There has been a long-standing view that diplomacy is best left to professionals who have made a career of it. But in Jamaica’s case, political appointees have now outnumbered career diplomats as heads of missions for the first time in the country’s history.
The situation has evoked questions regarding the Administration’s shift in focus from having those who opted to make a career of international relations and related fields play second fiddle to those chosen by the political directorate in getting the job done — that of running diplomatic missions abroad.
Jamaica now has 17 active ambassadors, high commissioners and consuls general spread out across the world, with the majority of them — nine — being political appointees, as against eight who have come through the system managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.
One mission — Berlin in Germany — has been vacant since 2017, although people at the lower level have done work in that region during the last four years.
A career diplomat is one who has made a living from working through, in this case, Jamaica’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.
A political appointee is one hand-picked by the government of the day, who has had little or no experience in diplomacy, but who is often depended upon to carry the mantle of the country, and in some cases, the ruling party.
In addition, career ambassadors are regularly assigned posts that are generally regarded as low-profile ones, many of them in places far away from Jamaica, or at locations that political appointees dislike, or cannot manage. The posts in Geneva, Switzerland, and Brussels, Belgium, for example, are usually occupied by career diplomats, as they require deep knowledge of trade issues and attendance at several meetings on those issues.
As things stand, political appointees have been posted in India, China, Cuba, the United States (in Washington, DC, and the UN mission in New York), England, and Trinidad & Tobago. The consulates in New York and Miami are also headed by non-career diplomats.
Career diplomats are operating from missions in: South Africa, Nigeria, Japan, Mexico, Toronto, Ottawa, Brussels and the Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva.
Those who would be regarded as non-career, or politically appointed diplomats are Audrey Marks (Washington, DC), Antonia Hugh (Beijing); Kathryn Phipps (Havana); Seth Ramocan (London); Jason Hall (India); Arthur Williams (Port of Spain); Oliver Mair (Miami); Alison Roach Wilson (consulate general New York); and Brian Wallace (permanent representative, United Nations, New York).
Career diplomats posted overseas are: Sharon Saunders (Mexico); Shorna Kay Richards (Japan); Esmond Reid (Nigeria); Simone Betton (Brussels); Angela Comfort (South Africa); Cheryl Spencer (permanent representative, Geneva); Lincoln Downer (consul general, Toronto); and Sharon Miller (Ottawa, Canada).
Miller is the sister of Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton, but she has been a veteran career diplomat, whose posting before her Ottawa assignment was Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.
Additionally, there is a special investment envoy to Africa who was appointed last May.
Jamaica’s last ambassador to Berlin was Margaret Jobson. No one has been appointed to succeed her since she left in November 2017, although three different charge d’affaires have served in a location that officials in diplomatic circles believe requires adequate representation in a country like Germany.
Contacted for a comment, minister of state in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Leslie Campbell said he would check on the status of the postings before speaking officially on the situation in respect of political appointees as against career diplomats.
Calls to the cellular phone of Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith went unanswered, but one senior member of Jamaica’s diplomatic fraternity told the Jamaica Observer that while it is traditional to have political appointees operating in certain posts, for ultimate results it is best that career diplomats carry Jamaica’s flag abroad.
“Diplomacy is an art…a skill that’s best left to diplomats,” the official said. “You can’t exclude political people but Jamaica’s diplomacy has been taken over by politically appointed individuals, and the fear here is that interest of the party may be placed ahead of interest of country.”
Both Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and People’s National Party (PNP) administrations have had their political operatives serve as diplomats, among them, Derrick Heaven (London), Burchell Whiteman (London), Aloun Assamba (London); and the late Seymour Mullings (Washington), a former deputy prime minister from the PNP; Cliff Stone (Venezuela,) Anthony Johnson (Washington and London) also deceased; and currently Arthur Williams and Seth Ramocan from the JLP, all of whom have contested elections for their respective political organisations.
Former right-hand man to late Prime Minister Michael Manley, St Lucian-born Dr Matthew Beaubrun, now deceased, who also served as Manley’s doctor, was, too, appointed by Manley as ambassador to Venezuela.
So too was former Senator Alfred Rattray to Washington and the Organization of American States, although in his case the now -deceased attorney-at-law, though pro-PNP, was easily accepted in the diplomatic fold despite his limited diplomatic experience.
Of interest, too, is that in the case of Whiteman, although the PNP posted him in London, he was kept on as high commissioner there by the JLP long after the party won the 2007 General Election.
Also, Ramocan, whom the JLP appointed consul general to Toronto, was kept as the island’s representative in the Canadian city when the PNP regained power, until he was re-routed to London by the JLP when it was returned at the polls.
Member of Parliament Anthony Hylton, a former minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade in PNP administrations, and the man regarded by many in diplomatic circles as the foremost authority on foreign policy in Jamaica, said that the practice of having political appointees outnumber career diplomats is unwise.
“It is not in keeping with the understandings that had been worked out over time with the technical people and the political directorate,” Hylton responded. “Some of the foreign policy that is being practised by these people now could only happen with the political appointments that they have in place.
“When you see the foreign policy varying, it just comes about because of the political appointees. A career diplomat knows the line, knows the policy stance and the principal foreign policy that Jamaica has practised over the decades. It’s the transactional approach of this administration that has been carried out by these political appointees.
“Foreign policy distinguishes itself from the domestic political issues. Normally, you would say the political divide ends at the water’s edge and we now look at the nation’s business. Foreign policy has never been a political football,” added Hylton.
He continued: “The understanding we had was that those major capitals, like Washington, where we had to wrestle with geopolitical issues, you really needed someone who had the direct ear of the prime minister to deal at a very high level. Similarly, in the UK, the high commission is usually political, mainly for the fact that our Diaspora there we treat them more like a constituency — we have engaged them in ways that you don’t engage any other diaspora constituency. These are people who left from the Wind Rush generation, and we had to recognise their particular needs and challenges and meet them in their communities and work with them, like they work in a constituency.
“We had worked out an understanding to give the career diplomats an incentive — you can’t take the major posts and give them to career politicians and stifle the opportunities for the career diplomats. We have kept the stability in the foreign ministry by adhering to that sort of ratio and recognising those limits, because once you start encroaching and doing these things, people get disillusioned and the best people leave the foreign ministry — and what you get is some political hacks in the ministry.
“The quality of foreign policy has been maintained because we have adhered to some sort of discipline. Playing fast and loose with it is not a good thing,” Hylton stated.
Retired diplomat Ambassador Audley Rodriques said that while according to the law of the land political appointees are not excluded from holding key positions in missions abroad, he feels that Jamaica would be better served with professionals in charge.
“The constitution sets out quite clearly that power to appoint ambassadors, high commissioners or other principal representatives of Jamaica overseas shall vest in the governor general, acting in accordance with the advice of the prime minister who, before tendering any such advice, shall consult the Office of the Services Commission.”
However, he argued that “the conduct and management of international relations, or the art of negotiation as Sir Harold Nicolson defined diplomacy, is something best left to the trained, experienced, discreet, professional diplomat. The roles of the statesman and politician are different, if related, from that of the diplomat.
“Foreign policy is made by politicians; diplomacy, a distinct branch of the public service tasked with the execution of foreign policy, is the preserve of the diplomat. And as diplomacy is a long game, the neophyte is easily trounced.
“In Jamaica it is not normal for diplomats to encroach on the turf of the politician. The politician, however, seems ever and increasingly ready to crowd out the diplomat,” said Ambassador Emeritus Rodriques.