PM: Public servants caused Dominica vote
PORT OF SPAIN – Public officials who usurped the authority of the political directorate and not foreign affairs minister Dennis Moses, were responsible for T&T’s recent refusal to support Dominica’s request for waiver of its dues for the Organisation of American States (OAS) last month.
That’s the direction in which prime minister Dr Keith Rowley has pointed following receipt of reports from officials at all levels – including Moses – involved in the issue.
The issue recently brought a negative international spotlight after T&T refused to back Dominica’s bid for waiver of its 2018-2019 OAS dues at a March 23 meeting, in the face of its continuing struggles in the wake of the devastation caused to the country by Hurricane Maria last year.
Speaking at yesterday’s post-Cabinet media briefing, Rowley revealed that a foreign affairs ministry acting deputy permanent secretary eventually advised that T&T follow a February decision in which CARICOM states refused to give one country a waiver on an issue different to Dominca’s.
Rowley said although the ministry’s Permanent Secretary later agreed T&T should support Dominica’s waiver, she failed to inform Moses of the matter.
Further, Rowley revealed T&T wasn’t represented at a March 15 meeting where all Organisation of American States (OAS) members unanimously agreed to support Dominica’s waiver request. He said he was still trying to find out why T&T was absent from this meeting, noting the country’s absence from this meeting had also contributed to the embarrassing situation.
Rowley said the reports he received, “. . . make for disturbing reading. Not for the first time, I’ve had to be concerned about certain actions taken by persons who may not have followed established procedure – or worse usurped the authority where that authority lies.”
He said the matter could have been easily avoided if simple procedures were followed.
“Not for the first time, I’ve had to deal with something like this where people have usurped the authority of the political directorate. So it’s easy to call for the minister’s head or mine, but I like to deal with facts and to hold people accountable for their actions.”
He said he’s now put the matter in the hands of former foreign affairs career diplomat ambassador Christopher Thomas to analyze.
But Rowley made it clear that as Prime Minister – who appoints PSs – he can take action.
He said he was shocked and embarrassed by T&T’s refusal to support Dominica’s waiver request at the OAS’s March 23 meeting. The matter generated local and regional debate. Rowley, however, noted T&T’s strong support for Dominica following its 2017 hurricane devastation. This was articulated by Moses at the United Nations and T&T ambassador to the UN Pennelope Beckles also.
The PM said it was therefore surprising and shocking that anyone could claim not to know T&T’s “level of empathy and commitment” to Dominica, “particularly office holders whose job it is to portray T&T abroad and those at home who support those abroad”.
When the Dominica issue occurred, he said he immediately enquired who was directing policy, “because clearly that was change of policy that required input from the political directorate”.
In one aspect of the problem, PM Rowley said it’s now been discovered that T&T was absent from the OAS March 15 preparatory meeting, where member states unanimously agreed to support Dominica’s waiver request ahead of the March 23 meeting where the matter was voted upon.
He said OAS members’ unanimous decision was in keeping with statements by Moses and Beckles on T&T’s support for Dominica. But he noted the T&T Foreign Ministry headquarters was unaware of T&T’s absence at the March 15 meeting
He further noted that the ministry’s acting deputy PS then said T&T’s position should remain consistent with those expressed at an earlier CARICOM/Association of Caribbean States meeting on grant of waivers. Back then, another country had requested a waiver within CARICOM on a different matter and the CARICOM group, including T&T, agreed this waiver shouldn’t be granted.
Rowley added, “This is the source of the problem – public officials are now deciding, that notwithstanding what the political directorate may come to on T&T’s position, that we maintain consistency with some prior position on some other matter – and to maintain that consistency, we say no to the Dominica waiver.”
He noted that the acting deputy PS was aware of the March 15 OAS meeting where members all agreed to support Dominica’s waiver.
Rowley said the ministry’s PS had also agreed T&T policy should be changed to support Dominica’s waiver. But in reading the PS’ report, he said she admitted that she “failed to forward the matter to the minister as is standard procedure, as I’m accustomed to in matters in respect of which an official position of T&T is required.
“She acknowledged, on looking at the matter – including the March 15 meeting missed by T&T – it was therefore clear there was consensus among the membership to accede to Dominica’s request,” he said.
Rowley said Moses’ report on the issue had alluded to standard procedure “to process requests from missions and the position to be adopted in international fora”. Requests are sent to the relevant ministry divisions for attention. Resulting output is sent to the PS, who submits it to the minister for consideration and authorization. Once approved it’s sent to the PS for outward transmission to a mission.
Reading excerpts from Moses’ reports, the PM said the minister stated that the Washington T&T embassy’s request for guidance on the Dominica matter was processed by two ministry divisions. But he said consultations and a co-operative effort involving embassy personnel and the ministry “resulted in a changed position” from the embassy’s recommendation to support the Dominican request, to another position, to one being proposed by the PS via the acting deputy PS.
In his report, Moses added he was “never consulted, nor was any submission made to me in this matter. I wasn’t even aware a request from Dominica for a waiver was to be considered by the OAS (on March 23)”.
Moses also noted he’d had extensive discussions with the PS during the March 23 period when the “unauthorized position of T&T” was conveyed to the Washington embassy.
Rowley confirmed he maintains confidence in Moses, adding the T&T/Dominica relationship is still solid. (T&T Guardian)