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Moses in clear

Published: 
Friday, April 6, 2018

STORIES - Gail Alexander

Public officials who usurped the authority of the political directorate and not Foreign Affairs Minister Dennis Moses, were responsible for T&T’s recent refusal to support Dominica’s request for waiver of its dues for the Organisation of American States (OAS) last month.

That’s the direction in which Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has pointed following receipt of reports from officials at all levels - including Moses - involved in the issue.

The issue recently brought a negative international spotlight after T&T refused to back Dominica’s bid for waiver of its 2018-2019 OAS dues at a March 23 meeting, in the face of its continuing struggles in the wake of the devastation caused to the country by Hurricane Maria last year.

Speaking at yesterday’s post-Cabinet media briefing, Rowley revealed that a Foreign Affairs Ministry acting deputy permanent secretary eventually advised that T&T follow a February decision in which Caricom states refused to give one country a waiver on an issue different to Dominca’s.

Rowley said although the ministry’s Permanent Secretary later agreed T&T should support Dominica’s waiver, she failed to inform Moses of the matter.

Further, Rowley revealed T&T wasn’t represented at a March 15 meeting where all Organisation of American States (OAS) members unanimously agreed to support Dominica’s waiver request. He said he was still trying to find out why T&T was absent from this meeting, noting the country’s absence from this meeting had also contributed to the embarrassing situation.

Rowley said the reports he received, “... make for disturbing reading. Not for the first time, I’ve had to be concerned about certain actions taken by persons who may not have followed established procedure - or worse usurped the authority where that authority lies.”

He said the matter could have been easily avoided if simple procedures were followed.

“Not for the first time, I’ve had to deal with something like this where people have usurped the authority of the political directorate. So it’s easy to call for the minister’s head or mine, but I like to deal with facts and to hold people accountable for their actions.”

He said he’s now put the matter in the hands of former Foreign Affairs career diplomat Ambassador Christopher Thomas to analyse.

But Rowley made it clear that as Prime Minister - who appoints PSs - he can take action.

He said he was shocked and embarrassed by T&T’s refusal to support Dominica’s waiver request at the OAS’s March 23 meeting. The matter generated local and regional debate. Rowley, however, noted T&T’s strong support for Dominica following its 2017 hurricane devastation. This was articulated by Moses at the United Nations and T&T Ambassador to the UN Pennelope Beckles also.

The PM said it was therefore surprising and shocking that anyone could claim not to know T&T’s “level of empathy and commitment” to Dominica, “particularly office holders whose job it is to portray T&T abroad and those at home who support those abroad.”

When the Dominica issue occurred, he said he immediately enquired who was directing policy, “because clearly that was change of policy that required input from the political directorate.”

Moses never told of Dominica issue

In one aspect of the problem, PM Rowley said it’s now been discovered that T&T was absent from the OAS March 15 preparatory meeting, where member states unanimously agreed to support Dominica’s waiver request ahead of the March 23 meeting where the matter was voted upon.

He said OAS members’ unanimous decision was in keeping with statements by Moses and Beckles on T&T’s support for Dominica. But he noted the T&T Foreign Ministry headquarters was unaware of T&T’s absence at the March 15 meeting

He further noted that the ministry’s acting deputy PS then said T&T’s position should remain consistent with those expressed at an earlier Caricom/Association of Caribbean States meeting on grant of waivers. Back then, another country had requested a waiver within Caricom on a different matter and the Caricom group, including T&T, agreed this waiver shouldn’t be granted.

Rowley added, “This is the source of the problem - public officials are now deciding, that notwithstanding what the political directorate may come to on T&T’s position, that we maintain consistency with some prior position on some other matter - and to maintain that consistency, we say no to the Dominica waiver.”

He noted that the acting deputy PS was aware of the March 15 OAS meeting where members all agreed to support Dominica’s waiver

Rowley said the ministry’s PS had also agreed T&T policy should be changed to support Dominica’s waiver. But in reading the PS’ report, he said she admitted that she “failed to forward the matter to the minister as is standard procedure, as I’m accustomed to in matters in respect of which an official position of T&T is required.

“She acknowledged, on looking at the matter - including the March 15 meeting missed by T&T - it was therefore clear there was consensus among the membership to accede to Dominica’s request,” he said.

Rowley said Moses’ report on the issue had alluded to standard procedure “to process requests from missions and the position to be adopted in international fora. Requests are sent to the relevant ministry divisions for attention. Resulting output is sent to the PS, who submits it to the minister for consideration and authorisation. Once approved it’s sent to the PS for outward transmission to a mission.

Reading excerpts from Moses’ reports, the PM said the minister stated that the Washington T&T embassy’s request for guidance on the Dominica matter was processed by two ministry divisions. But he said consultations and a co-operative effort involving embassy personnel and the ministry “resulted in a changed position” from the embassy’s recommendation to support the Dominican request, to another position, to one being proposed by the PS via the acting deputy PS.”

In his report, Moses added he was “never consulted, nor was any submission made to me in this matter. I wasn’t even aware a request from Dominica for a waiver was to be considered by the OAS (on March 23).”

Moses also noted he’d had extensive discussions with the PS during the March 23 period when the “unauthorised position of T&T” was conveyed to the Washinghton embassy.

Rowley confirmed he maintains confidence in Moses, adding the T&T/Dominica relationship is still solid.

PSs in all-day meeting

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says he decided yesterday to send all the reports on the Dominica OAS faux pas and the situation to Ambassador Christopher Thomas for expert review. He said Thomas is a very experienced foreign service officer who was a Foreign Affairs Ministry PS, a former ambassador to Venezuela, OAS assistant secretary general, independent senator and service commission chairman.

“I’ll rely on him to give a more appropriate analysis of what we’re dealing with here, because it’s my intention to let the facts dictate what actions are taken, as Prime Minister,” Rowley added.

He said the analysis wasn’t to blame but to identify why the situation occurred to prevent recurrence. He said, however, that nothing prevented him from taking action at this stage.

“What pertinent action I can take, I’ll take,” he added, saying he’ll take his time dealing with it.

But he said the matter, under standard procedure, should have been brought to the minister’s attention and the PS admitted she failed to follow this procedure.

Foreign Affairs Ministry PS Jennifer Daniel was said to be in a meeting yesterday, her secretariat indicated when the T&T Guardian called. Deputy PSs Rita Toussaint and Ted Herbert weren’t available either. They were also said to be in a meeting.

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DOMINICA OAS REPORT TRAIL SHOWS

FEBRUARY CARICOM MEETING

Another country requested a waiver within Caricom on a different matter and the Caricom group, including T&T, agreed the waiver shouldn’t be granted. In the OAS Dominica matter, T&T officials then said the same position should be used consistently and say no to all waivers.

MARCH 15

OAS meeting where member states unanimously agreed - in preparation for the March 23 vote meeting - to Dominca’s fee waiver request. It was determined T&T wouldn’t have to foot Dominica’s waiver costs.

MARCH 22

T&T officials in Washington sought guidance from T&T headquarters on how to respond on Dominica’s waiver request. Concerns included if T&T would have to foot Dominica’s waiver costs if the waiver was given

ACTING DEPUTY PS

Felt T&T’s position should remain consistent with those expressed at several meetings of Caricom and the ACS concerning waiver grants.

MARCH 23

The deputy director of the ministry’s Americas Division wrote the PS indicating that the division felt Dominica’s waiver request be supported. This was transmitted to the PS.

THE PS

Agreed T&T policies should be changed and T&T should reserve support for the waiver. However, she admitted failing to forward the matter to Moses according to standard procedure she was accustomed to in matters concerning where an official position of T&T is required.

Foreign Affairs Minister Dennis Moses’s report details how a changed position - from the T&T embassy recommendations to support the Dominican request to another position proposed by the PS via acting deputy PS - arose. Says he was never consulted, no submission was made to him and he was unaware of Dominica’s request was being considered by the OAS on March 23.

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