Friday, April 19, 2024

EDITORIAL: Keep public in foreign policy loop

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BARBADOS’ foreign policy has never been one of grand ambitions attracting widespread national interest. As a result, there has been little public scrutiny of the directions or the results of foreign policy and foreign trade initiatives. This has been so under successive administrations for a long time.

When Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Maxine McClean, decided to speak to the issue of foreign policy last week, it was disappointing that she did so to a restricted audience. That presentation to the weekly luncheon session of the governing Democratic Labour Party (DLP) at its George Street headquarters was received by an immediate audience of fewer than 30 people. The presentation did not capture national interest.

The activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are not highly publicised and the information emanating from it is usually from some mundane event and highlighted via a news release. Given the new global realities, Barbadians ought to be informed of what is being done and, more importantly, achieved internationally on their behalf.

Even though the public may not be fully grasped of all the issues and there is an understanding that delicate negotiations must be done behind closed doors, they do expect to be told of key developments. That the country’s diplomats are on top of the myriad of issues which could impact on all of us here can lend to confidence. Pronouncements on the performance of the Economic Partnership Agreement Implementation Unit, for example, and whether it is functioning as expected and meeting its targets in a timely manner, should be made public.

These matters all indicate the necessity for the ministry to host a meeting of all its overseas diplomats, including those often overlooked honorary consuls who give yeoman service, so that they can report on progress made and challenges being encountered in defence of their homeland.

We appreciate that given the cost of operating an overseas mission, it is impossible to have an embassy in all the key places. Yet, Barbados must strengthen its presence with those countries and regions which are becoming key influencers. Senator McClean must therefore address the possibility of joint Barbados-CARICOM representation in such circumstances. The situation in China with CARICOM diplomatic missions is laughable.

Foreign policy must not be just about political rewards as has been the practice of both the Barbados Labour Party and the DLP; neither can it be operated as a fiefdom. Rather, the emphasis must be on exploiting the interrelation between foreign policy and economic and political development. Senator McClean must therefore speak to wider Barbados – and not just a select partisan few – on the direction of the country’s foreign policy and the potential benefits.

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