The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of I-Witness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected]
– An official representing a country abroad; a person who can deal with others in a sensitive and tactful way.” — Oxford Dictionary online
– “A person who represents his or her country’s government in a foreign country; a person who has skill in dealing with other people.” — Merriam Webster Dictionary online
It is evident given the above definitions taken from two of the most reputable online dictionaries that a diplomat is not just “any person” representing a country abroad. Based on both definitions, what is critical is the type of person that is chosen to partake in such representation. It is essential that a diplomat possesses exceptional interpersonal and communications skills and is sensitive in his/her approach to dealing with others.
On Sept. 11, 2014, I read with great interest the popular online publication I-Witness News and the comments attributed to Sehon Marshall who is reported as being considered for the post of Deputy Consul General to New York. Given the large Vincentian community residing in New York and the significant remittances sent to St. Vincent and the Grenadines from that state I would believe that this diplomatic post is of critical importance in the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ efforts to support and collaborate with Vincentians in the diaspora.
According to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963, the treaty which governs consulate relations between independent countries, to which St. Vincent & the Grenadines is a signatory, consulate functions include but are not limited to:
– protecting the interest of the sending state and its nationals (both individuals and businesses) in the receiving state within the limits permitted by international law;
– furthering the development of commercial, economic, cultural and scientific relations of the sending state in the receiving state and promoting friendly relations between them;
– issuing passports and travel documents to nationals of the sending State, and visas or appropriate documents to persons wishing to travel to the sending State;
– helping and assisting nationals (individuals and businesses) of the sending State.
Based on the functions outlined above, one may conclude that a diplomat, especially at the level of Deputy Consul General, would have access to sensitive information that would require confidentiality and good judgment on the part of that individual. The Deputy Consul General would also be expected to gain the confidence of nationals living in the diaspora so that these persons may without fear or embarrassment take their complaints to the consulate office and receive the necessary support.
Turning now to the comments attributed to Mr. Marshall, it is reported by I-Witness News that during a recent radio programme the prospective diplomat stated that since the Unity Labour Party (ULP) took office in 2001 Vincentian teachers, policemen and nurses stopped migrating to the United States to “babysit people children or walk people dog”. I had an opportunity to listen to a live recording of the radio programme where Mr. Marshall pointed out that he can call the names of some of the said people who migrated to take up these “less than illustrious jobs”. Mr. Marshall continued by stating that these migrants “can’t even afford a passage home” and have failed to do much in terms of self-improvement.
The thrust of this article is not to determine whether Mr. Marshall’s comments are accurate or inaccurate but rather to examine the comments made and see if they coincide with someone who has the attributes that are desired of an effective deputy consul general. From my perusal of social media and the blogs, it is evident that some Vincentians, both at home and in the diaspora, took offence to the statements made by Mr. Marshall and have labelled such as anything but tactful. I share similar sentiments, especially after listening to the recording. Vincentians living in New York will have to go to the consulate office to conduct various types of business and it is important that they do not shy away from doing so because of any anticipated shaming as a result of their occupations.
Some persons are of the view that Mr. Marshall has a right to express his opinion especially since they believe that his comments may have some merit. Persons who share this line of thinking are missing the critical point. As someone who is being considered for such a post, Mr. Marshall would be expected to possess certain skills and qualities that would deem him to be diplomatic. I suspect that Mr. Marshall’s comments may have negatively impacted relations between the office of the Deputy Consul General and the community that he would be responsible to serve if appointed.
I have heard numerous times throughout my young life that the effect one’s words have on others have less to do with what the message is and more to do with how the message is conveyed. Based on my assessment of the recording, Mr. Marshall’s comments were quite insensitive and seemingly designed to degrade those Vincentians, who, like many others across the globe, left their home country in search of a better life for themselves and their families. The same migrants who send back remittances in the form of numerous barrels and monies to their relatives and friends in St. Vincent and the Grenadines to assist them in meeting their day-to-day needs. I do not know Mr. Marshall personally, but judging from his comments he seems to view those migrants he spoke of in a less than favourable way because of the bold and courageous choice that they made to migrate from their homeland to become “nannies” or “walk people dog” in a foreign country to ensure that their children can have better opportunities and a better life than they did.
No more room for error
Given the controversy that surrounded the former deputy consul general to New York, Mr. Edson Augustus earlier this year, I am hopeful that the Government, which is fully aware of the critical role of this office in protecting the interests of nationals in the receiving state, will be cautious and measured in their appointment of any future diplomatic posts. Mr. Augustus’ departure from that post came about when he was recalled by the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines for involving in “activities outside the scope of his employment and inimical to the interest of the Consulate General and the Government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines”, according to a release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. To avoid further embarrassment to the nation as it relates to the calibre of individuals that are selected to these posts, the government must ensure that they do their homework this time around. It is in the best interest of the Government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines not to get it wrong with yet another diplomatic appointment.
I conclude with this powerful quote by the late great American author and poet Maya Angelou:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].