An opposition senator has called for an audit and reorganisation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ foreign missions even as she raised questions about whether the missions justify money well spent.
Speaking at a town hall meeting in New York on Sunday, Kay Bacchus Baptiste of the New Democratic Party (NDP) noted that her party, in its 2015 election manifesto, said it recognises the importance of the role as a responsible State in the international community.
She further quoted the manifesto as saying: “We will therefore promote and encourage the maintenance of democratic principles and good governance (i.e. transparency, accountability and respect for human rights).
“We will feverishly seek to maintain and establish links with States, international organizations, multilateral corporations and other regional and international bodies for the promotion of peace and stability among nations and the welfare interests of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
“Can we say that of the ULP?” the senator asked, referring to the ruling Unity Labour Party.
Bacchus-Baptiste spoke of what she said was the high cost of operating the SVG embassies and consulates abroad, “at a time when St. Vincent and the Grenadines is in such dire financial straits.
“We need to look at that,” she said, adding that while the ULP has argued for tightening of the belts of its citizens, the administration is “splurging abroad in the embassies”.
“For years, they have told us how crucial it is for us to maintain diplomatic facilities abroad. But are they producing? What have we gained from these diplomatic missions that they have for the 17 years the ULP has been there?
“Isn’t it just a clever backdoor to open up lucrative jobs for their cohorts — the ULP cohorts.”
She asked listeners to consider the cost of official travel and subsistence by government ministers and their entourages.
“My research shows it is in the millions of dollars,” she said and questioned the cost of personal housing for ambassadors and other heads of St. Vincent and the Grenadines consulates?
“Tens of thousands of dollars,” Bacchus-Baptiste said.
“What about their salaries and their allowances and their chauffeur-driven cars? We need to look into these things. And their homes — they look for prime real estate to maintain these homes? How can the ULP justify this with a struggling nation, St. Vincent and the Grenadines in these hard economic times? How can they justify these large sums?”
The senator said that a NDP administration would find a way to restructure the nation’s operations abroad.
“That we can look at trained diplomats and we suggest that we can use students who are studying international relations and these things and train them, get them to help out in the mission, maybe on a pro bono or a stipend basis, rather than employing the daughter of Dr. Gonsalves, the daughter of Jimmy Prince, the daughter of Miguel. It is atrocious.”
Daughters of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and of Minister of Education Jimmy Prince were recently appointed to foreign service posts at the SVG UN Mission.
Meanwhile, a daughter of former deputy prime minister, retired politician Girlyn Miguel was promoted to an ambassador after more than a decade in the foreign service.
She asked what is the benefit of SVG getting a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
“So we can say that we have done this? I am saying that they are splurging our monies and we need to look into it. I am calling for an audit in all these overseas missions — an internal audit. Let us, you the people here, we in St. Vincent; let us call for an internal audit of all the diplomatic missions.”