PM's overseas trips warranted

Published: Monday | December 16, 2013 Comments 0
Carlton Davis,  Guest Columnist
Carlton Davis, Guest Columnist

Carlton Davis,  Guest Columnist

I wish to make some comments on certain criticisms made, across a wide spectrum of the media, on overseas travel by government officials, particularly the prime minister.

But before going any further, I would like to make three necessary declarations.

First, perchance anyone does not know, I must state that I am a senior adviser to the prime minister.

Second, in the above capacity, I have accompanied her on three visits overseas during this calendar year: same-day visits, respectively, to a meeting in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, between the president of China and the prime minister; a meeting of heads of state and government on the PetroCaribe Facility, in Managua, Nicaragua; and a one-week visit to China for meetings with, among others, the president, the premier, the chairman of the National People's Congress, and the chairman of the China Communications and Construction Company (CCCC), the parent company of China Harbour Engineering and Construction Company which, among other activities in Jamaica, is constructing the north-south leg of Highway 2000.

Third, I acknowledge that the evaluations of the rationale for overseas visits, including persons proposed to make them, may not always be as rigorous as desired in all the circumstances and need to be addressed where such deficiencies occur.

Having said the above, it is my view that critics of official overseas visits, particularly those made by the prime minister, should, before making their criticisms (or in making them), take into account the following in order, I believe, to make a fair and balanced assessment:

There is hardly a country in the world where overseas visits are not necessary in order to pursue its social, economic or political objectives;

These visits by a head of state or government, but for exceptional circumstances, provide access to his/her 'opposite number', which means the highest levels of government in the host country. They also provide access, where required, to the highest levels of business leadership (For example, in China, in the prime minister's visit to that country, to CCCC, and, in her visit to Japan, Marubeni, the 40 per cent owner of the Jamaica Public Service Company, and Nippon Light Metal, which is currently undertaking pilot studies on the extraction of rare earths from our red mud wastes);

There are also occasions, like special commemorations; inaugurations; funerals, in countries with which another country has political, economic or historical ties; and which, in such circumstances, it is obligatory, or considerate, as the case may be, for a head of government or state to attend;

The necessity for state or official visits is not always predictable so that a head of government or state may not be in a position to schedule visits over time in order to avoid 'clustering' in a given period such as a calendar or fiscal year. So, for example, Mrs Simpson Miller had to attend former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's funeral in March in Caracas, and back there again in April to attend his successor, President Maduro's, inauguration.

The much-heralded teleconferencing technology is not yet, at any rate, a substitute for face-to-face discussions with governments in respect of social, political or economic issues. This applies, as well, to a regional bloc like the European Union (EU), currently our biggest donor, which only just recently made a J$7-billion budgetary contribution to finance a number of important projects. As such, only just recently, it was urged on a somewhat-reluctant Mrs Simpson Miller to accept the EU's invitation to visit Brussels to participate in some panel discussions sponsored by that body.

Even on occasions like funerals, the opportunity is usually taken (save for when it is utterly inconvenient or insensitive to do so), to make new, or deepen existing contacts, with world leaders. I gather, for example, that during Mrs Simpson Miller's visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the 50th anniversary of the African Union, earlier in the year, she used the occasion to meet with a number of world leaders, including the United States secretary of state, John Kerry.

Benefits from overseas visits are not always immediate. Sometimes they evolve over the medium or even long term. But one has to start. Our relations with the People's Republic of China were started all of 41 years ago, yet there was hardly anything 'tangible' until the last few years. So, attempting cost-benefit calculations after a particular visit are not always straightforward.

In sum, to paraphrase the famous lines of the English poet, John Donne, while in our own case here, Jamaica is indeed an island, it is not one 'entire of itself'. It must, as a matter of good sense, keep in touch with the outside world to further its social, economic and political objectives, some of which may not be realisable in the short term.

That said, we have to ensure, to the fullest extent possible, that the rationale for visits and the personnel nominated to make each of them are evaluated with rigour.

Ambassador Carlton E. Davis is an adviser in the Office of the Prime Minister. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.



 

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