Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Kamina Johnson Smith | We don't microwave high commissioners

Published:Sunday | October 2, 2016 | 10:00 AMKamina Johnson Smith
Kamina Johnson Smith

 

I refer to your editorial in The Gleaner of Thursday, September 22, 2016, titled 'Why a UK high commissioner is urgent'.

In that context, reference is made to the pace in appointing a new high commissioner for Jamaica to the United Kingdom. At the same time, the editorial speaks to the importance of having a "skilled and competent diplomat" in place. It is precisely for that critical reason that our administration has not been overly hasty in putting forward a nomination, and has proactively used the four-month hiatus to ensure that the person ultimately appointed will be able to effectively represent all the interests of Jamaica and its citizens in that office.

I should also indicate that the procedures for the appointment of heads of mission (ambassadors and high commissioners) are generally lengthy, for both the sending and receiving state. The latter must, quite appropriately, undertake its own due diligence, and sometimes the period is perhaps a little longer than what the sending state would deem desirable. However, I am pleased that in this instance, the process toward the appointment of a high commissioner is far advanced. I am very hopeful therefore, that the requisite agrement will be granted shortly and that our high commissioner-designate will soon assume duties in London.

In the interim, Jamaica's relations with the United Kingdom and the other countries under the purview of that mission; matters related to the Commonwealth and other international organisations in London; as well as the engagement of the diaspora are being capably overseen by an experienced foreign service officer, in the capacity of acting high commissioner. Where appropriate, business is pursued in consultation with the headquarters of the ministry in Kingston.

Complex implications

Notably, one issue of significance that the editorial cites is Brexit. I can assure the Jamaican public that the Government is fully seized with the possible complex implications for Jamaica of the United Kingdom's decision to withdraw its membership from the European Union. For that reason, I have spoken twice publicly and extensively (including in the Senate) to the issue. In addition, we have been engaging in ongoing conversations with our British partners, through their high commissioner in Kingston, as well as our own representatives in Europe. Most important, other opportunities for bilateral engagement on this issue are being pursued at the political level.

I shall be hosting the 24th Meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Caribbean Forum of ACP States (CARIFORUM) here in Kingston, October 3-7, in my capacity as the current chairperson. Brexit will be high on that agenda, in view of its implications, not only for Jamaica but the wider Caribbean.

Let me also use this opportunity to correct some misinformation that was set out in another recent editorial, in the Observer, on the issue of the appointment of Jamaican heads of mission, in various capitals. The post of ambassador in Brussels is classified at the same level as that of ambassador in Washington, DC; high commissioner in London; and permanent representatives in New York and Geneva, respectively. These are the most senior diplomatic posts in the Jamaican foreign service.

In view of the high importance that your editorial accords to the requirements of those posts, it is equally important to acknowledge that in any occupational group, the more senior and experienced an appointee becomes, the closer he/she gets to retirement. Of course, that should in no way prejudice the quality of the contribution that is brought to the task at hand.

In closing, I wish to assure the public that the staff in the Jamaican foreign service - whether serving at home or abroad - remain fully committed to advancing Jamaica's national interests and to providing the highest standard of representation at the national, bilateral, regional and multilateral levels. In leading the team, I shall continue to ensure that those standards remain optimum.

Kamina Johnson Smith is minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.