Kaieteur News – A hive of activity is taking place at present in New York. The General Debate of the General Assembly of the United Nations is underway and the parade of world leaders wishing to have their say on global affairs is underway.
Guyana has joined the procession. The President, the Vice President, the Foreign Minister and the Foreign Secretary are in New York for the General Debate and for a number of side events and engagements which usually take place.
But while it is impressive to see Guyana represented at such a high level at the General Debate of the General Assembly, political ranks do not always equate with diplomatic skill or finesse.
A serious question mark hovers over the country’s multilateral representation. Part of the problem is the continued political appointments to multilateral diplomatic postings. Guyana is not going to enjoy the representation within multilateral organisations unless it has specialist diplomats in place.
But getting the best is going to be affected because of the chopping and changing of multilateral representatives whenever there is a change in government. It is quite usual whenever there is a change in government for the political appointees who are appointed as High Commissioners and Ambassadors, to tender their resignations. And it is not usual for political appointees to be appointed to key diplomatic missions. There is nothing wrong with this, once the persons identified have the necessary capabilities and intelligence.
However, when it comes to multilateral organisations such as the United Nations, the government has to be a little more circumspect. The United Nations system is a complex one. The United Nations began in 1945 with a simple structure but has since ballooned into a number of specialised agencies. The UN now covers a much wider range of issues than when it first started.
It is because of the complexity and the wide range of issues involved in the UN’s work and the time it takes to become entrenched within the system that there is a preference in many countries to have Permanent Representatives (PRs) to the United Nations. In the case of Guyana, however, we have been chopping and changing the Permanent Representatives, since after 2015.
Therefore, while the head of Guyana’s UN Mission is deemed the Permanent Representative to the United Nations, that position is not permanent at all, as evident by the appointments of new PRs under the APNU+AFC and now under the PPP/C.
The PR to the United Nations should be a career diplomat. Having a career diplomat would insulate this appointment from being subject to chopping and changing every time there is a change in government. It is highly disruptive to the work of the PR and the work of the Committees and Commissions on which the PR sits whenever there is a change in that representative.
But Guyana is not alone in changing its PR whenever or not long after a change in government. The overwhelming majority of countries chop and change their PRs.
Guyana’s, however, has a limited pool of high-class diplomats and therefore the post of Guyana’s PR should ideally go to one of the most senior diplomats.
But apart from the PR, the Missions should be staffed by top-notch diplomats who can command respect and who have the chance of chairing major Committees and Commissions and also compete for the Presidency of the General Assembly and the Secretary General of the United Nations.
Guyana once produced such diplomats but not anymore. Since Sir Sridath Ramphal no Guyanese has been nominated for the post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth. No Guyanese is spoken about as a possible candidate for the Secretary General of the United Nations or indeed of even the Commonwealth.
Multilateral appointments are an important aspect of a country’s international reputation. But Guyana has not shown any such ambition. And this has to do with the excessive politicisation of diplomatic postings and the lack of opportunities for the career diplomats.
So long as political patronage remains a major deciding factor for diplomatic appointments, and so long as membership of the PPP/C and the PNC/R remains a prime consideration for such appointments, the Foreign Service will remain weak and anaemic.
The problem is compounded by the absence of a clear foreign policy focus, especially in the first term of the post 1992 PPP/C regime. In fact, a reading of the Report of the Foreign Ministry for 1994 showed little in the way of tangible achievements with mention being made of the two events of the greatest symbolic foreign policy significance – the visit of the Queen and the visit to South Africa by President Jagan for the installation of Nelson Mandela – yes, Mandela too was an ‘installed’ President. Guyana needs its best diplomats in Washington, Brussels and New York. Can we really say that this is the status at present?
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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