Mitchell Reports to Parliament on CHOGM

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Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell

COMMUNICATION BY FRED MITCHELL MP

FOX HILL MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

House Of Assembly

Nassau

4th December 2013

I wish to report to the House and the country the success of the recent attendance of The Bahamas at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka 15 and 17 November.

Heads of Government meetings bring together 53 countries from around the world, all former British colonies and from all regions and continents with a view to discussing and buttressing the values of the Commonwealth.

These are principally elected democracy, public accountability and respect for human rights and the rule of law.  All countries of the Commonwealth subscribe to those values.

The delegation of The Bahamas was headed by our Head of Government and Prime Minister the Member of Parliament for Centreville. He was accompanied by the Member of Parliament for Fox Hill and Foreign Minister, the Member of Parliament for Elizabeth and Trade Minister with foreign service officers, the Senior Policy Advisor Sir Baltron Bethel.

The Prime Minister has explained in some detail what the results of the meeting were.  I would only add that this was an opportunity to focus on the issue of bringing business to The Bahamas .

One of the reasons why The Bahamas continues to be a part of this forum is that it is an efficient way to get to interact with many countries with whom we would never get the opportunity to interact save for that forum.  We are a small country and we do not have the resources of larger countries to have diplomatic presences and premises in many of these countries.  When we meet at these multilateral meetings, we get to engage for the larger benefit of our country at a fraction of the cost.

One of the most important opportunities at the Commonwealth meeting this year was to seek to influence the votes which we required for the now successful re-election of The Bahamas to the governing council of the International Maritime Organization headquartered in London.  We were able to avail ourselves of the opportunity to meet with heads of delegations and foreign ministers to ask for their support in the election and we were successful in doing so.

There has been considerable public commentary about the travel overseas of the Prime Minister.  This is most unfortunate since the government must be proactive if in this present economic environment our country is to move forward.  We cannot simply sit in Nassau and believe that the world will come to us.  It does not work that way.

The critics would have us do so and then when our economy does not grow because we are unable to attract the foreign direct investment that we need they will say that  we are not doing anything.

The arguments against the foreign missions is largely based on costs.  The argument is a false one.  For it is clear that the travel brings results as the Prime Minister’s statement to the House has shown.  In any event,  relations with countries many times require the personal presence of leaders of our country to  go around the world in order to make our presence felt.

Under the Progressive Liberal Party administration, we have reasserted out leadership in Caricom.  We have sought to extend our reach into the Middle East and to the Far East.  We have sought to ensure that relations with the contiguous states to The Bahamas: the United States, Cuba, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands are good. We are seeking to strengthen hemispheric relations by a participation in CELAC and in the OAS.

No expenditure that has taken place during our time has to the best of my knowledge information and belief been extra budget.  However, given the nature of what we are sometimes called to do, it means that  attending meetings in overseas capitals are key to whether or not The Bahamas will be successful or not.

I expect that within a short period of time the Minister of National Security and I will be in Haiti for talks with the Haitian government.  I suspect that shortly thereafter I will have to be in Canada in the United States and visiting our Caricom neighbours with regard to developing matters in this region.

Those who wish to engage in idle, speculative and false stories about costs and the travel of the Prime Minister and other ministers are free to do so but let there be no doubt that the stories are false in their entirety and in terms of specific responses are meritless.  Parliament has the mechanisms to deal with any inquiries of a sensible and rational nature which it wishes to make about any public expenditure. I am satisfied that should there be any such inquiry everything is totally above board. Beyond that there is nothing more to say.

I wish then to once again acknowledge the successes of the Prime Minister’s mission to the Commonwealth and I commend the work to this House and the Bahamian people.

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