A few weeks ago, Kaieteur News published a letter written by one Harold Smith, who highlighted his brother’s appalling experience at the Guyana Consulate in Miami. Since then several other Guyanese in Florida have shared similar stories.
Consulates and embassies are supposed to provide important services to our nationals abroad, including the renewal of passports, notarized affidavits, and to facilitate trade and friendly relations between nations.
The poor service at the Consulate in Miami is disappointing, but the impression that members of the public have been getting should not surprise anyone. First of all, the building is located in a poor, depressed and drug-infested area where many are afraid to venture, even during daylight.
If this government is serious about promoting tourism then it should relocate this Consulate.
The need for an Honorary Consul in Miami should not be excused for such poor service or for having a Consulate in such environs. It seems that the poor services rendered to Guyanese abroad by their embassies and consulates during the last administration have continued under this government. It is unfortunate, embarrassing and could tarnish Guyana’s image.
Truth be told, the poor and unprofessional services rendered to Guyanese nationals abroad by the Consulate in Miami is not an isolated case. Rather, it is common practice at most of the country’s consulates and embassies throughout the United States. For example, there have been complaints that for three out of every five days in any given week, telephone calls will go unanswered at one particular Consulate. And whenever the phone is answered by a member of the staff, very seldom does he/she have the answers to the questions being asked.
It is difficult to imagine that most of the senior staff at the consulates and embassies, including some Ambassadors, High Commissioners and Consuls General, are trained in Foreign Policy and Diplomacy. There appears to be a lack of experience in dealing with immensely difficult foreign policy issues affecting Guyana, especially as they relate to other countries.
Ambassadors and High Commissioners are career diplomats who are accredited to a specific country or organization as the highest ranking representative to represent the interests and advance the policies of their respective countries to foreign governments and organizations. However, those interests change over time, as every new administration has different interests which make the job far more complex than it might seem.
That said, since independence most of our governments have unfortunately used political patronage to reward their party supporters, family and friends with diplomatic postings to foreign capitals. Such practice has not only placed unqualified persons in key positions, but also ignores the responsibility of the government to ensure quality diplomatic representation for the country in its dealings with foreign governments, international organizations and businesses.
The carte blanche to make such patronage appointments allows patently unsuitable persons without the requisite diplomacy skills to represent Guyana at the highest levels around the world. Patronage should not be dispensed at every whim and fancy, because no one is expected to be held accountable with such political appointments. However, this is not to say that there should be no political appointees in Foreign Service, but those appointed should at least possess the qualities of a career diplomat.
According to the first US diplomat to France, Benjamin Franklin, “The qualities of a diplomat are sleepless, tact, unmovable calmness, and a patience that no folly, no provocation and no blunders may shake.”
Our Ambassadors, High Commissioners and Consuls General should have solid diplomatic experience, good knowledge of foreign affairs and a sound basis in the foreign policy interest of their countries. These are critical for advancing Guyana’s interest abroad and to ensure that it is well represented globally and that it is highly respected at all times.
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