Foreign representation costs same percentage of National Budget as in 2001 – PM Gonsalves
Despite all the strides that St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has made in foreign policy, the spending on foreign representation as a percentage of recurrent expenditure is the same as it was in 2001.
That is according to Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves who on Monday responded to the opposition New Democratic Party’s (NDP) statement that the Government is squandering money on foreign missions.
The Prime Minister, speaking at the opening of a biennial consultation for heads of missions and consulates said that the NDP paid little attention to foreign policy when they were in power (from 1984 to 2001), but the little they did, cost tax payers huge sums, mainly through bad investments in real estate.
Gonsalves, addressing the gathering at the conference room of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated that in 2001, there were missions in New York, Washington, the United Kingdom (UK) and Toronto while separate contributions were being made to the OECS for missions in Brussels and Ottawa.
The country still has a presence in Brussels, but the Ottawa mission was closed, but is on the verge of being reopened. Since 2001, missions have been opened in Cuba and Venezuela and a separate consulate opened in New York.
“In 2001, the expenditure on the foreign missions was $3.67 million, 1.2 per cent of total recurrent expenditure inclusive of debt servicing. If debt servicing was taken out, it would be 1.64 per cent.
“In 2018, the New York, Washington mission, United Kingdom, Cuba, Venezuela, New York consulate and Toronto consulate… the total expenditure for these missions is $9.43 million or 1.21per cent of recurrent expenditure inclusive of debt servicing,” the Prime Minister noted while adding that the Brussels and Geneva trade missions are funded through the OECS.
Going further, Gonsalves said that the ULP administration sold three buildings (in Dallas, the UK and Toronto) that they considered bad investments made by the NDP and the Dallas sale was problematic as the building was paid for with government funds, proven by receipts from the Ministry of Finance, but the property was in the name of the person who was working at the mission.
He added that when they tried to get the Dallas based tourism representative out of the government owned building, it became a legal matter.
Gonsalves added that while at a recent town hall meeting in New York, it was said that ambassadors and foreign mission representatives “are living high on the hog”, this is far from the truth as can be proven by the fact that SVG’s High Commissioner to the UK Cenio E. Lewis lives in his own residence and commutes to work by train.
He revealed also that St Kitts Nevis and SVG own the building that houses the mission in London and the government has to pay for the upkeep and taxes and they will soon be turning the downstairs into a flat to help save monies when High Commissioner Lewis eventually retires.
In relation to Washington, the OECS has decided to sell the building there, in which SVG has shares. This country is expected to make money from the sale. The ambassador’s residence in Washington is owned and maintained by the government.
The Prime Minister said that the government manages its finances efficaciously and despite the financial meltdown in 2008, the aftershocks of which we are still feeling, there are only two countries in the CSME which have not gone to the IMF or sold passports/citizenships — Trinidad and Tobago and SVG.
“…and Trinidad has oil and natural gas and we don’t and people respect a country which manages its resources and where we don’t go and sell our patrimony in the form of our citizenship and our passport…
“…We have done all this expansion in the delivery of services internationally with our foreign policy and what we have done in the domestic,” said the Prime Minister.