One year on: Foreign Ministry restructuring to best represent Guyana’s interest abroad

A GINA feature – May 10, 2016

This is a good time to evaluate the performance of the various ministries of the coalition government which is close to completing a year in office. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for representing Guyana’s interest and image abroad. So how has this all important Ministry fared?

Minister with responsibility for the Ministry, Carl Greenidge, speaking to the Government Information Agency (GINA) on the period, May 2015 to May 2016, said “It has been a period of steadying the ship and building capacity to keep it on course to where we are going.”

Broken Foreign Service

When the coalition government came into power, it had to contend with what the previous administration had left behind; a capacity deficit Foreign Affairs Ministry, a shortage of professional diplomats at the ambassadorial level, with the absence of any coherent policy in terms of overseas postings, as well as no grounded, Foreign Service Policy. The new government also had to address, the challenge of territorial integrity posed by Venezuela’s new unwarranted claim that the 1899 agreement was null and void. Suriname, following in Venezuela’s footsteps also resurrected its claim on Guyana’s New River Triangle.

 

Policy promise

Very early after assuming office the administration highlighted most of the above legacy issues to the public, with a promise to address them. President David Granger, himself, addressing the opening of the 11th Parliament on June 10, 2015, outlined the new administration’s foreign policy outlook, and pledged that the administration would do everything within its power to secure Guyana’s borders. The President also spoke of the administration’s aim of having Guyana play a leading role in regional affairs, strengthening the country’s friendly relations with its neighbours, as well as deepening its economic relations with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

 

Rebuilding capacity

The realisation of the administration’s overall Foreign Policy outlook, however, depended heavily on the outcomes of the diplomatic effort, and the capacity to effectively execute the country’s foreign policy priorities, which were greatly hampered by the lack of professional diplomats at home and those at the ambassadorial level. This situation now compels the administration to examine several new measures, to employ persons sufficiently qualified and experienced to function at home and abroad, representing Guyana’s interest.

 

Since the new mandate underscored the need for special attention to be paid to secure, investment and trade matters, the administration began to examine the criteria for selection of diplomats to represent these interests. Before diplomatic postings were filled by political ‘faithfuls’, the new administration’s emphasis has been on merit, as well as experience (technical, negotiating and diplomatic) as a basis for staffing the posts. Meanwhile, the revival of the Foreign Service Institute was also identified as critical to building the capacity of the Foreign Service staff. The institute, would not only now guide the development of the professional skills which the country needs to better implement its foreign policy, but the programmes delivered will also guide the implementation of a foreign policy in keeping with the new emerging world environment.

 

New way of doing business

 

In a recent interview with the Government Information Agency, GINA, Minister Greenidge explained that the damage done to Guyana’s Foreign Service, over the years, has largely resulted because, back then, the foreign policy was run on personal policies and relationships. “I think the PPP was of the view that Dr. Jagan in particular and subsequently both Mrs. (Janet) Jagan and Mr. (Bharrat) Jagdeo, that a Foreign Service really was an unnecessary expense, that you could get any set of people to carry out a foreign policy, and all you needed were those persons who are sociable, who can go and chat with a President here, a Prime Minister there,” he explained.

 

The Minister noted that, that was “one way of running your private business” but as the previous administration quickly discovered when dealing with Suriname and subsequently Venezuela, these agreements are not binding. Minister Greenidge pointed out, “Venezuela, presidents have come here (in Guyana) and having been royally entertained and feted, and they leave and sometime before they leave the Office of the President, we have had instances of armed people including parliamentarians and civilians coming over our borders or people being shot at, arrested.”

 

The new administration could not have gone forward following the tried and failed policy practices of promoting foreign policy the same way.

 

New core of representatives

 

One of the major initiatives that the government has achieved is putting in place a number of new ambassadors (about 15) who can command respect from the international community, and who can also have the confidence of the people of Guyana; new representatives with experiences critical to the administration’s overall economic aspirations. For instance, Frederick Hamley Case, who was appointed, High Commissioner to the United Kingdom (UK) brings some commercial experience, as well as language skill to the fold. Case has been a Chief Executive Representative of two major automobile companies in the United States. He was also involved in forestry and speaks French.

 

 

Extending foreign ties

 

Not only has the administration improved its stock of representatives at its international missions, but the country is also moving to leave its footprint in other previously unexplored soils. According to Minister Greenidge, Guyana will soon establish a diplomatic mission in Geneva that will enhance Guyana’s trade. The establishment of such a mission means that the Guyanese officers who are coordinators for trade for the Caribbean region, can be on site and lead effectively by participating in necessary meetings. This capacity was constrained by the absence of those skills in Geneva. The officers appointed there will need to work also with Swiss officials,   because it will be a bilateral office too. The officers will also work towards developing relations with the Swiss with whom Guyana have not really worked a great deal.

 

The administration also began a process of deepening cooperation with other countries in the South American region, as part of ensuring the country is poised to take advantage of its strategically located position which serves as a pivotal link among Latin America, the Caribbean and further afield.

 

Guyana and CARICOM

Closer to home, the new administration has continued its pursuit of making CARICOM a stronger unit. Towards bettering the country’s position with CARICOM, the administration committed $60M from the 2016 National Budget to clear a part of arrears owing and accrued over the past five years to the CARICOM Competition Commission. Guyana was hurled before the Commission a few years ago by Trinidadian Cement Company, TCL for what the company complained to be unfair competition practices. The Caribbean Court of Justice ruled in favour of Guyana, dismissing TCL’s claims.

 

Guyana also continues to partner with its CARICOM sisters and brothers on issues of infrastructure development and employment among others. Recent interaction saw a Memorandum of Understanding being signed with Belize. This is intended to deal with the challenges facing Guyana with regards rice. The administration has also had bilateral discussions at the highest levels with Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. These covered the challenges of trade, particularly, looking at cooperation and what more could be done to try to ensure that services and goods produced in Guyana could be done in conjunction with skills which are available in Barbados and Trinidad. There are also trade level initiatives taking place to assist some of the exporters to find better opportunities in these markets. Some of the assistance and cooperation in deepening trade have been direct and some, indirect

 

Foreign policy, international financial institutions

At the multilateral level, the administration has worked on policies especially relating to small and vulnerable economies, with Italy and the UK, for example, to try and strengthen Guyana’s ability to respond to international initiatives.

Steadying the Course: Venezuela and Suriname

One of the major initiatives that the new administration has achieved in the one year of its tenure is its staunch defence of the country’s territorial integrity. Against the background of continued territorial threats from both Venezuela and Suriname, not only did the administration announce a Total National Defence Policy, but it successfully petitioned for a judicial settlement. The administration has been successful in getting the United Nations to meet with both Guyana and the Venezuelan governments to investigate the longstanding border controversy, as well as to gather information to advise on the next steps.

Onward

The incoming David Granger-led administration of 2015, inherited a broken Foreign Service. From then to now, there is no denying the fact that Guyana’s image has improved immensely. Moving forward, the new administration has committed to advancing the discussions with both Venezuela and Suriname, to a point where a new step is recognised; one that is intended to reduce the tensions in the country.

The administration has also pledged to enhance international economic cooperation, as well as policy formation and technical assistance with the multilateral and international institutions.

 

 

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