Baptiste-Cornelis went overboard—Dumas
A technocrat, career diplomat or Trade Ministry official might have been better suited for the post of ambassador to the UN held by Therese Baptiste-Cornelis, says former head of missions Reginald Dumas. He was asked about the issue yesterday after a recent speech by Baptiste-Cornelis at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy symposium in Germany was criticised. The Geneva-based Baptiste-Cornelis, in addressing the German symposium, reportedly recounted remarks about criticisms made to health practitioners, who she claimed could not take criticism. She also spoke at length about her personal life. This spawned a wave of criticism after the speech went viral on Facebook and also was circulated by e-mail. The Opposition has called for her removal.
Baptiste-Cornelis was appointed to the Geneva post in the July 2011 Cabinet reshuffle after the Prime Minister removed her as Health Minister. There was no answer at her Geneva office yesterday when the T&T Guardian repeatedly called to get a response about the criticisms. Queries left on the office’s answering machine did not yield a response.
Dumas, in a telephone interview yesterday, said Baptiste-Cornelis went overboard in her speech with personal anecdotes which bore little or no relevance to the issue. If she was an outstanding performer, who had just made the slip of being obtuse and irrelevant, that would be one thing, he added. But, Dumas said, from what he understood, Baptiste-Cornelis has had some “difficulty” with the post and that came as no surprise to him, since her post was a highly technical one, best suited to a technocrat. Dumas said she did not have that background. He noted Baptiste-Cornelis in her speech indicated she had heard the Prime Minister was making some changes and she made it clear she was ready to go. Noting reports that former Minister John Sandy was asked to consider a Geneva post, Dumas added: “I will suggest, if the Prime Minister had to make such changes, that a technocrat, career diplomat from the ministry or even a Trade Ministry official will be better suited to that particular post held by Baptiste-Cornelis, not a failed politician or so. That sort of decision requires caution and careful consideration.” Dumas said in his time ambassadors would be briefed on what issues they might face in the country they went to and other aspects of protocol, including brush-ups on etiquette and related issues.
He added: “You can’t just throw people in the deep end. In my time I briefed my successor and in some cases people gave their successors a list of people to get in touch with. “But that was a long time ago and I don’t know what systems apply now, so I can’t comment.” Dumas said he did not have assistance to write his speeches when he was head of missions and would write his own. He said he would like to hope ambassadors would speak to their staff to get help, especially if they had to make speeches before high-level forums like the OAS. He said he also expected ambassadors to learn. Mervyn Assam, former ambassador to the UK, Northern Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland, said he could not comment on the issue, save that he was surprised Baptiste-Cornelis did not seem to know ambassadors usually had multiple accreditation. He said ambassadors have at their disposal senior public servants to advise/assist them in speechwriting. PNM general secretary, Ashton Ford, a former attache at T&T’s London High Commission, said ambassadors and attaches always receive briefings from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, and “you work in accordance with government policy.”