FOREIGN Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell’s arrogantly dismissive, often rude manner is certainly a lesson in how not to behave if one wants to win friends and influence people.
Mr Mitchell is particularly adept at telling people to get lost when questioned on matters that affect them, but for which he seems offended at being asked to give an accounting.
The FNM has committed the mortal sin of asking our peripatetic foreign affairs minister to present a statement of his travel expenses from May last year to the present.
Remember, of course, that economic times are tough and leaders should be setting an example of belt tightening. It must also be remembered that Bahamian taxpayers are the ones footing these travel bills.
Earlier this year, Mr Mitchell was questioned about the purpose of his trips to South Africa and Morocco at the end of last year. Montagu MP Richard Lightbourn (FNM) suggested that the trips were unnecessary and a waste of public funds at a time when the country is financially strapped.
Mr Mitchell pointed out that on his trip to South Africa, the host country picked up the tab. He explained that he attended in an effort to consult with foreign officials on how to advance the Bahamas. As for Morocco, he discussed the current situation in Syria, and took the opportunity to meet with officials from the United Arab Emirates, which could become a “source of money” for the Bahamas’ financial services.
He has also expressed an interest in Brazil as a “source of money” for the Bahamas.
“I don’t really understand,” he added, “what all of this rhetoric is about travelling because that seems intrinsic to what a foreign minister does. It is Minister of Foreign Affairs.
“We thought it was edifying for Bahamians to be represented at the conference and there were some important conclusions to it. So it wasn’t a waste of time,” he said.
This year, his travels have been stepped up to include such areas as Chile, Los Angeles, Washington, New York, Illinois, Miami, Haiti, Trinidad Tobago, Barbados, Quatar — and the list goes on.
And so, the FNM in the interest of Bahamians – and we might add that today even PLPs are questioning the cost to the country of these trips — has asked him for an accounting.
Mr Mitchell, seemingly forgetting that he is a “servant of the people” and in their employ, and that it is their money that he has been asked to account for, has accused the FNM of being “profound jokers who are engaged in silly trivialities.” He has advised them to “get a life”.
Mr Mitchell should be reminded that the spending of taxpayers’ money is not a silly triviality.
According to Mr Mitchell, his mission is to “attract fresh money to the Bahamas to rescue us from the poor economy left by the FNM.”
Which led the FNM to ask the obvious: What then is the position of former Chamber of Commerce president Khaalis Rolle, now Minister of State for Investment? One would have thought that Minister Rolle, a businessman, would have more experience at attracting fresh money to the country than former lawyer Mitchell.
But maybe that is a foolish expectation, and in the words of Mr Mitchell, possibly we should all “get a life”.
However, before we do that, we would like to add one more question to Opposition Leader Dr Hubert Minnis’ list of questions for our Foreign Affairs Minister to answer.
We are certain that the travelling public is fully aware that the accumulation of airline travel points can often take a person around the world at no cost. By now, Mr Mitchell must have collected a treasure trove of these airline points. Have any of these points gone towards free travel tickets, which if properly applied would greatly reduce the drain on the public Treasury? If not, then Mr Mitchell should consider turning them over to the Treasury to pay for many of the trips he says he plans to take next year.
As a matter of fact, he has given notice that most of his time next year will be on the road — rather in the air — bringing investments back to the Bahamas. His main interest is the Middle East. We do hope that in courting those troubled countries, he doesn’t bring with them their political troubles and their intolerant views on life.
In the meantime, it is now up to Opposition Leader Minnis and the Public Accounts Committee to get a detailed account of how much has been spent on this travel and in what way the Bahamas has benefitted.