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EDITORIAL - A lesson for Mr Vaz

Published:Tuesday | February 9, 2010 | 12:00 AM

We are happy that Prime Minister Bruce Golding has now clarified Jamaica's position on the future of its relief effort in earthquake-ravaged Haiti after the seeming game of baiting and brinksmanship that was being played last week by his information minister, Mr Daryl Vaz. Our soldiers and doctors will be there at least until March 15.

Whatever else happens, this country can be justly proud of its efforts in the aftermath of last month's disaster that killed an estimated 200,000 people and injured tens of thousands more, primarily in Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince. In relatively short order, we dispatched Jamaica Defence Force soldiers as well as doctors and other relief workers, and Prime Minister Golding quickly offered the island and its resources as an international hub for relief efforts. Additionally, Jamaica made itself available to coordinate the Caribbean Community's (CARICOM) relief effort for its fellow community member.

Freeloading partners

But then last week, there was this series of public pronouncements by Minister Vaz of Jamaica's intention to pull its soldiers out of Haiti and drastically scale down, if not end, its relief effort because the treasury could no longer manage the J$774,000 a day it cost to maintain the mission. Mr Vaz left no doubt that Jamaica's real and over-riding concern was that its CARICOM partners were freeloading by leaving the entire burden of what was meant to be a CARICOM operation entirely to Kingston.

To be frank, the substance and tone of Mr Vaz's remarks appeared vulgar and crass, lacking an appreciation of statecraft and seemingly intended to publicly shame or strong-arm CARICOM to pay its way. Indeed, it was embarrassing when on one radio-discussion programme the information minister all but scoffed at the potential impact of $10 million that the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency had transferred to its Jamaican counterpart to help finance the Haiti relief effort.

This newspaper, of course, is very aware of Jamaica's economic circumstance and the limitations this places on its ability to finance humanitarian projects such as being undertaken in Haiti. But one's good deeds for a neighbour in need are not expected to be paraded as receipts for mandatory reimbursements.

Unnecessary tension

Nor do we expect the creation of unnecessary tension or such public and brassy display of intra-regional diplomacy, especially when the Jamaican prime minister not only has the lead position for the region on the Haiti recovery effort, but is in easy and regular contact with his regional counterparts on the matter.

Mr Golding, though he did not say so directly, made it clear that Mr Vaz was not operating on his instructions with his unnecessarily aggressive statements.

The PM has made its clear that there was no prior commitment for CARICOM to finance Haiti's mission and "neither were there any demands on the part of the Jamaican government for CARICOM to do that".

Of course, Jamaica alone should not bear the burden of the region's response to the Haitian crisis, assuming that no other CARICOM state had relief mission in Port-au-Prince and the entire effort fell under Kingston's umbrella. But as we have argued before, CARICOM has a wider responsibility in helping to guide Haiti's recovery, in which Jamaica offered to take a key role. Mr Golding needs to instruct Mr Vaz about this mechanism.

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