be pursued in the current circumstances is the much touted economic diplomacy, if only because those heads in acting positions or who haven’t yet been removed, will inevitably operate as if they are simply holding the fort ad interim, until a more permanent arrangement is put in place. As such, no investor is going to take them seriously, because to all appearances they do not have the weight of their own government behind them.
It is not just investors and businesspeople, of course, who will not take them seriously, but the governments of the countries where the missions are located. Such representatives will not be seen as having the confidence of their own governments, and will therefore not inspire the confidence of the host governments. In other words, Guyana is not representing itself as it should in the outside world, except in relation to this year’s serendipitous gatherings at the General Assembly in New York, at Caricom, and more recently, at the Commonwealth summit in Malta.
All of this is coming at a time when Venezuela has resuscitated her illegitimate claim to five-eighths of Guyana’s land mass along with a huge section of our maritime space. As a consequence of the aggression which accompanied the renewed claim, this country needs to get its message across to as many nations as possible. However, if it doesn’t have a complement of ambassadors and high commissioners who are seen as having the full support of Georgetown, as indicated earlier, the message will be blunted, and those who threaten our territorial integrity will be in a better position to try and drown out our voice.
It is not as if the Ministry of the Presidency and Takuba Lodge are not fully aware of the danger also attendant on our neighbour’s spurious claims, so it is difficult to understand why they have not acted on the matter of appointments. The risk they run is that the public will come to the conclusion that the delay has been occasioned by disagreement between the President and the Foreign Minister on the selection of appointees, more especially since the various names which have been circulating do not always correspond.
Any suspicion that an appointee does not have the full endorsement of some segment of the Guyana government will hobble that head of mission for the duration of his or her posting. A host government is inevitably going to look askance at an ambassador or high commissioner whose appointment was not seen to have won approval from both sides of Shiv Chanderpaul Drive, and again for reasons of lack of confidence, might very well bypass that person for the purposes of serious diplomatic exchanges.
Apart from anything else, the present situation of irresolution must be placing a strain on those still in situ in the various capitals, because they need to know how they should plan for their future. It is also not fair to those who may have been given reason to believe that they might be on the ‘list’ of nominees. Most of all, it is not fair to Guyanese who expect that they will be professionally represented overseas; it is, after all, their taxpayer dollars which maintain the missions.
Would the government tell us when the vacancies at the missions are to be filled?