Perpetuating Mr Michael Manley's diplomatic error


Perpetuating Mr Michael Manley's diplomatic error

Sunday, February 09, 2020

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This newspaper has always recognised and saluted service to Jamaica, especially when this has been over a long period. But we adhere to the principle that service should be its own reward.

Under current practice, the inducement to a member of parliament to retire after outliving his usefulness to a political party has been conferment of the Order of Jamaica (OJ), the title of ambassador, or a period of living in a foreign country.

This unfortunate practice was started by late Prime Minister Michael Manley and has been continued by all prime ministers since. The inducement always works because there is no title that people want more than “ambassador”, which carries mystique, the promise of a permanent title, black tie dinners, first class air travel and, above all, a diplomatic passport.

A political appointment to a diplomatic post does not require any relevant qualification, pertinent diplomatic experience or language proficiency, though we think it should.

Ambassadorial appointments are the sole prerogative of the prime minister who can use it to reward a friend or as a form of banishment. But it can severely demoralise professional career diplomats awaiting their turn.

Most people are too polite to criticise these appointments. After all, we have ambassadors of all kinds — musicians, athletes, and donors to worthy causes.

No politician will criticise these appointments lest it rules them out when their time comes. In any case, there are countries where it is said it will not matter because the relationship is good or the country is not important to Jamaica's interests.

In recent days, word making the rounds is that former MP Mr Rudyard Spencer is to be sent to Germany as ambassador. If that is true, it would be interesting to hear the reasons for the selection. Admittedly, Berlin is not as important as Washington, DC or Beijing or the United Nations, but it is, along with France, the dominant country in the European Union (EU).

This is especially the case in the post-Brexit era where there is no longer any hanging onto British coat tails in the EU. Indeed, Germany has lost no time in stepping up its diplomatic presence. Its director for Latin America and the Caribbean is touring the hemisphere and visited Jamaica recently.

Of course, former MPs can be given the rank of ambassador, a diplomatic passport and awarded the OJ, but they don't have to be posted abroad. We think governments should reserve actual diplomatic postings for career diplomats or outsiders who have some special qualifications and/or relevant professional experience.

Importantly, we believe that no activist member of a political party, including former MPs, should be appointed to a diplomatic or consular post, as this has served to divide the Jamaican communities in Miami, New York, Toronto, and London.

It is noteworthy that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requires career diplomats to retire no later than 65 years of age. This risks them losing some people in their prime, but nobody in a poor country should be starting a diplomatic posting over the age of 75 years.

Foreign affairs is critically important to a small, developing country like Jamaica. We must have all diplomatic posts staffed by qualified people.

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