Despite all the denials and a plan by the foreign ministry to investigate the faux paus, the controversy over Trinidad and Tobago’s recent vote against a request by Dominica for an ease of its annual contributions to a hemispheric umbrella body just would not go away.
Late last month, Port of Spain’s delegation to the 34-nation Organization of American States (OAS) surprised all and sundry by voting to turn down a request from hurricane-ravaged Dominica for a waiver in its annual payments to the body because it just could not afford to do so with losses estimated at more than one billion dollars.
The island was pulverized by Hurricane Maria in mid September. The storm damaged most buildings in the country, killed more than 30 people and authorities are still hoping that more than 30 missing persons will one day miraculously show up.
The Trinidad delegation, led by a retired army brigadier Anthony Spencer-Phillip, had opted to instead recommend that Dominica was granted a system of deferred payments — not the waiver — even as other Latin American and Caribbean delegations in the room voted to approve and allow the request from Dominica to ease the burden of its annual payments. Most were stunned by Trinidad’s position on a request on a humanitarian issue.
But bedlam broke out in Trinidad once word about the late March vote leaked out and once the video recording of the meeting was uploaded to social media.
Already reeling from stinging criticisms about the country’s declining economic performance and the collapse of the lifeline sea bridge ferry service with sister isle, Tobago, the administration of Prime Minister Keith Rowley tried to clean up the mess with one mistake after another.
The foreign ministry put out a statement announcing plans to determine who gave the right to the Trinidad and Tobago delegation to vote against a sister CARICOM nation that everyone knows remains in deep financial and infrastructural distress in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
That storm was determined by international weather experts to be one of the Atlantic’s most powerful and devastating storms. It had remained over the center of Dominica for nearly three hours.
As the retired general came under withering attacks by an embarrassed and still disbelieving nation, a leaker letter which appeared in local media seemed to suggest that Spencer-Phillip had acted in accordance with written and direct instructions from the Trinidad & Tobago Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The ambassador maintained in the missive that it would have been “inaccurate and false” to indicate that he had acted outside of his mandate to oppose a request for help from a neighboring CARICOM sister nation, noting that advice on how to vote had in fact come from Port of Spain.
Still Foreign Minister Dennis Moses wasted little time in throwing the general under the bus by suggesting that the vote had much to do with instructions from home base that Trinidad & Tobago was in no position to “accommodate a waiver of financial contribution by member states given its (own) current fiscal constraints.”
The withering if not embarrassing attacks on the Rowley administration spread across the open waters to Barbados with the Today online publication editorialized on the issue, saying it is still trying to determine how such a situation could have occurred.
“All manner of excuses have been given for why such a position would have been taken by Trinidad. And given all that is now known of its regional neighbor’s plight, which is nothing short of dire, many are now openly asking, could the Rowley government be so uncaring, heartless even?
“We note that Mr. Rowley has ordered an investigation into the matter. However, in the absence of any firm action against the OAS envoy involved, we are left to conclude that both he and his administration are one with the embattled envoy on the position taken against Dominica,” the publication states.
Local journalists from CNC 3 television this week contacted Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit for comment on the matter but he stuck to a diplomatic line, saying that “the relationship between Dominica and Trinidad & Tobago remains solid.
“The Trinidad government and indeed the whole of Trinidad & Tobago have been very supportive of our efforts. I do not think that the prime minister would have been aware of the vote at the OAS prior. This is one of the usual miscommunication occurrences which happens to all of us from time to time. We in Dominica are heartened and touched by the continued love, care and concern which T&T continues to demonstrate towards us and this transcends all of society including political parties. Much thanks from us in Dominica,” he said.