This is Part II of a two-part interview with Audrey Marks, Jamaica's 10th and first female ambassador, permanent representative to the Organisation of American States. She returned home recently and spoke exclusively with The Gleaner. Part I was carried yesterday.
AMBASSADOR MARKS said she had good working relationships with the departments of commerce, defence, treasury, justice and especially the state department whose hard-working teams of especially Ambassador Julissa Reynoso, Mackila James and Ambassador Capricia Marshall and the protocol team. "I enjoyed the fact that there is such goodwill for Jamaica and so many persons who want to see us do well. That made the job easier," she said.
Among her most interesting experiences, she places her first meeting with President Obama in the storied Oval Office at the top. "That first meeting was important for many reasons, so it is probably my most special experience, also because I was accompanied by my family. This was followed closely by our second meeting where I also met the First Lady." she said.
"On a personal level, my most rewarding among many invaluable interactions was with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who, in many ways, is the epitome of the modern professional (super) woman. She exhibits such amazing energy and deep capacity in a very demanding job ... she is a role model whom I find very inspiring." the ambassador admits.
Other treasured memories for the ambassador include getting to know and forming friendships with the Jamaicans in the diaspora and seeing how well many have done. "This has re-energised my faith that Jamaicans only need opportunities to be educated, employed or facilitated as entrepreneurs," Ambassador Marks notes.
As a business person, she said it was interesting to get a good understanding of how Washington works. Even though the fate of the world is heavily influenced there, like everywhere else, it's about building key relationships.
The post of Jamaica's ambassador to the United States is an enviable one, but it is not without challenges; among them the fact that the workday seems endless. This is because Jamaica is one of the 198 countries with missions in Washington competing for the attention of the US government and the multilateral institutions in a wide range of critical issues requiring cooperation.
She says: "My most challenging negotiations were with the Department of Labour, but it was challenging in a small mission to dedicate the time sometimes needed for the more intractable problems. Many countries in the Western hemisphere have two ambassadors in Washington for this reason."
Additionally, the astute businesswoman told The Gleaner that Jamaica has a large and demanding diaspora and, because they work so hard for Jamaica, she felt it necessary to show as much support as possible, often her physical presence among them. That often required her to forgo weekends to travel around the country to various meetings and functions.
Overall, the hardest part was to be always 'on call', responding to emails, attending meetings, giving speeches etc. It can easily be a 24-7 occupation. I lift my hat to high-level career public servants and politicians, I have no idea how they don't get burnt out," she said.
Her biggest adjustment was a change of perspective. Prior to taking up the assignment, Ambassador Marks often publicly expressed her disappointment with Jamaica's slow rate of socio-economic progress. On a number of occasions in her capacity as a business leader she would use various platforms to be pessimistic about Jamaica's future. However, her experience at the Organisation of American States (OAS) changed that.
The OAS plays an important role in supporting democratic institutions in many countries in the Western Hemisphere that are struggling to build democratic systems while still experiencing coups, attempted assassinations and various border disputes, etc. That made her value Jamaica's progress to date. "This year, we celebrate 50 years of a working democratic system, and we should not take it for granted," she opined.
"As a member of the private sector who had enjoyed this right to be critical of governments on matters I did not agree with, in the office of the ambassador it was a sobering experience when people said: "You did this and that," and you realise that you are seen as the embodiment of the government. I no longer had the luxury of private opinions; I spoke on behalf of the government, period," she said with candour.
At her farewell function in Washington, Deputy Assistant Secretary Julissa Reynoso expressed the opinion that she could see Ambassador Marks as a future prime minister. The Gleaner asked: 'are political ambitions part of your future now that you are armed with this international experience and more balanced perspectives?"
Ambassador Marks responded: "The phenomenal achievement of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's assumption to that post twice in the last six years may give rise to the expectation that it will be easier for women to lead our country. She deserves full credit to have had the fortitude to withstand what is clearly not an easy road. I still see and experience many obstacles in the quest to be successful as a woman. I am grateful for the implied compliment, but no, I am fully focused on business and a private life."
However, the ambassador said she will continue to have a strong interest in the development of Jamaica, especially in the areas of development planning and creating local partnerships for foreign direct investments. She adds: "I don't know where we have reached in the private sector as far as the Vision 20/30 plan goes, but I am interested in seeing us pursue that. Government, unions, public/private sectors, civil society and the opposition, all have to be fully committed to it," she said.
She notes that political changes, whether by an election or a Cabinet reshuffle, contribute considerably to the inertia in the bureaucracy to execute on a timely basis. She said leaders must reach a point where the central components of such a development plan don't change with each administration having been agreed upon by the aforementioned coalition.
And she expressed an interest in supporting the improvement in our justice system. "The impunity with which injustice is entrenched is a constraint to economic growth and acceptable levels of peace and security," she said.
So, what does the future hold for Ambassador Audrey Marks?
"It's back to business, with a whole new global perspective and the ability to create some new jobs to help grow our economy," she said.