EDITORIAL : What have we gained?

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We start by asking what a large cross-section of people in Antigua & Barbuda is asking: What is to be gained by publicly berating the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the People’s Republic of China?
Prime Minister Gaston Browne recently unloaded on the charitable organisation and the China-funded “Building Back Better” project in a very public way, accusing the organisation of “taking all the credit” for repair work done to homes and buildings in Barbuda in the wake of Hurricane Irma, while only really contributing “a few sheets of plywood.” This startling response came after the PM had toured some homes and buildings that had “UNDP – China Aid” stickers attached.  
Apparently, PM Browne was incensed and let his feelings known by saying, “You come and plaster sticker all ‘round de place like you did some large amount of work. That is totally unacceptable!” The statement, made publically in front of several UNDP officials, including the resident representative for Barbados and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), was apparently so embarrassing that the representative, Stephen O’Malley, diplomatically apologised and readily agreed to remove the stickers which the PM deemed so offensive.  
Remember, this is all done in the shadow of U.S. $2 million of aid funded by the People’s Republic of China and executed through the UNDP. Why? Other than to embarrass the UNDP and China, what have we gained as a country?
Could the PM not have handled this perceived slight in a more diplomatic way rather than through this bombastic attack? Couldn’t we have protested behind closed doors and saved face with our charitable partners? Why would we not offer some basic level of diplomacy to China and the UNDP, rather than publicly berating them for placing a small palm-sized sticker on the buildings?
Imagine the damage to China’s pride after contributing U.S. $2 million to the cause and then being told that the project contributed little more than “a few sheets of plywood?” Like the UNDP representatives, we are sure that they would be polite in public but have a completely different response behind closed doors.
According to the UNDP Recovery Advisor for Antigua and Barbuda, Aurelie Boukabza, this type of aid is something that China has never done before, so it was particularly distasteful that the PM would stand in front of the Chinese Ambassador to Antigua and Barbuda, Wang Xianmin, and criticise the contribution in the way that he did.  
Hearing the prime minister rant, it soon became obvious that he was most concerned about perceptions in Barbuda that the UNDP and China were doing more than the government. In his mind and logic, the small stickers were confusing people and distracting them from the government’s involvement in the recovery efforts; efforts that many people have criticised for being slow and inefficient.  
What is obviously most important to the prime minister is that his government is given all the credit for the recovery efforts. He said that he didn’t want the people of Barbuda to “get the impression that the government is not making any contributions” and “everything is coming from abroad.” If that is the power of small stickers, then we would like everyone to know that Observer Printery can print your stickers. Simply place them on buildings and on other things that you have no association with and the people will soon be under the impression that ‘you run tings.’
This recent outburst from the PM really has us wondering if the pressure of calling an election and the thought of running two campaigns are causing an overload? How do we go from China’s proud moment with the UNDP to a rant about stickers and the insinuation that the donors are trying to steal his government’s thunder? It would be bad enough for this to happen behind closed doors, but worse when done publicly in the face of the donors themselves.
Maybe the PM needs another vacation where he can relieve himself of whatever pressures may have contributed to this recent outburst. We are concerned that these types of irrational and unnecessary reactions may increase in regularity, and we get a reputation of being undiplomatic, and worse, ungrateful.
If your knee-jerk reaction is to say, “he right,” or you compliment the PM for his “tell it like it is” style, then you are not helping the situation. You are only fueling his impetus to react in these types of situations, and that does not help us on the global stage. Winston Churchill has given us a great definition of diplomacy that every politician should heed. He said, “Diplomacy is the art of telling plain truths without giving offense.” We can only hope that the prime minister heeds those wise words and adopts a policy of diplomacy before emotive outbursts.
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