Carl Greenidge responds to PISLM article

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See below statement issued by former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge:

The status of the Partnership for Sustainable Land Management (PISLM) was raised with me on Tuesday afternoon by a Government Minister.

Briefly, the newspaper report suggests that, ‘top officials within the PPP government were shocked to discover that a land agency ‘created’ by the former Government and apparently linked to Mr Trevor Benn has been secretly, and presumably irregularly or even illegally, given ‘sweeping’ or unusual privileges and a ‘range of freedoms’ in Guyana.

This situation, we are told, was only discovered yesterday although the Government has been in office since August 2020. The inference being that their predecessors in office failed to let them know. Somehow, the paper gave the impression that outgoing governments pass on a list of all the decisions taken during their tenure. If this is an accurate summary of the report I would only add sadly that, it is not so much erroneous as politically mischievous.

Most readers would be aware that I was twice appointed to office as a Minister. On neither occasion did I ever receive such a list from an outgoing Minister of Government. It is universally recognised that it is the responsibility of incoming Ministers and their close associates to discuss policy changes or implementation challenges with senior staff they inherit and to call for and to study, and cause to be studied, key files from the preceding era.

As to the facts; the opening paragraphs of the agreement which the reporter cited so liberally clearly state that the PISLM Support Office was set up in 2014 on the basis of decisions taken in 2008 by Caricom Governments in pursuit of, ‘improving the general economic well-being of Caribbean SIDS”  (Small Island Developing States, including Guyana & Belize). The PISLM is a plurilateral grouping of states and agencies, all the administrative arrangements for which – Board, Permanent Members, Secretariat, functions etc – were concluded prior to 2015 with the involvement of the last PPP administration. In 2018, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ legal officers examined a request from PISLM to be treated as a specialised UN agency and recommended, given the agency’s functions, that the ‘new’ Government accede to the request.

As the reporter himself noted the agency had already been established as an autonomous, intergovernmental organization (IGO).  The reporter has failed to draw the link between these facts and the headline confirms that. One could be generous and assume that the reporter and editors are not aware of the fact that the foreign Missions /Diplomatic Corps in Guyana, or indeed in any jurisdiction, is not restricted to representatives of countries (bilaterals) and UN staff. Many specialized agencies, or intergovernmental bodies at the international, regional and national level, similar to the PISLM and including MFIs and Iwokrama, enjoy the rights cited.

The idea therefore that the agency has been improperly granted ‘a range of freedoms’ which “raised eyebrows at the MoFA on Tuesday June 29th” because they are ‘akin to that of a diplomat’ (sic) is nothing but biased drama intended to influence a similarly uninformed readership.

One inference of the reference to the MoFA is that the decision was taken by the then Foreign Minister without advice and in a non-transparent manner. That is unbridled mischief. The agency authorised to grant such privileges is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in the conduct of my work as the policy-maker I routinely consulted all the relevant senior officers of the Ministry, meaning the legal advisers, protocol and diplomatic staff and administrators, where relevant, on important decisions.

Prior to being a Minister I was retained by international, regional and national bodies to advise on and to undertake lectures/workshops within and outside of the region, including Asia, on such matters as the interface between public servants and Ministers.

As a matter of routine and, more importantly in the case at hand, the relevant MoFA staff were not only involved in the decision process but concurred with the final decision. I am proud of this.

Furthermore, those immunities enjoyed by the officers in the course of executing their official duties and the posts attracting the privileges have to be agreed beforehand between the Government representatives and the agency in question. Contrary to the impression given in the report, these privileges are not available to all PISLM staff members and could not be enjoyed by Mr Benn, the former Chairman of the Task Force Board, who seems to be the main intended target of the report.

There is absolutely nothing improper or unfair about the grant of the privileges to the agency and no regulations, protocols, conventions or laws have been broken or breached. Judging from the report, the specific issue which supposedly caused shock was the importation of a two year old Mercedes G550  and an apparently new Cadillac.

As far as I am aware, our laws governing duty-free importation do not discriminate among nationality of beneficiaries and do not make reference to cost but to cubic capacity or propulsion systems.  I am not aware of any basis on which the Government can properly determine that one set of Missions (say the EU) can but another, (say a Caribbean High Commissioner), cannot import ‘high-end vehicles’. Anyway, the vehicles are apparently only now in the process of being imported. The current Government may act as it sees fit, if the law permits.

Obviously, two Governments can adopt different approaches to the same issue over time. This is one such case. In that regard, the current Government is at liberty to act as it sees fit. That right does not require them to disown their earlier decisions or to insinuate or demonstrate that the decision taken by another Government was either corrupt, stupid or improper.

It is unfortunate that this approach is so characteristic of Guyana’s polity for it turns many Guyanese off. I told those readers who have taken the trouble to write or call me following the report that I shall continue to adhere to my grandmother’s predictable and favourite refrain, when faced with unprincipled behaviour. On such occasions she would ask rhetorically, “how do they sleep when night come?” Narayana Murthy has the answer, ‘a clear conscience is the softest pillow in the world’.

On that basis I can certainly stand by the advice of the MoFA officers and by the decision taken on the basis of the best information available.

Editor’s Note: This statement was slightly modified to remove the name of the reporter.

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