Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves and Deputy Prime Minister Sir Louis Straker had predicted that Howie Prince would be a tremendous asset to the nation with his appointment as the new St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ consul general to the United States.
And barely four months into his New York-based position, Prince, the former head of the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO), is demonstrating just that — bringing what observers say is a breath of fresh air to the former beleaguered Consulate General.
“I accepted the position because it represented a challenge to function at a different level, yet providing services to the people of SVG [St. Vincent and the Grenadines],” said the multi-skilled Prince in an exclusive Caribbean Life interview Monday night. “There was also a personal family crisis for which being in New York was a definite advantage to my family.”
The former school teacher said his goals and objectives are to carry out the foreign policy imperatives of the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines; to be “friends of all and enemies of none;” to build new relations that can rebound to the benefit of the nation; to consolidate relations among countries and the Vincentian communities in the Diaspora; and to facilitate trade and investment opportunities for Vincentian business interests.
In addition, Prince, a Lowmans Windward native, said his goals are to provide the “most effective consulate services” for Vincentians in the US.
In the short time since assuming the position on Sept. 1, Prince — who has backgrounds in, among other things, tourism and hospitality management, international relations, education, marketing, mass communications and public relations, business administration, disaster management, disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, and project development and management — said he has facilitated a trade and investment meeting with investors in the US, Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar and newly-appointed SVG Ambassador to the US and the Organization of American States (OAS) Lou Ann Gilchrist, a former chief education officer.
The consul general said he has also organized and facilitated the launching of Vincy Mas 40th Anniversary Celebration in New York; organized and facilitated the launching of the SVG Diaspora Unit Mapping Project in New York; and facilitated the mobilization process for relief to SVG consequent on the November floods.
Additionally, Prince said he has streamlined the Consulate General “for more effective provision of services, ease of doing business, a more available consul general to the public, and a more transparent and accountable internal business monitoring system.”
The new consul general said he has also strengthened relations with Diaspora groups in the US.
The charismatic Prince said he is assisting with the organization of charter flights for the opening of the Argyle International Airport on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, as recently announced on local radio by Gonsalves.
In what is considered to be a “very tough town” among Vincentians in New York, Prince said Diaspora groups and individuals have received him “cordially,” and that he has, to date, attended more than 90 percent of the myriad groups’ annual galas and awards ceremonies in the “Big Apple;” Boston, Ma; and Philadelphia, Pa.
“I was received with open arms,” he said. “There is an air of expectation for a higher level of representation and engagement, which I am endeavoring to provide.”
Since the departure of erstwhile Consul General Cosmus Cozier, over five years ago, the Consulate General has been plagued by several scandals.
Under the leadership of Prince’s immediate predecessor, Selmon Walters, the auditor general, in a comprehensive audit report, found serious deficiencies in management and accountability at the Office.
Walters’ first deputy, Edson Augustus, a former Seventh-day Adventist Church pastor, was recalled home amid allegations of mishandling of Vincentian passports, prompting then Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace to call for a complete overhaul of the Consulate General, including the firing of Walters, a former minister in Gonsalves’ administration.
Among other things, Walters, Prince’s fellow villager, was accused by many in the US of mismanagement, arrogance and distrust, prompting inordinate complaints to Kingstown.
But, in recalling Walters home, after five years in New York, Gonsalves told Caribbean Life, in an exclusive interview, that Walters was not being singled out — that diplomats generally, including those in Cuba and Venezuela, can expect to return home after serving about five years overseas.
Prince, however, said scandals “can only be overcome by transparency, sincerity and accountability.
“People look for professionalism and availability,” he said. “My doors are open to all. I listen to everyone’s story. I answer queries with truthful disclosure and seek answer to the daunting questions that citizens have.
“And I always call people back to provide up-dates, even when no new information has surfaced,” he added.
With no deputy, as was the case for his predecessors, Prince pleads for the “extra hand.”
“The office needs a deputy,” he asserted. “It is extremely difficult to manage without another professional on staff.”
Prince said he had requested one and “was assured by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the request is being processed.”
With Prince’s appointment, Gonsalves and Sir Louis, who is also foreign affairs and trade minister, said a trade attaché, whose primary role is to bring more investment to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, would replace the deputy consul general.
The consul general – who holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and public relations and a master’s degree in tourism and hospitality management, among diplomas in human resource development and teacher education — said he wants to see “more strategic utilization of our sports and cultural ambassadors.
“They represent a large reservoir of resources that our communities can harness,” he said. “A strategic approach needs to be scripted for more meaningful engagement. I hope to be involved in this scripting process.”
He also said he looks forward to a meeting of Vincentian Honorary Consuls throughout the US in order to “create a strategic plan for their involvement in consulate and investment matters.”
Prince said he will remain consul general “as long as the Ministry [of Foreign Affairs] considers my work useful, and as long as the Diaspora community continue to cooperate and business opportunities abound.”
Pundits say Prince brings much-needed change — ostensibly a breath of fresh air — that nationals had yearned for.