When PPP central committee member Dr Vindhya Persaud stated her intention go up for election to be that party’s presidential candidate, from my reckoning she received more support from letter writers and commentators than the actual winner of that contest, Mr. Irfaan Ali. She was said to be knowledgeable, principled, reasoned and cultured, not corrupt or racist, and have strong leadership qualities: in other words the right person of the younger generation to take the country into and possibly through the era of oil.  Few, if any, questioned her capacity to be president, but then came President David Granger’s appointment of Dr. Karen Cummings, not any less qualified or experienced, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and alarm bells began to ring on all sides. How could this possibly be and what does it say about our understanding of the nature of the MFA, ministerial appointments and the political decision-making process? Now that the appointments resulting from the dual citizen debacle have been made and the dust has settled, I will attempt to add another useful perspective to the discourse.

The concern about Dr. Cummings is usually framed in relation to her capacity to deal with the issues arising from the Venezuelan claim to about 2/3 of Guyana that is at present before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the national and geopolitical ramifications of the political turmoil now engulfing Venezuela, and the need to keep a close eye on the international energy scene in this era of oil, etc. However, this is not the major point of my intervention: after all, the last time I checked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had departments with multi-responsibilities dealing with multilateral and global affairs, American and Asian affairs, frontiers, public diplomacy, etc. All of these should have people from professional (ambassadorial) level downwards versed in their particular area to whom one could turn for advice. Furthermore, there are multiple external sources of advice, some more permanent than others.  It goes without saying that the longer one is in the job the more knowledgeable one will become and it will certainly take some time for one to acquire the basic knowledge with which to operate effectively. This should not be a formidable task for one accustomed to the rigour and discipline of learning and application. 

However, I juxtaposed the two doctors to suggest another difficulty. In modern times the president/head of government (HOG) is usually the de facto foreign minister and ‘In all states … the influence of the ministry of foreign affairs fluctuates over time, tending to rise or dip for any number of reasons. Among the most important, though, is the personality and level of interest in foreign affairs of the head of government, which is usually great because of the growth of summitry.’ (Berridge, G. R. (2015) Diplomacy: Theory and Practice. Palgrave)…..

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