The Guest Editorial published in the Stabroek News edition of May 7, 2019, captioned ‘The New Minister of Foreign Affairs,’ wittingly or unwittingly, provoked this response since it dealt rather extensively, though unfairly and in an unbalanced manner with my sojourn as Minister of Foreign Affairs of my country.
The Guest Editorial, accomplished the impossible by reducing to a mere section of a paragraph, the stewardship of a Minister of Foreign Affairs who served his country from 1992 to 2001.
The bias is clear. Whosoever authored the Guest Editorial, was probably one among the ‘many foreign policy analysts’ who, in one way or another, were affected by the austere measures initiated by the Jagan-led PPP/C administration in pursuit of a ‘lean and clean government’ and to end ‘Cadillac-style living in a donkey cart economy.’
With its focus on the then Foreign Minister’s ‘suitability or otherwise’ for the position; his ‘raw, unrelenting and schismatic political instincts’ as well as his ‘incremental purge of the Ministry,’ like the perpetrator who returns to the scene of the crime, the Guest Editor ends up in a fit of self-righteousness at the scene of an heretical crime committed by President Jagan who, in his deliberate judgement, appointed the individual who he considered fit and proper to fill the cabinet post and hold the portfolio of Foreign Minister.
So much for ‘suitability and rawness’ of the President’s choice.
As regards the ‘protracted and carping public discourse for the duration of his tenure’ it is to be recalled that it was Stabroek News with Anna Benjamin as Sunday Editor who was in the vanguard of the ‘protracted and carping public discourse for the duration of my tenure’ and even up to the time when I was handed the portfolio of Minister of Foreign Trade and International Cooperation.
Interestingly, the ghost-like ‘foreign policy analysts’ referred to in the Guest Editorial, are yet to publish in their names, a single historical and critical analysis/ assessment of the foreign policies of the PPP/C or the PNC.
What we have instead are bits and pieces of editorial references and snippets of the performance of each foreign ministers from independence up to the tenure of Carolyn Rodrigues.
Interestingly, the Guest Editor made no mention of Rudolph Samuel Insanally one of Guy-ana’s consummate diplomats who once served as President of the 48th Session of the United Nations General Assembly from 1993 to 1994.
Whatever the writings about past Foreign Ministers, they are more ad hominem than analytical of the foreign policies pursued by the respective governments of the day. We await Stabroek News’ critical assessment of Carl Greenidge’s short-lived stint at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The SN Guest Editor seemed obsessed with regurgitating a particular narrative concerning Jagan’s choice of Foreign Minister. In so doing, they totally ignore the numerous stellar foreign policy initiatives launched and achievements scored by the PPP/C Government at that time.
Setting aside the threadbare and beggared views of the ‘foreign policy analysts’ for the time, it is apposite if not necessary to draw attention to context.
While campaigning prior to the elections in 1992, Cheddi Jagan, Presidential candidate for the PPP/C made it clear that among other lofty objectives, his primary concern was to lift the ordinary Guyanese out of poverty and to improve their livelihood on a sustainable basis.
Jagan campaigned on a promise to cut the number of ministers and ministries, scale down their big salaries and allowances and to make cuts in the Foreign Service and the Office of the President.
He pointed out that Guyana’s foreign debt had increased to over 18 billion in 1992 up from 225 million in 1979.
And to demonstrate the deleterious impact the debt burden would have on future generations, Jagan made reference to a remark the then Minister of Finance, Carl Greenidge had made at the time, that ‘from the moment a child was born, that child carried a debt rock of about $335,000.’
Following the PPP/C’s victory at free and fair elections in 1992, Jagan assumed office as Guyana’s freely elected President.
In an address to the nation on March 17, 1993 President Jagan, referring to the implications and challenges for the new government in light of the burdensome foreign debt said: “Because of this huge handicap, we had to do some re-ordering. It is said that you cannot make an omelette without breaking the egg. We had to do just that.
“To find the money to increase wages, salaries and pensions, to improve education and health and to combat crime, we had to make judicious cuts in expenditure in certain areas.
“We found, for instance, that the Foreign Service was costing more than health, education, fire service and sea defense put together. Some of our top diplomats abroad were earning, with salaries and allowances, about one-and-a-half million dollars a month. Imagine, we are paying about nine-and-a-half million dollars per month as rental for the Mission in New York. What extravagance! Well, we had to make cuts not only in the Foreign Service, but also in the Presidential Secretariat and elsewhere. Of course, some will not be very happy. But we have little choice.”
In fulfilment of his campaign and manifesto promise to the electorate Jagan took to Cabinet his proposals for cuts in expenditure allocated to the Foreign Ministry as well as the suspension of payments of financial contributions to a number of international organizations.
As Minister without portfolio in the Office of the President at that time, and vested with the necessary legal Instruments to act on behalf of the President of Guyana I was entrusted with the responsibility to implement the cabinet decision relevant to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The President of any country is ultimately responsible for the nation’s foreign policy. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is a mere advisor and assistant to the President in executing his directives and that of Cabinet as regards foreign policy matters.
It would be foolhardy, reckless and a breach of collective responsibility, if not indiscipline for any sitting cabinet minister to refuse, oppose or disregard either the President’s and/or a cabinet decision especially in any area where the President is the final arbiter.
If that is what the so-called foreign policy analysts expected me to do to satisfy an urge to create disaffection or dislocation with the Jagan-led PPP/C administration, then it was my ‘unrelenting political instincts,’ that led me to take a different pathway in the prevailing circumstances, instead of opting for the conventional way of fulfilling my functions in that sector within the meaning of government’s foreign policy.
In retrospect, serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guyana brought many challenges and opportunities. The home-based staff at our missions abroad, together with locally recruited staff as well as the Foreign Service Officers serving at Takuba Lodge were of great and unforgettable support in helping me implement the government’s foreign policy during my nine years at the helm of that ministry.
I salute each and every one of them.
Clement J. Rohee
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs