The recent appointment of Foreign Minister Dennis Moses as minister in the Ministry of National Security is extremely puzzling since the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in a state of near disarray and needs his fullest attention so that our country can continue playing its leadership role internationally.
Minister Moses would have been in a much better position to assist with our crime fighting and other efforts in his new post, if he had first put his substantive Ministry on a much firmer footing.
At present more than eighty five percent of our foreign service officers are on three year contracts with the best and the brightest willing, but unable, to make long term commitments to the ministry given the contractual nature of their employment.
The remaining 15 percent in the ministry are in the 55 to 60 age group and will shortly retire leaving a ministry staffed completely with contract foreign service officers with no succession plan in place.
Minister Moses’ ministry is in a virtual state of “pre collapse” and needs his fullest attention.
The situation is the opposite in developed countries such as Japan, the UK, Finland, most EU states and Australia where nearly all foreign service officers are permanently employed in their respective ministries. These ministries can more readily engage in long term career planning, training and cross postings to facilitate the acquisition of a range of diplomatic, linguistic, cross cultural and other competencies.
At present there are no appointed High Commissioners or ambassadors in South Africa, in Uganda, India, Cuba, Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, Brazil, Jamaica, Nigeria and Costa Rica.
The Consulate in Toronto and the High Commission in Ottawa are headed by relatively junior public servants. No Permanent Representatives have been appointed to the UN in New York and in Geneva.
Under this minister’s watch, Trinidad and Tobago has also been under represented recently at major international conferences that will impact our very future.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley was a no show at last September’s 70th session of the UN General Assembly attended by over 140 heads of state and governments. The Assembly reviewed the sustainable development goals (SDGs) that will guide the next era of global development.
At last December’s Climate Change Conference in Paris attended by over 150 Heads of State and Governments, Trinidad and Tobago was not represented by our Prime Minister even though our country has the second highest carbon footprint in the world on a per capita basis (behind Qatar) and needs therefore to be crucially mindful of decisions taken globally on this matter.
This dropping of the ball occurred after Trinidad and Tobago played a leadership role in climate change conferences in the run up to the Paris meeting. TT’s Kishan Kumarshingh, who headed our Multilateral Environment Agreements Unit co -chaired with the EU’s Artur Runge-Metzer the important Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform at a 2013 meeting in Warsaw. Metzer represented all developed countries while Kishan chaired on behalf of all developing counties including India and China. All 193 UN Member States were represented.
So important was TTs climate change voice, that Nauru, a small Pacific country ravished by the effects of climate change, proferred $5,000 US to facilitate the attendance of the TT Permanent Representative to a 2013 meeting in a European capital.
A Trinidad and Tobago contract foreign service officer also is the de facto legal adviser on climate change to the UN’s Association of Small Island States (AOSIS).
If Minister Moses is expected to bring a regional and global perspective to our crime fighting initiatives, as has been suggested, then he must tell us of his involvement since taking office in meetings of the Committee on Hemispheric Security at the OAS. He may wish also to advise us of his efforts in CARICOM where our country holds the regional security portfolio. He must tell us about global best practices in dealing with returning nationals fighting in Syria. Last week Britain convicted a female citizen who returned from fighting in Syria.
Minister Moses’ five month stint at the ministry of foreign affairs can best be characterized by inaction on administrative matters, dropping of the ball at global conferences and an inability to develop a strategic foreign policy that would help us address the plethora of economic and other challenges we face.
Meanwhile the PNM ensures minimum parliamentary oversight by using its majority to railroad ministers Marlene Mc Donald to chair the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Foreign Affairs while Paula Gopee Scoon is the deputy chair.
Rodney Charles, MP
Former Permanent Representative to the UN, MP for Naparima and Opposition shadow Foreign Minister.