Ministry of Foreign Affairs Reviewing Overseas Missions

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Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs the Hon. Brent Symonette (centre) addresses the Honourary Counsular Corps Christmas Luncheon on Wednesday, December 13, 2007, at Old Fort Bay. Pictured, left, are His Excellency Andrew Wiberg, Honourary Counsul of Sweden and Dean of Honourary Counsular Corps and at right is His Excellency Ambassador Harold Joseph, Haitian Ambassador to The Bahamas and Dean of Diplomatic Corps.  (Photo: Kristaan Ingraham)

By: Lindsay Thompson

NASSAU, Bahamas – The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is embarking on a systematic review of its diplomatic and counsular division aimed at making that area more relevant to The Bahamas’ foreign policy thrust.

This was announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign affairs the Hon. Brent Symonette, as he addressed the Honourary Counsular Corps Christmas Luncheon on Wednesday, December 13, 2007, at Old Fort Bay.

The meeting provides an opportunity for members of the Diplomatic Corps a chance to interact outside the formal setting of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as they work together in the furtherance of mutual relations.

“It also provides an opportunity for me to share with you some thoughts on current aspects of Bahamian foreign policy,” Mr. Symonette said.

The Bahamas has stated its foreign policy objectives are to remain at peace with all nations and to cooperate with them in the promotion of welfare of mankind, he said.

“Other key foreign policy objectives include the promotion and enhancement of Bahamian culture, improving the quality of life for all Bahamians and the protection of our borders and upholding the integrity of The Bahamas abroad,” Mr. Symonette said.

Early in 2008, the relocation of the Ministry is to be completed, as the Protocol Division and the remaining officers stationed at East Hill Street will be moved to the Goodman’s Bay Corporate Centre.

“We trust that this move will result in better services being provided to the public,” he said, adding that the move is to accelerate the process of restructuring the Ministry.

The process calls for a systematic review of the diplomatic and counsular offices to determine if staffing and funding levels are appropriate to allow the offices to perform effectively and efficiently, Mr.Symonette said.

As part of this move, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is planning, in the first quarter of the year, to hold a Heads of Mission meeting. This will allow senior officers and Heads of Overseas Missions to discuss Bahamian foreign policy and make recommendations on how to improve the performance of the missions and the Ministry, he said.

“This review is essential because the conduct of foreign affairs has changed over the years with even greater emphasis being placed on bilateral agreements, summits and international conferences,” Mr. Symonette said.

He noted that The Bahamas has established diplomatic relations with more than 70 countries, but not all ambassadors have been named.

In this vein, the Ministry will be making recommendations for the accreditation of ambassadors or high commissioners as appropriate to these countries and where possible, the appointment of Bahamian Honourary Counsuls, Mr. Symonette said.

He also announced that as of January 2008, Bahamas Ambassador to Washington His Excellency C. A. Smith would assume the chairmanship of the Permanent Council of the Organisation of American States.

The Permanent Council is outside of the Organsation of American States (OAS) General Assembly and the Council of Foreign Ministers, the main decision making body of the OAS.

Mr. Symonette also said that the New Year promises to be a busy one for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In January, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham assumes the Chairmanship of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), and thus the Ministry and its Overseas Missions will be taking a greater leadership role in Caribbean Community matters.

In March, The Bahamas will host the Caricom Intercessional Heads of Government Meeting, chaired by the Prime Minister. In April, the Caricom Foreign Ministers will hold a meeting with their UK counterparts. Later in the year, the Caricom/Spain Summit, the EU/Latin America and the Caribbean Summit, and the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the African Union and the African Diaspora will be held.

Mr. Symonette also noted that the ministry will continue to explore visa abolition agreements with a number of countries.  The Bahamas exemption from the Schengen visa remains a priority.

“We await the promised draft text from the European Commission. We are advised this will have to be followed by a technical meeting,” he said.