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I followed ministry's instructions


■ Asha Javeed

INACCURATE and false.

Those are the words used by Trinidad and Tobago Ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS) Anthony Phillips-Spencer to describe a statement by the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs that its position on Dominica was misrepresented.

Phillips-Spencer, who is also T&T's ambassador to the United States, said he followed instructions given to him by the ministry when he declined to support Dominica's request for a waiver of OAS contributions for 2018 and 2019.

Any suggestion that a misrep resentation took place was 'inaccurate and false', he said.

Even as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it is investigating the circumstances which led to Phillips-Spencer's now controversial stance last week to refuse a fee waiver to the island which was devastated by Hurricane Maria last September, Phillips-Spencer penned his own letter to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley outlining his position.

His letter, dated March 29, noted in communicating the position of T&T, 'I acted in compliance with the highlighted written instructions received from the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs on the afternoon of March 23, 2018, after the meeting of the OAS Permanent Council had already begun.'

Phillips-Spencer's letter enclosed two bits of correspondence- a memo and an e-mail thread.

On March 23, at the OAS' regular meeting, the agenda item-Request by the Commonwealth of Dominica to waive OAS financial contribution for 2018 and 2019was circulated.

Phillips-Spencer said there that despite the 'goodwill' expressed by the other delegations, his country would not support the waiver.

The decision drew public ire, with Rowley requesting a report on the matter while Foreign and Caricom Affairs Minister Dennis Moses said T&T was 'misrepresented'.

The documents

A memo dated March 22 from the T&T mission to the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs pointed to the meeting, the agenda and, in particular, the item for Dominica for waiver of fees for 2018 and 2019.

'The mission is of the view that the Commonwealth of Dominica should be supported as a fellow Caricom member state that has been subject to the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria. In this regard, the mission would like to seek the guidance of the ministry on this matter in advance of tomorrow's regular meeting of the Permanent Council, which is set to begin at 2.30 p.m. on March 23, 2018,' said the memo, signed by Kaanita Shah, on behalf of the ambassador.

On March 23, at 1.22 p.m. (just one hour before the meeting was expected to commence), Shah e-mailed two officers at the Foreign Affairs Ministry-Candice Shade and Akilah Seale-on the subject of Dominica's request.

Shah made two pointsthat the secretariat could not find any instances of waivers and that the other member states would not be expected to absorb the amount.

'The overall quota collection will be affected, however, since the execution level approved for 2018 is lower than the quota income, that will not be affected either. Of course, the secretariat will have to take into consideration that amount will not be received.

'Regarding 2019, decisions are still pending to be made regarding quota (methodology, budget ceiling, budget execution ceiling) so we couldn't give you a response at this moment. It is hoped that this information may prove useful in determining T&T's position with regard to Dominica's request for waiver of their financial contributions to the OAS for 2018 and 2019,' Shah's e-mail said.

At 3.14 p.m. (about 44 minutes into the meeting), Seale, a Foreign Service Officer III, responded, copied to Tedwin Herbert, Jennifer Marchand and Shade, citing several past meetings-the 41st Caricom meeting on January 15, 2018, in Guyana; the fourth special meeting of Caricom's budget meeting on February 2, 2018, via video conference; the ninth special meeting of Caricom on February 6, 2018, via video conference; and the 11th extraordinary meeting of the Special Committee on Budget and Administration on February 6, 2018.

Seale noted at those meetings, T&T expressed solidarity with the member states, but 'it did not support the granting of waivers of payment contributions. Alternatively, Trinidad and Tobago proposed consideration should be given to the deferral of payments of contributions by member states and the implementation of a payment plan, which is subject to annual review.

'It should be noted that Trinidad and Tobago has explicitly stated that it is not in a position to facilitate an increase in its assessed contributions by member states given its current fiscal constraints.

'Accordingly, the ministry wishes to advise that the position of Trinidad and Tobago should remain consistent with those expressed at the aforementioned meetings at Caricom and the ACS, with respect to the granting of waivers of financial contributions by member states,' the e-mail said.

At 3.17 p.m., Seale's e-mail was forwarded by Shah to Phillips-Spencer.

At the OAS meeting, Phillips-Spencer therefore said: 'Trinidad and Tobago has had itself to explicitly express a position that it is unable to facilitate any increase in its own assessed contributions. Given the explanations provided by the chair of the CAP, this delegation must advise distinguished colleagues that at other multilateral fora in the hemisphere, Trinidad and Tobago has had to explicitly state its concerns for the overall impact of adjustments in the established arrangements for payment of quota contributions.

'In doing so, Trinidad and Tobago has offered the proposal, the opportunity, the option for consideration of the deferral of payments of contributions by member states, and where possible, the implementation of a payment plan, subject to review, of course, given that you never know how long adjustment and capacity to return to the normal arrangements… 'In this regard...this delegation is appreciative of consideration given to this matter. This delegation recognises the goodwill expressed by the delegations. This delegation wishes to itself join in expressing goodwill in attending to this matter, but consistent with the position adopted in other multilateral fora in the hemisphere, this delegation again wishes to offer for consideration the option of the deferral of payments of contributions, and where possible, the implementation of a payment plan subject to annual review.'

Writing Rowley

On March 29, the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs issued a release on the matter after observers expressed outrage at what had transpired.

'In an unqualified way, the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs regrets the misrepresentation of the position of T&T offered by a public official of T&T during a meeting of the OAS' Permanent Council (held March 23), relative to a request from Dominica for a waiver of its financial contribution to that organisation for 2018 to 2019,' the release said.

The release also noted: 'A suggestion by a public servant at an OAS meeting that Dominica's dues not be collected at this time but be deferred to some future time in no way reflects any change in the demonstrated concern of T&T for the welfare of the people of Dominica.'

On that same day, Phillips- Spencer wrote to Rowley, noting the contents of the release and 'to assert that based on my full compliance with the instructions received from the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs, which directly contradicted the advice provided by this Permanent Mission, in Memorandum POL 6/16/21 dated March 22, 2018 (copy enclosed). Upon my first receipt of notification of the Permanent Council meeting, the claim of a misrepresentation having been 'offered by a public official of Trinidad and Tobago' is therefore inaccurate and false'.

The Express was unable to contact Moses, despite calls and text message sent yesterday for comment.

• See Page 4

'INACCURATE AND FALSE': Anthony Phillips-Spencer

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