As a student of international relations, I took the verbal diarrhoea spewed forth by the Trinidad and Tobago Ambassador in Geneva as a personal affront. The content and delivery of the "speech" given can only be described as drivel and is not even worthy of a market cuss-out, much less a forum like the UN. The performance of Ambassador Therese Baptiste-Cornelis is shaming and damaging to the already fragile international image of a ridiculed Trinidad and Tobago.
Our international image is not one of a warm and welcoming twin-island state and home of Carnival, as some of members of the Government and members of the public like to think. Instead, we have been making headlines as backward turtle-killers, murder capital of the region and the home of corruption and crime.
We should be seeking to rebuild our lost international capital and re-establish alliances. It is indeed a crying shame that incompetent and unqualified people have, for many decades, been appointed to such prestigious and important positions by all the political regimes. As long as there is not a total overhaul of our foreign service and a rethink of the system used to appoint high commissioners, ambassadors and consular officers, political patronage will reign and our country will continue to be a laughing stock.
International relations and diplomacy are the domain of people of the highest calibre and experience. This field is dominated by people who have many years of public service and know the workings of politics, state and bureaucracy of the nation they represent. Degrees and doctorates are only the starting point in the long journey that it takes to become a skilled foreign-service officer.
The vast majority of the world's developed countries and emerging powers such as Brazil and China have recognised the importance of a strong and semi-independent foreign service. Diplomatic officers appointed by these nations are of great stature, are very knowledgeable and have most times worked for many years in the public sector. Political affinity is put aside and the most competent and qualified people are selected to fill foreign relations roles.
Foreign relationships are paramount to many nations. While the average citizen may pay little attention to foreign affairs, this is the area that has potential to bring about peace or war, famine or plenty, and sets the stage for global and domestic politics.
Foreign relations affects education, the ability of people to travel abroad, the price of food, grants and loans, defence and aid and a host of other issues that affect everyone. Foreign policy is the backbone and linchpin of some emerging powers such as Brazil, where their national and developmental policy hinges on excellent relations abroad, the building of alliances and relationships and the propagation of a positive image.
These aims are overseen by the powerful Ministry of External Relations of Brazil, or Itamaraty, which is so important that as governments change the ministry remains the same, except for the minister. All incoming governments seek a good relationship with these powerful and competent bureaucrats.
While Brazil and others are fostering good relations and are searching for the most competent foreign-relations officers, Trinidad and Tobago is looking to play politics.
Since our independence, every single government—from the People's National Movement to the National Alliance for Reconstruction to the United National Congress and the current coalition—used foreign postings as a way to repay political supporters. These posts are filled by financiers and backers of the party and oftentimes defeated candidates.
We have ambassadors and high commissioners who cannot speak the local language in the nations where they are posted. We have doctors and business people appointed to positions that demand specialist knowledge of development and economics. We have embassies full of incompetent staff who are the bane of our expats, and scholarship students such as myself who are left to wonder what screening is done to appoint these officers.
How can we hope to tread along the path to development if we are sending useless and incompetent people to represent us to the world, to negotiate deals and agreements and to speak for us? The last administration had a minister who virtually threw herself onto the US President, and this one has an ambassador who needs a lesson in decorum and diplomacy.
We are in serious need of a strong diplomatic corps, staffed not by political hacks but instead by highly educated and experienced civil servants, former army and police officers and academics. We need a pool of elite talent from which to draw our ambassadors and foreign representatives.
It may also be time to remove the absolute appointment of these positions from the government of the day and move it to the public service or a new independent body which will have the duty to screen and recommend names to the government for appointment. To strengthen this new system, some formula should be used to have half or more of the staff beyond the reach of the politicians and instead be career bureaucrats.
Hopefully the Olympics and other issues of the day will distract the world from laughing at our country. If the social media and YouTube are any measure to go by, it may be a few weeks again that we have to endure ridicule.
For the time being, the ambassador should be recalled immediately and a new appointment should be made. Our international image should be a major asset and, as citizens, we should be represented by the best and the brightest. We must demand that people of the highest calibre and competence are selected and that all political parties should subdue their inherent biases and patronage and do what is best for the country.
• Rajiv Gopie won the President's
Medal in 2006 for business/modern
studies. He is an MSc candidate in
international relations at the
London School of Economics.