SHADOW Minister of Foreign Affairs Hubert Chipman yesterday raised concerns about the government’s recently announced diplomatic appointments.
Describing the Prime Minister’s approach to appointments as a matter of “drip, drip, helter-skelter announcements”, Mr Chipman said it is not yet clear whether Mr Christie’s government has a clear, co-ordinated foreign policy agenda.
He said: “As the official opposition, the Free National Movement wants to be on one accord with the Christie administration in the conduct of our nation’s foreign policy.
“We support the general goal of ensuring that the Bahamas is an active, relevant and a respected player in the international community. To ensure this, the FNM maintains its commitment to ensuring that our embassies and consulates are staffed with the most qualified and talented professionals the nation can call into service.”
In that regard, Mr Chipman said, the FNM extends warm congratulations to Dr Elliston Rahming and Consul General Rhoda Jackson on their appointments.
He noted that Dr Rahming served the country well as Superintendant of Prisons and had a distinguished career in public service before that.
“We expect him to do well. Ms Jackson is a career diplomat who presently serves as Consul General in Miami, Florida. She has served her country well and we again have full confidence that she will continue to advance the Bahamas’ interests with aplomb and skill,” Mr Chipman said.
“Captain Godfrey Rolle is also a distinguished public officer, having served on the Royal Bahamas Defence Force for many years. He served in Haiti as part of the UN CARICOM team which saw the return of President Aristide to Haiti, in addition to serving at the Embassy in Haiti.
“The FNM expects him to continue his commitment to advancing our country’s interests, and we wish him well in his new post, as our nation’s representative in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, his mission will be a challenging one.”
However, Mr Chipman said, the remainder of the government’s appointments have raised “serious cause for concern”.
“Just as his government’s foreign policy priorities require clarity, so too does the Prime Minister’s appointment of former PLP Senator Paulette Zonicle to the position of Consul General for Washington DC,” he said.
“The FNM understands full well that the Embassy of the Bahamas to the United States performs consular functions and officers posted to the embassy are accorded the titles First Secretary and Consul, Second Secretary and Vice-consul, et cetera, indicating that they carry both diplomatic and consular titles.
“Notwithstanding that reality, the FNM is concerned about whether this is the right time for the government to be adding staff abroad — in the post of Consul General for Washington DC — when there is a dire need for jobs here at home.
“The FNM understands that this post has been filled only once or twice in 40 years. This is hardly a prudent decision given the current realities back at home.
“At a time when there is growing unemployment here at home, the FNM can not understand why the PM feels compelled to make work at high salaries for political friends. The country simply can not afford this degree of political patronage.”
Mr Chipman added that in light of the questions raised by the appointments, this would also be a good time for Mr Christie to address the reports of excessive spending on temporary housing for Ed Bethel, High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.
“Reports have reached the FNM that the government is spending $30,000 per month for temporary housing for the High Commissioner,” he said.
“While the FNM appreciates that London is an expensive city, the amounts in question appear to be unreasonable and are worthy of closer scrutiny. At a time when the government has announced the need for all departments to cut back, the Foreign Service – inclusive of the Minister of Foreign Affairs’ travel budget – should not be off limits.
“The PM must explain why the heavy spending on temporary housing is justified.”
Mr Chipman went on to chastise the PLP for putting committed supporters in public service positions as a means of rewarding their loyalty.
Claiming this policy has been blatantly followed at ZNS, he said it is now happening in the Foreign Service as well.
“The FNM wants to register its concerns about the advisability of appointing such divisive and polarising figures to these posts that require objectivity and the ability to place national interests over narrow political considerations,” Mr Chipman said.