Politics and public relations take precedence over substantive national issues in Trinidad and Tobago

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Dear Sir:

For four years the United National Congress (UNC) has beseeched prime minister, Dr Keith Rowley, to attend annual UNGA meetings in New York. He finally relented. Instead of using the world’s premier multilateral forum to advance our economic interests in real and measurable terms, Dr Rowley chose primarily to emphasize self-serving People’s National Movement (PNM) politics and public relations.

The prior NASDAQ performance was public relations at its finest. The UNC waits to celebrate when we will see one single well-paying Trinidad and Tobago job arising from this lavish exercise. We note that the late Hugo Chavez years ago did something similar to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) with no lasting benefit to Venezuelans.

Before the UNGA meeting, prime minister Dr Rowley engaged our Diaspora. The audience did not in any way reflect our rich diversity. One would have preferred to see more of their grandchildren – those tasked with carrying the baton. Our prime minister should have wowed the audience with a myriad investment with opportunities at home like our recently announced housing bonds.

Instead, it was all politics. The most memorable outcome of that PNM gathering of the faithful was a request to rename the Piarco Airport. Not a single Trinidad and Tobago job will be created by this earth-shattering suggestion.

The US visit was designed in part to advance our interests with our largest trading partner. But that would have demanded a more balanced engagement with as many branches of the US government as possible – including their fourth estate, the executive and Senate.

Given existing and well-publicized conflicts among the various branches of the US government at this time, prudence might have dictated a more balanced engagement, lest we are accused of picking sides.

At the UNGA, prime minister Dr Rowley four-year absence was manifest. He called for a review of concessionary financing arrangements especially as aid agencies have graduated middle-income states from receiving development assistance. But these calls have been made over and over at the UN for more than a decade. In 2019, prime minister Dr Rowley should have advanced the cause measurably by presenting a  draft resolution (co-sponsored by similar circumstanced member states) spelling out new criteria for concessionary financing.

In the same vein why a meeting with the USG of the UN for Counter-Terrorism and not executives of the UN Development Program (UNDP).

Prime minister Dr Rowley in September 2014 pointedly refused to support the People’s Partnership (PP) government when it co-sponsored a UN resolution on global terrorism. He said it was none of our business. We still have no known policy for dealing with returning terrorist fighters. We have Trinidad and Tobago born citizens, wives and children of killed ISIS fighters from our country, languishing in Iraqi prisons.

Why counter-terrorism, when little seems to be happening here on this front, given prime minister Dr Rowley newfound interest, may wish to turn his full attention to our failed foreign policy?

Negative travel advisories abound. We have no comprehensive refugee/migrant policy that is data-driven, based on global best practices, recognizes the limits of our absorptive capacity and is known to all.  The BBC appeared to be unaware of any such refugee/migrant policy.

No one knows for certain how many Venezuelans live here, or whether our borders are effectively closed, or what will happen after the one-year grace period, or the critical skills Venezuelans have which we urgently need. Former Venezuela’s state-run oil firm PDVSA executives may well help us with our Petrotrin challenges.

No one knows where the Dragon Field arrangements now stand. We have given up on our global rankings There is considerable work to do on improving the ease of doing business.

We have to get a handle on escalating crime, especially our out of control murders now at 400, which has damaged our global reputation, investment climate, and attempts at economic diversification.

We must better manage our foreign policy arrangements with Guyana. It does not help our cause when Guyanese businessmen complain (as they did recently) of difficulties in accessing our market for their agricultural produce.

Most importantly we have to let the world know that we are open for business and are willing and able to maintain an investor-friendly environment.

Prime minister Dr Rowley is four years late attending the UNGA table. He may now have seen the error of his ways. We can only hope that he fully understands that in the global arena, unlike a PNM party platform, substance and concrete measurable plans trump politics and public relation anytime.

Rodney Charles,

Member of Parliament, Naparima

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Former Ambassador to the United Nations

 

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