Editorial: Shhh! Secret agents at work!

It was a simple enough question. We were following up on a promise by Prime Minister Gaston Browne regarding the publication of the list of diplomatic passport holders and economic envoys.  We thought this would have been an easy “promise made, promise kept” opportunity for the PM because he had publicly criticised the way diplomats and economic envoys were appointed.  Instead, we were treated to a fairly ambiguous reply.  “We’ve stopped giving pearls to swine,” he answered, before abruptly ending the telephone conversation.

Now, we know that there are many people who are hoping that we will follow that rabbit down the hole and become incensed by the reply, chastise the Prime Minister and focus on the expectations that we the public have  of the highest elected office in the land.  But, we need to let you know up front that you are going to be disappointed.  We have made all those points following the recent “get a life” episode so that subject matter has already been covered.

What we will focus on is the lack of transparency as it relates to who holds our diplomatic passports and who has been given the lofty title of economic envoy. Logic and common sense would tell you that ambassadors and economic envoys should be well-known.  The whole point of having these positions is to represent the country, bring attention to its opportunities and, certainly in the case of economic envoys, attract investment.  How can they function if no one knows who they are?

Unless, of course, they are really secret agents.  Wouldn’t that be a great story?  For James Bond fans, this would be a fantastic development.  Instead of “M”, the PM could be “G”.  How perfect is that?  We have gone through the usual cast of characters and really need your help to fill it out.  For example, who would be “Q” –  the guy with all the cool gadgets?  You know, the head of the research and development division of the Antigua Secret Service (ASS).  That acronym may not be as sexy, to some, as MI6, but others, we are sure, will disagree.

Ooooh!  How about Moneypenny?  A critical role because she has a crush on our yet to be named top super-secret ‘00’ agent. In the novel and films, that is pronounced double “O”, as in the letter, but for our purposes, we will use double zero, since we do not want to bestow a “licence to kill” to anyone. Think of the international repercussions if one of our secret agents were to become trigger happy! So, good people, who will fill the roles of our secret double-zero agents? And what numbers will they be assigned?

Now, for a villain?  We are imagining a big media company that is all-seeing.  A company with a burning desire for power at all costs.  Run by an army of evil geniuses who represent a real threat to Antigua & Barbuda.  If only there was a company that fits that bill! It is a great story line but a real casting dilemma.

WAIT!  Did you see what just happened there?  We got distracted!  Arghhh!  We are cursed by our curiosity and imagination.  Where did we leave off?

Oh yes.  Transparency.

Why is it so hard to get a list of people who are ambassadors?  A list of people holding diplomatic passports?  Or, a list of economic envoys?  These are people who represent us to the world but the citizens of this country are denied the privilege of knowing who they are.  These pearls of information are not to be shared with the swine of this country?  What craziness is that?

When the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Anthony “Mamba” Liverpool was contacted, he said the prime minister had given no directives to him or to the ministry to publish any such list.  Specifically, Mr Liverpool said, “I will have to find out from him what he wants to be done. If the PM has made that comment and so instructs the ministry – that is not a problem and I will follow the instruction once it’s given.” But, it was the PM himself who made the promise in Parliament on February 6 of this year – over five months ago.  No instructions were apparently given, so was this an empty promise?

This is administrative oversight gone wild.  Anybody should be able to get this information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a matter of course.  It should not be at the say-so of the Prime Minister or any other minister.  Unless, as we said before, our diplomats and economic envoys are really secret agents for ASS. 

Think of it for a moment, what purpose does a secret diplomat serve?  Why the need to keep their identities hidden?  By definition, a diplomat is “an official whose job is to represent one country in another.” (Courtesy of the Cambridge Dictionary).  If no one knows who is representing us, then how do they represent?  If there is no officially published list, then it requires the person fielding the representative to enquire of our Foreign Affairs office, and hopefully they can find the Prime Minister, in time, so that he can give the directive to confirm or deny that person’s credentials.  That may be as close to the definition of bureaucratic inefficiency as one can get.

The long and short of it is: A list has been promised, we wait to see if it will be kept behind lock and key.  We will stay focused on our pursuit of that list and we will no longer be distracted by any thoughts of ASS.

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