Former Barbados High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Reverend Guy Hewitt is questioning Government’s rationale for a number of recent diplomatic postings, given the global COVID-19 pandemic and the country’s present dire economic situation.
Though complimenting the administration for establishing a long-overdue foreign mission on the African continent, he charged in an interview with Barbados TODAY that it was repeating the mistake of past administrations by not first presenting a foreign policy statement to Barbadians that explained the rationale for the missions and the specific persons being posted. Hewitt noted that in the absence of any coherent framework, Government’s recent appointments seemed “ad hoc at best and cronyistic at worst”. The former diplomat suggested that rather than just open new overseas missions, the Mia Mottley administration should be reviewing the operations of some that already exist.
“The timing is questionable as the world of diplomacy, like our tourism sector, is largely on lockdown with interactions being done primarily through Zoom. Furthermore, given the significant contraction of our economy, we can least afford such expensive political gifts at this time. It’s not just what you do but how you do it that matters.
“Before opening additional missions, we should have critically reviewed the continued need for some of those currently in operation particularly Venezuela and Brazil. As our strategic interests shifted, there is a stronger rationale for a greater presence in Central America specifically in Panama. Further, with trains from Brussels to Geneva taking around six hours, the continued need for missions in both cities is questionable,” he told Barbados TODAY.
Reverend Hewitt explained that when he was Barbados’ envoy at London, he petitioned the Government to review the structure of the mission since he recognised there were certain redundancies. He froze two posts when vacancies arose.
“Given the limited size of the UK and as I was undertaking both diplomatic and diasporic functions, and with an aging diaspora and one passport being processed on average daily, I recognised that the post of deputy high commissioner (effectively a consul general) was redundant. I suggested that the post be abolished to the benefit of taxpayers, advocating instead for honorary consuls and a possible re-profiled post with a focus on inward investment with direct linkages to Invest Barbados and the Ministry of International Business. The deployment of a diaspora relations officer at London is a waste of money,” Hewitt noted.
He added: “Before I took up my assignment abroad, I met with prominent businesspersons on how I could support Barbados’ commercial interests in the UK. I was pleased to cultivate a healthy working relationship between diplomatic and tourism staffers but was disappointed that the country did not pursue the investment opportunity to redevelop the sea island cotton industry.
“While I appreciate the value of multidisciplinary approaches, the announcement of ‘commercial and cultural attachés’ is an oddity as it calls for a jack of all trades. The continued absence of a dedicated business focus in our overseas missions is a major failing.”
The Anglican cleric who now resides in Florida, expressed scepticism about some of the specific persons selected for the overseas missions, especially within the context of his knowledge of Asian culture and the explanation Minister of Foreign Affairs Senator Dr Jerome Walcott had given for Government’s choices.
“Aware that most Asian nations, especially those influenced by Confucianism such as China, Japan and Korea highly value seniority, Barbados deployed a succession of eminent officials: Sir Lloyd Sandiford and The Hon. Dr. Chelston Brathwaithe, followed on by a diplomatic star, Francois Jackman. To try to sell Hallam Henry as a multilingual professional, fluent in Mandarin with hands-on experience in the Chinese business sector is a red herring.
“I assume that Henry’s primary qualification – as he lacks the seniority and experience – is who his father is,” Hewitt stressed. He noted some might construe Henry being a beneficiary of a Chinese Government scholarship as a conflict of interest. He further queried whether bloodlines will also guide the appointment to Ghana and if this is why it wasn’t included in the list of postings?
“Is Ambassador Comissiong being reassigned?”
Hewitt was also confounded by the appointment of Liz Thompson “effectively as an ambassador to Bridgetown.”
“Her responsibilities for ‘climate change, Small Island Development States (SIDs) issues and the law of the sea’ duplicate the work of Kirk Humphrey and his ministry and this is not a case of ‘buy one get one free’,” he said, while noting that Barbadians are overdue an update on the work of ambassadors Dame Billie Miller and Dr. Clyde Mascoll.
“History sometimes reads as the unfortunate tale of different people making the same mistakes. The need for accountability and transparency in our governance is long past due. We can and should be doing better,” he concluded.
Over the weekend Senator Walcott announced that Alex McDonald would be the High Commissioner to Kenya and permanent representative to the United Nations Office at Nairobi; Henry will be posted in China; Gabriel Abed will go to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Francois Jackman will be ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations Office in New York. Former longstanding MP Gline Clarke’s posting as High Commissioner to Canada was also included having been announced last year. Everil Lewis is to be the diaspora relations officer in the United Kingdom mission and Phil Phillips will be the commercial and cultural attaché in the High Commission to Ghana.