IT is no secret that the Foreign Service Ministry has gone through transformation within recent years. When the APNU+AFC Government took office it was nowhere near the original standing and esteem it once held on the global stage. Under the previous administration, we saw professional Foreign Service Officers (FSO) being removed or sidelined and replaced by persons either not understanding their roles or lacking the capacity to perform.
The Foreign Service Institute that was established to train and educate FSOs was closed during a period when the nation had not prepared FSOs to perform at their optimum so as to deliver best services on the country’s behalf. Since taking office the institute has been revived with dedicated efforts in training young officers. The government has also constructed a new, modern state-of-the-art building befitting the work being done there.
The minister and staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are the international face of Guyana. What this ministry does — be it representing Government’s policies abroad, adhering to international relations’ principles, or staffing of personnel– is of vital importance. In a complex world where changes are taking place so often, this ministry has to be able to grapple with the issues, look at the implications of/or benefits to Guyana’s interest, and be able to respond or adjust with appropriateness of time and nimbleness of intellect. It is an established principle that each Head of Mission is supposed to have a reporting relationship with the government of the day.
The Government of Guyana changed administration in May 2015. Regardless of one’s political preference or relationship with the Head of Government and State, every Head of Mission has a responsibility to report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And this principle and protocol must be respected. This newspaper, in an editorial before, had addressed the matter of staffing in the Foreign Service and had expressed concern that the APNU+AFC Administration was being denied its deserving opportunity to chart its foreign policy. The view was held that as at May 2015, political appointees in the foreign service should have done the ethical thing and step down to allow the new administration the opportunity to make its own appointments.
Where the present Service has an international economic trade mandate in conjunction with foreign affairs, the country stands to benefit from staking out economic opportunities and acting to realise them. It may also require establishing new missions in different countries, and these are issues that can be tedious and require much work.
To acquire the best mix of skills and talents may require revisiting the Foreign Service staff record and inviting on board some of those persons who have served in the past and can bring linguistic, economic and other foreign-service skills to the table. Foreign Service is not only about international relations, it is about every facet of the nation’s activities. As such, it requires an array of skills and talents to complement each other in the discharge of the ministry’s mandate.
To this end, the recent announcement by the government of its intention to shake-up the various missions, replacing diplomats who have been in those positions for extended period and also giving young ambassadors a chance to hone their skills is a welcome move. In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained that the tenure of an ambassador runs to approximately three to five years. However, for a variety of reasons and factors, some of our ambassadors have been abroad for as long as two decades. “This situation has become an impediment to other younger and rising Foreign Service Officers whose performance and professional competence might require that they should be appointed to the summit of the Foreign Service,” the statement added.
President David Granger has said in the past that the Foreign Service is charged with the pursuit of national interest at the levels of citizens, country and the community. He said such interest must be pursued with vigour. With this charge, the country looks forward to the changes at the various missions and the fixing of all the anomalies that hinder a professional foreign service as a matter of urgency in the national interest.