Despite agitation in some quarters in New York, St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves says ex-New York Consul General Selmon Walters was not singled out for recall.
“It’s what we’re trying to make sure that we have fresh faces everywhere,” said Dr. Gonsalves in an exclusive interview Tuesday morning. “These are people [diplomats], who have been around in excess of four to five years. The position of ambassador, in some countries, does not exceed five years. We want to ensure that we have fresh faces.”
Last month, the Vincentian prime minister recalled Walters, who had been consul general in New York for five years, as well as two other overseas diplomats – Ambassadors to Cuba and Venezuela, Dexter Rose and Andreas Wickham, respectively.
Gonsalves, who was on a brief visit to New York, noted that La Celia Prince, the former ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States (OAS) departed office last year to assume a top position with the Washington-based OAS.
He confirmed that Cenio Lewis, the long-standing high commissioner to the United Kingdom, will leave office in a year’s time.
Gonsalves also noted that the current Consul General to Canada, Fitzgerald Huggins, succeeded E. Bernard John, and that I. Rhonda King, the ambassador to the United Nations, took over from Camillo Gonsalves, who became foreign affairs minister and was elected, for the first time, in general elections in St. Vincent and the Grenadines last December.
“Now, it’s time for Selmon (Walters) to go,” the Vincentian leader said. “It’s not a commentary on any particular individual.”
Gonsalves said his Unity Labor Party (ULP) administration has “found a good replacement” in Howie Prince, the former head of the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO).
“Howie Prince knows how to work with people,” he said. “It’s difficult to find a person to work with the community.
“He (Prince) has a good temperament,” he added. “I think people in New York will like Howie Prince.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sir Louis Straker told Caribbean Life last month that Prince possesses “outstanding” managerial skills and experience, adding that Prince “will be good for the country.”
Walters’ departure comes about 30 months after a major scandal erupted at the New York Consulate General involving Walters’ then deputy, Edson Augustus, a former Seventh-day Adventist Church pastor, who was recalled on Feb. 5, 2014, because of what the government said were “activities outside the scope of his employment and inimical to interests of the Consulate General and the government and people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.”
In the wake of the scandal, Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace called on the government to overhaul the New York Consulate General.
Eustace, a former prime minister, said then that that the negative image of the New York Consulate General must be immediately changed.
At the time, Eustace also called on the government to recall Walters, saying that the alleged “scandal” had taken place on his watch.
But, even with Augustus’ long departure, Vincentians, in some quarters in the Big Apple, have reportedly been displeased with Walters’ performance.
Some also said he was “heavy-handed” in dealing with Augustus’ successor, Sehon Marshall, who, himself, had received a “hot baptism” prior to his appointment for condescendingly referring, on local radio, as a talk show host, to some nationals in New York as, among other things, “dog walkers.”
Subsequently, at a town hall meeting at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center, Walters announced, and new Government minister Camillo Gonsalves, confirmed that Marshall was transferred to the St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Mission to the United Nations.
But, even with vehement criticism levelled at Walters’ tenure, Prime Minister Gonsalves said he does not place heavy emphasis on mere complaints, adding that they must be based strongly on facts.
“I like to get solid information about somebody performing,” he said.
“I will have a lot of expectations of him,” he added, alluding to Prince.
Gonsalves confirmed that Prince will be working without a deputy.
“We not so much need a deputy,” he said. “We need an administrative person. We need to have somebody grounded in the office.”
The prime minister also confirmed that his administration will be appointing a new trade attaché.
Sir Louis had said last month that Bernadette Ambrose-Black, current head of SVG Invest, will take up that new position.
Gonsalves said Ambrose-Black, who will be based at the New York Consulate General, will be under the direction of former Chief Education Officer Lou-Ann Gilchrist, who will replace Prince.
“We have to put someone where it will be optimal [for investment and trade coordination],” he said, disclosing that Ambrose-Black’s contract with SVG Invest “has come to an end,” and that “it was decided to have [continue to use] her skills.”
The prime minister said New York is the hub for trade and investment activities, adding that there are several trade opportunities could be explored among global diplomats at the United Nations.
Arnhim Eustace, leader of the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), had told Caribbean Life that, if his party gains power, it would appoint trade attachés at the New York Consulate General, saying that trade investment is the way to go in aiding the country’s economic development.