A “shocked and embarrassed” prime minister Dr Keith Rowley Thursday sought to reaffirm Trinidad and Tobago’s commitment to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and more specifically, Dominica, following the “mishap” that occurred when Port of Spain voted against a waiver for Roseau on its assessed quota contribution to the Organisation of American States (OAS) for the 2018-19 period.
Rowley, who has received a report on the circumstances that led to his administration not supporting the request, told reporters at his weekly post Cabinet news conference that he was as “shocked and embarrassed as any other citizen” following the vote on March 23.
“So when I heard Trinidad and Tobago had taken a position in opposition to the request of Dominica, it came as a shock to me and I immediately inquired to find out how could this be and who was directing that policy, because clearly that policy required an input from the political directorate,” he said, after outlining the many occasions since coming to office in 2015 that his administration had made it clear that it was in full support of CARICOM.
He said in support of that position, he had appointed a “very experienced” person in Dennis Moses to head the ministry of foreign and CARICOM affairs. Rowley also stated that while Moses was not “flamboyant”, he had significant experience working in organizations such as the OAS.
The prime minister also reported that following the situation at the OAS last month, he had ordered a comprehensive report “from all levels”.
“I have got these original documents and . . . it makes for disturbing reading,” Rowley said, adding “not for the first time, I have had to be concerned about certain actions taken by persons who may not have followed procedures, or worse, usurped the authority where that authority lies”.
Trinidad and Tobago’s OAS ambassador Anthony Phillip Spencer had taken the position during a March 23 special meeting of the OAS Permanent Council that despite the “goodwill” expressed by the other delegations, including those from CARICOM, his country would not support the Roseau waiver.
Instead, he said, Port of Spain would consider supporting either the “deferral of payments of contributions by member states [or] where possible, the implementation of a payment plan”.
Dominica is recovering from the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria on September 18 last year and the island had requested the OAS’ approval of the waiver on its assessed quota contribution, estimated at US$20,000 annually.
In requesting the OAS concession, the country’s alternate representative, Judith-Anne Rolle, had told the hemispheric meeting that a post disaster assessment, undertaken in collaboration with a number of regional and international organizations, including the World Bank and the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), had painted a very dismal picture of the island.
“The post disaster needs assessment also concluded that Hurricane Maria resulted in total damage of US$931 million and losses of US$382 million to the productive, social, infrastructure and cross cutting sectors amounting to 226 per cent of the GDP [gross domestic product] for 2016,” she told the meeting.
Despite Port of Spain’s refusal to support the waiver, Dominica’s prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit sought to assure this week that the relationship between the two sister CARICOM states was “still solid”.
“The Trinidad and Tobago government and indeed the whole of TT have been very supportive of our efforts,” the Dominican leader said, adding that “I do not think that the prime minister [Rowley] would have been aware of the vote at the OAS prior [to it being taken].
“This is one of the usual miscommunication occurrences which happens to all of us from time to time,” Skerrit added.
In support of Skerrit’s position, Rowley told reporters today that based on the report he had received from a senior public servant “officials made certain decisions based on what may no longer be valid”.
“His [the senior public servant’s] position was that Trinidad and Tobago’s position should remain consistent with those expressed at several meetings of CARICOM and the ACS [Association of Caribbean States] with respect to the granting of waivers. . . . This is the source of the problem.
“Public officials are now deciding that notwithstanding what the political directorate may come to, the advice to, and the position of Trinidad and Tobago, is that we maintain some consistency with some prior position somewhere else on some other matter, and, in maintaining that consistency, we must say ‘no’ to the Dominica waiver,” Rowley said.
However, the Trinidad and Tobago leader said he had since taken the decision to send all the documents, as well as the report, for “expert review” by a former experienced diplomat “to give me an appropriate analysis of what we are dealing with here, because it is my intention to let the facts dictate what actions are taken as prime minister on this matter”.