Economic diplomacy and the Foreign Ministry

By the time this editorial is read the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be winding down what is arguably its most important Heads of Mission conferences in several years. One of the hoped-for outcomes of the periodic ‘retreat’ of Heads of Missions – Ambassadors, High Commissioners and the various other senior post holders in our missions abroad is a more cogent understanding of just where we are insofar as the effectiveness and the outcomes of our diplomatic effort is concerned. That, seemingly, had not been a particularly critical concern for many years.

This time around, we must wait and see whether the event will be followed by a public pronouncement that goes beyond the customarily coded releases that emanate from Takuba Lodge. Going forward, the historical tendency of the Foreign Ministry to treat what ought to be routine news events as though they were state secrets, has to end.

As we have been made aware, economic diplomacy is one of the critical items on the agenda of the David Granger administration and the outcomes of the various initiatives in the realm of economic diplomacy are being relied upon to help attract overseas investment, create jobs and create a more robust economy.  This, one assumes, would have been one of the primary preoccupations of the forum.

It has to be said that attracting overseas investment can depend as much on potential investors’ understanding of the extant socio-political conditions in the country as it can on the efforts of our diplomatic missions and their functionaries. One says this to make the point that it would be wrong to measure the quality of the diplomatic effort by yardsticks that have to do with the extent of the appetite shown by foreign business concerns for investing in Guyana.

Arguably, the main challenge faced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in this regard reposes in whether or not, in terms of training and requisite skills, it is equipped to measure up to the magnitude of the task as far as economic diplomacy is concerned. If there can be no question than that our Foreign Service has, over the years, produced functionaries of the highest calibre, in various disciplines, what is equally true is that the training focus of the ministry and the resulting outcomes have by no means been fashioned to meet the demands of the pursuit of economic diplomacy which – when all the frills are set aside – is essentially about attracting external economic and business interests to Guyana and causing those to transform into meaningful investments that can consolidate existing industries, create new ones, enhance technological levels, create jobs and increase the country’s wealth.

Beyond those considerations, the pursuit of economic diplomacy as a facet of foreign policy might be extended into investigating the role that Guyanese in the diaspora can play, whether as investors or as part of a potential skills pool that can be pressed into service in various ways. Of course, our recent significant oil find adds further weight and significance to economic diplomacy as a foreign policy pursuit.

Just how strong a hand the Foreign Ministry is playing with, given the weight of expectations as far as the hoped-for outcomes of the economic diplomacy effort is concerned, will, presumably, be one of the concerns of this week’s forum. The experienced diplomats who remain in the ranks of our Foreign Service will know only too well that over the years continuous training in the various disciplines required to make a Foreign Service Officer have been considerably neglected, so that while there are Foreign Service Officers who may be competent in their particular disciplines, the weighty and multi-faceted requirements of the desired effort in the realm of economic diplomacy leaves the ministry needing to change gears insofar as building a cadre of appropriately trained officers is concerned.

It is entirely true to say that over the years the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has had to endure a considerable buffeting by what, at times, have been gale force political winds and it is those, as much as anything else, that have negatively affected the ability of the institution to find itself, these days, in a condition that allows one to say with a reasonable degree of profundity that it is ready to provide a robust response to its economic diplomacy challenge. That is a determination which, one expects, the Heads of Missions forum would have been seeking to make over the past few days. As an issue of national importance the outcomes that have to do with the economic diplomacy effort and how it is likely to unfold, going forward, belong in the public domain.

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