Remarks by Fred Mitchell Minister of Foreign Affairs – Diplomatic Week

Posted on: October 17, 2016

coat of armsRemarks by Fred Mitchell 
Minister of Foreign Affairs 
Diplomatic Week

Monday 17 October

Check Against Delivery

This is my valedictory statement as Minister of Foreign Affairs to you for this term. In doing so and as I say farewell, I would like to thank all of you for coming and for the support which you have given our country over the years and especially during this time of the post hurricane emergency.

This is an opportunity for our country to express its policy views and concerns to the wider community of diplomats who are accredited to us but are not resident here as well as share in a frank exchange of views on matters of international concern.

As we speak, scores of our citizens remain without power and some of the basic necessities following a category four storm which hit four of our major islands with a vengeance, just one year after another four of our islands to the south were inundated by the waters of Hurricane Joaquim. It’s been that kind of year.

Nevertheless, there are some practical truths which govern us as citizens of The Bahamas. This is not the first storm and it will not be the last. We live in a hurricane zone, and we have to get used to it. The hurricane has not killed the capacity of the country to govern itself nor to take care of itself economically.

Further, weather and climate change are front and centre in our concerns in foreign policy, principally how we are going to pay for the mitigation and adaptation which is necessary to ensure that we survive?

The Prime Minister will speak to this later. It is important to know that the weather is just a part of the governance issues of The Bahamas. There is much else to speak about.

The past year has seen successes on the diplomatic front. The Prime Minister who will speak not you shortly will address those areas.

I need only say thanks to the team of officers led by the Permanent Secretary Sheila Carey and the Director General Sharon Brenan Haylock. I thank the political colleagues in the Ministry Parliamentary Secretary Cleola Hamilton and High Commissioner to Caricom Picewell Forbes for their work and support.

Next year there will be a general election in The Bahamas. The mandate runs out in May 2017. The country has a strong and vibrant democracy and an enviable human rights record. We consider ourselves as models for the world in this area. The society is open and free of political violence. I seek to assure the world of that fact today.

I think that every Bahamian in this room agrees with me that of course there will be vigourous debate and harsh words but that no one expects that it go any farther than that. At the end of the day, we expect that will be that and once the election is done, we shall resume our normal lives until elections come around again.

In the international arena, our relations with all remain positive and good.

Our main trading partner and closest neighbour is the United States. We appreciate all the support that country has given in helping with so many of the issues which face our country. Our interests are not entirely the same but similar. I can safely say however, that no matter what, when called upon in a crisis, the United States responds and without let or hindrance. In this they occupy the moral high ground.

I take this opportunity therefore to thank the United States and the United Kingdom for their assistance in the immediate aftermath of the storm. I thank other countries such as Canada with whom I spoke and who offered assistance. Similarly the expressions of support from the European Union.

Dominica and the Turks and Caicos Island gave specific donations for hurricane relief and as part of the Caricom family, we are particularly moved by those donations. We were hearted by the response form the Caribbean Disaster Management Agency (CDEMA) and by CARILEC, the Caribbean Electricity support mechanism in times of disaster.

There were some observations that we have had to make over the past year which I now repeat.

During the year we became concerned about the issues facing young black Bahamian males studying in the United States as a result of reports about American black males in their relations with public authorities which in some instances led to their deaths, and any knock on effect it might have on our own population that looks to that country for education, health care and tourism and expects that country to be safe place which always occupies the moral high ground.

At the United Nations during the country statement, I said the following:

We are in the midst of the UN Declared International Decade for People of African Descent.

The CARICOM region and The Bahamas are largely an African Diaspora.

During this decade, we have seen a man of African descent become the head of the most powerful country in the world.

Thousands of Bahamians and peoples across the Caribbean took pride in that example of his success. We wish well as he demits office.

There was a picture once of a little black boy in the Oval Office of the United States and the President is bending down and allowing the boy to touch the President’s hair. The little boy, it seems, wanted to be sure that someone like him, with hair like him was actually the President of the United States.

That is the background against which people of African descent endure, negatives all around.

Thousands of little black boys and girls in The Bahamas took their affirmations from the US President’s success. The shootings by police officers now in the public domain in the United States must not be allowed to damage that image of his country.

We think it is imperative for our closest neighbour to understand in this decade of people of African descent, it must do the right thing.

End of quote

I repeat that message because it is important for the United States to know the great moral importance we attach to their place in the world. That country must continue to be rooted in the moral high ground and not leave its decisions open to attack on the basis of parochial issues whether that be when citizens of this country seek to apply or to cross into their borders for legitimate travel or otherwise.

Our concern also extends to the public language of the debate in and around elections. Our children watch this stuff on TV and in recent weeks, the creed that there are some things that you say in public and a certain civility that you exhibit in public particularly as it relates to women has been turned on its head. Suddenly it is acceptable to use barroom language on a public stage. Our children have to know that no matter the currency of the moment that this is not right and acceptable. Particularly as it relates to expressions about women, one of whom is a candidate for elections in the United States.

The Bahamas has had to defend itself against spurious charges over the past year of abuse of political activists in the country and abuse of migrants by the state. These charges made by Bahamians to international agencies are false and those who perpetrate them are making a mockery of the international justice systems by crying wolf.

It is interesting that they in their rush to international justice systems, the domestic remedies have not been exhausted. This undermines their case where there is an apparent refusal to cooperate with local authorities in order to get to the bottom of what their allegations are. I am awaiting a final police report on these matters.

I am pleased to announce that The Bahamas is seeking election for membership on the Human Rights Council for the term 2019-2021. I ask for the support of all member states for The Bahamas to be elected to the council.

I also ask for your support for the re-election to the Councils of the International Maritime Organization in 2017

The Bahamas will also seek a seat on the Security Council in the year 2031.

At the United Nations, I went to some length to speak in defence of our financial services sector.

In this country and across the region, it is the view that the OECD is intent on destroying financial services as a sector in this country, even as the developed world itself adopts the same model of financial services in special enclaves within their own borders.

I said this:

Jack Lew, the Treasury Secretary of the United States, in a recent television interview talked about the value of starting a bank account and the value of saving and the connection to the involvement of ordinary people into the economy of his country. It was a telling message.

But throughout the Caribbean, where the tradition has been from the time a child is born to provide them a bank account as a gift at christening, it has become so difficult for a child, not to mention an adult to open a bank account, so much so, that many argue that it is a disincentive to joining the financial system.

Indeed not only is this a problem in the Caribbean but a British Minister told me about how one of the leading politicians in his country could not open an account for his 12 year old daughter because she is what is called a politically exposed person or PEP. That is obviously wrong.

The problem is overregulation imposed on countries by the OECD has led to negative unintended consequences.

Suddenly being a politician or in a politician’s family is to run the risk of being refused normal banking service around the world because the “risks” are too high. This is wrong.

I start there to bring home starkly what all CARICOM countries have described in this forum as the dangers of de-risking. What I described is a part of that whole cloth. Banks in the developed world, principally in the United States, are refusing to cash the cheques of some Caribbean banks because they say the risk of policing the CARICOM banks on the issue of compliance to the new rules is too high and the business which they get is too low. Thus the services have been stripped across the Caribbean.

This is the same Bahamas and Caribbean that tens of millions of people from the United States and Europe visit every year. The visitors expect that all the modern services will be available when they land to dip their toes in the water and sun themselves on the beach. These Caribbean territories described in their tourist brochures as paradises are being treated as if they are hell on earth by dint of these new financial rules, using pejorative expressions like tax havens, and imposing unfair rules and sanctions on these societies which may prevent valuable remittances to folks back home or prevent paying the school fees of Bahamian students abroad.

At the same time, as this destruction is being wrought, these same small countries are asked and lobbied to vote for this or that cause in the interest of developed countries, but what many of our leaders and peoples are asking is: where is the compensating give and take on this issue?

The Bahamas, indeed no CARICOM country, shields anyone involved in unlawful behaviour. No country.

All applicable agreements are adhered to and are complied with in connection with money laundering and the unlawful escape from taxes. The attacks on The Bahamas and the CARICOM region are inaccurate and unfair.

The recent attacks in the press about the Bahamas’ financial services sector are simply reprehensible and violations of international norms. We reject them.

Normally one does not seek to make a moral case in this forum. But there is a moral equivalence which is being argued by the developed countries. They argue that even though the laws exist on the protection of privacy and of private property without illegal seizure by the state, even though the countries in the region are independent and free to do as they wish, the fact of our countries are bankers for those seeking to take advantage of tax competition, is somehow immoral because it robs the developed world of legitimate revenue.

This is not true. The evidence is that the wealth accumulated offshore goes back to the developed countries and therefore these offshore sectors are of benefit to the developed world.

We would argue that another moral argument is that if the societies of the Caribbean collapse because of the over regulation, then the result of the destruction of millions of families would be the greater moral wrong.

If then you argue that it is immoral to evade your responsibility to pay taxes at home and we agree, then we also argue that you have a moral responsibility to understand that over regulation and changing the goalposts and not creating a level playing field in the financial services sector, and de-risking being part of that whole cloth, can bring about in their effects an immoral result. This problem must be solved by those who imposed the regulations. It is a moral imperative.

End of quote

Before I close, I recall a conversation just before this speech with the Ambassador for Finland about developements in Europe, in particular events with Russia as that country seeks to extend its footprint agressively across the world.

The European Union is one of our important development partners. So events in that area with Russia are important to us.

We intervened when the Prime Minister in a statement said that we hope the EU would stay together but of course British voters decided otherwise. So we move on.

Before closing then, I simply want to say that with regard to The Bahamas we are firmly in the Western camp, in the classical sense and understanding of that word, that is the West as led as it as been by the United States since the Second World War

Excellences all, I hope you enjoy your short stay with us and come to understand our country and our cause.

It is now my honour to invite our Prime Minister to address us. Please stand to welcome him.


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