EDITORIAL: Why Foreign Affairs must wake up
Much has changed since Kofi Annan told an audience in Barbados several years ago that our country often “punches above its weight”.
It was telling use of a boxing term by the then United Nations Secretary General to tell the world that geographic size or economic or military might doesn’t always matter. For back then Barbados, a featherweight, often acted as if it were a welterweight or middleweight, influencing international decisions. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case.
Much of the problem can be traced to Barbados’ weak representation overseas in recent years, the way in which our policies are formulated at home and how they are articulated abroad.
Add the secrecy that encases our foreign policy to the equation and the full dimensions would be understood. Except for the UN General Assembly’s annual foreign policy debate when our statement is delivered, we hardly hear where Barbados stands on crucial issues that affect us.
It is as if the Barbados Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and its senior diplomats are trapped in a cocoon of silence from which it can’t extricate itself. Senator Maxine McClean, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and her advisers must bear responsibility for this. As the political head of the foreign service, the buck stops at her desk.
The most glaring deficiency is in the selection of who represents us. For weeks we have been hearing about a plan to appoint the very affable Haynesley Benn, a former Cabinet minister, as our Consul General in Toronto, an important city with a large Barbadian community. But there has been no confirmation.
Who represents us there is important because of the role Barbadians play in their homeland’s development and the fact that Toronto is Canada’s financial capital.
There was a time when foreign policy issues were debated in Parliament, giving everyone a chance to hear and discuss them. Media conferences were also held. Not so anymore. Questions abound: Is Sir Lloyd Sandiford, a former Prime Minister, returning as head of our embassy in Beijing? Do we plan to keep Joseph Goddard at the UN? How about our High Commissioner in London; is he heading home soon as rumours predict? Does it make sense to keep missions in Cuba and Brazil in these difficult financial times when austerity was front and centre in the recent Budget?
The minister must initiate a parliamentary foreign policy debate so we can hear how our diplomatic and consular outposts are involved in finding economic solutions.
At a time when our offshore financial services sector is facing its most serious challenge, caused by changes in Canada’s fiscal policies towards overseas investment, we should be told about how our offices in Ottawa and Toronto are working to protect our interests. We need answers.