Six years ago, this newspaper called on the government of the day to choose its diplomats wisely noting that the question of diplomatic appointments has always been an intriguing one. The newspaper further stated that quite often, it seemed that diplomats were given high postings that pay generously only to milk a home country that realises way too few benefits for its expenditure.
“In some instances, these postings appear to be rewards for services rendered to a political party. Hardly is there any empirical data to suggest how Saint Lucia has benefitted positively from these diplomatic appointments,” The VOICE Newspaper 23 June, 2016 said.
Foreign Minister Alva Baptiste, last month made it clear to diplomats that Saint Lucia’s foreign policy must be driven by its domestic development needs, not by photo-ops.
Minister Baptiste clearly saw the need for stressing this point at the orientation workshop for the newly appointed heads of Saint Lucia’s overseas missions.
Said Baptiste, “Saint Lucia’s development agenda and its accompanying priorities will be the centrifugal force that will determine the manner in which we interact with international actors. I envision a transition away from the tendency to be reactive, and an inclination towards much greater proactivity.”
One need not be a rocket scientist to realise that the comments by this newspaper and our current foreign minister mask a major problem with our foreign policy over the years, which is that too often, persons are appointed to these prestigious positions, where they earn huge salaries and whatever else that comes with the job, but deliver little or nothing in return.
This is the result when political parties holding the reins of power appoint their adherents to these positions, not understanding that while each nation has the right and power to secure the goals of their national interest in international relations, those loyalists (party hacks), irrespective of their academic achievements, look upon these positions as rewards for labouring in the field of politics prior to a general election.
Over the years, we have been playing musical chairs with our foreign representatives. Those diplomats who are out of office now that the Labour Party is in, will melt into the shadows, waiting for the government to change, and should the government change, emerge out of the shadows for yet another diplomatic posting. The same applies to those diplomats appointed by the Labour Party when the United Workers Party is in office.
We say with confidence that a keen observer of Saint Lucian politics knows who will receive what whenever a government changes. Real surprises at diplomatic postings are seldom appointed by a new government.
That being the case, we must laud Minister Baptiste for saying what he said to the current crop of diplomats. And he was on the button. We felt, however, that he should have gone a tad further and have said to the diplomats that they would be recalled should they fail to fulfill the expectations of the island’s foreign policy.
Saint Lucia is at a point in its foreign relations where the show of friendship to another country should not be considered the overriding factor. Saint Lucia’s supreme duty from a foreign relations perspective is not to clink champagne or cocktail glasses with other countries just to prove we are friends. The country’s supreme duty is to satisfy the needs of its people.
Saint Lucia is not self-reliant in anything; it has not attained high levels of development in any area we can think of, hence the need for it to be part of regional and international organisations, and befriend countries that serve its interests.
In formulating and adopting a foreign policy, therefore, Saint Lucia must ensure that its diplomats have an intimate understanding of the aims, policies and aspirations of the Government and behave in the international environment accordingly. Simply put, the diplomats are there to promote Saint Lucia’s interest as articulated by the Government of the day, not to engage in photo-ops or activities that are not rewarding to Saint Lucia.
The call now, more than ever before, is for our diplomats to translate our country’s foreign policy into concrete courses of action which will advance our interest.
The big question is: Can the current crop of diplomats do that? Time, as the saying goes, will tell.