Remarks by His Excellency Cornelius A. Smith,
Ambassador of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas to the United States
on the occasion of the Regular Meeting of the Rotary Club of Freeport
27 November 2008
Madam President, Rotarians, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am indeed pleased to offer remarks to a civil society organization which has long been lauded as the essence of humanitarian service. Your creed “Service Above Self” is more than evident by the many worthwhile community programmes which you have spearheaded over the many years since your inception in our country the Bahamian people are indeed grateful and shall remain forever in your debt.
it is ironic that it was during the Great Depression in times similar to what we are facing today that Rotarian and entrepreneur Hubert Taylor established the Four Way Test as your guiding principle.
It is also ironic that many aspects of my role as Ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas to the United States and permanent representative to the Organization of American States (OAS) mirrors the philosophy of your great organization particularly, the concept of “the advancement of international understanding, goodwill and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service.”
I have crafted my remarks to offer some insights into (a) the changing role of the Embassy of The Bahamas in a global environment and (b) the relationship between the work of the Embassies abroad and our domestic actions at home.
The Role of the Embassy of The Bahamas
In all my years of public life I have held firmly to the belief that as holders of public office, we have a responsibility to the citizens we serve, not only to protect and represent their interests abroad but also to keep them informed of the functions of the office and the efforts being taken on their behalf. Therefore, this opportunity today is both timely and eventful.
The purpose of formalizing diplomatic relations which in most cases lead to the establishment of embassies is appropriately expressed in article 3 of the Vienna convention, notably item (e) which states “Promoting friendly relations between the sending state (in our case The Bahamas) and the receiving state (in this case, the United States of America), and developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations.”
The establishment of an embassy formalizes the relationships between countries and allows direct channels of communication and cooperation between governments. Embassies (High Commissions for Commonwealth countries) seek to also protect the interests of the sending state and that of its nationals. Further in promoting friendly ties effort is made for the development of economic, cultural and scientific relations.
Following upon independence in 1973 The Bahamas established and maintains 4 Embassies (the United States of America, China, Haiti and Cuba), 2 High Commissions (United Kingdom, Canada), 2 Consulates General (Miami, New York, and soon to be opened a third in Atlanta) , and a permanent mission to the United Nations in New York.
The Embassy in Washington has a dual function of bilateral relations with the United States and multilateral relations with the Organization of American States which is a hemispheric body comprising of 34 member States. In January of this year I assumed the rotating 3 month chairmanship of the Permanent Council which consists of representatives at the level of Ambassadors.
The Ambassador to the United States in Washington has the delegated authority to act directly on behalf of the Head of State.
From a day to day operational perspective, the ambassador attends to matters of official representation, communications and interactions with senior U.S. officials; including senators, congresspersons, state secretaries, elected officials, heads of international organizations and other ambassadors with a view to providing a political and economic perspective on matters of interest to The Bahamas.
The diplomatic staff provides the technical expertise and guidance and from time to time may be engaged in meetings, workshops, and representational events to gather information for policy formulation on matters on which the government deemed important. This interaction with other government representatives results in the establishment of strong networks aimed at promoting the country’s interest.
The consular function includes the issuance of visas to non-Bahamians wishing to travel to The Bahamas; the issuance and renewal of passports and travel documents to Bahamian citizens requiring same; and the interaction with and processing of request and complaints from Bahamian nationals detained or incarcerated in the United States of America. They also provide assistance to Bahamians who find themselves in distress while in the United States.
Since assuming office I have had the opportunity to address a litany of consular issues. In fact just a few weeks ago I had the occasion to visit a number of Bahamian citizens many from Grand Bahama who are incarcerated in Georgia. I must confess that these visits are both humbling and heartbreaking to me but, I find that they are uplifting to the prisoners to know that their government cares and despite their circumstances, the Embassy is there to ensure that their interests and rights are protected and that their loved ones at home are informed of their circumstances through the appropriate channels.
As the permanent mission to the Organization of American States (OAS), The Bahamas participates at the ministerial level in the general assembly which meets once a year to discuss issues of critical importance to the region.
During my tenure as chair earlier this year i was charged with the responsibility of mediating an incident which teetered on the verge of a possible military conflict between Columbia and Ecuador these events brought me to the jungles of Columbia and Ecuador to address matters unfamiliar to our stable and non violent democracy.
It is through this body that we cooperate with other member states on issues of great significance to the hemisphere including drug interdiction and prevention, crime and violence, the illicit traffic in small arms and light weapons disaster preparedness and other security concerns.
Greater focus are being placed on investment promotion, outreach to our Diaspora (Bahamians studying abroad, professionals living abroad, etc.) and the strengthening our bilateral and multilateral relations.
The change in administration as a result of the election of President Elect Obama will mean that we will have to redouble our efforts in engaging and sensitizing the new administrative team of the long history of friendly relations and common interests that our two countries share.
We must continue to engage the U.S. policy makers in the White House, on Capital Hill, in the boardrooms, in the corridors or in the ballrooms to make certain that because of the strength of our democracy, our laws, the relevance of our conventions and the long standing good neighbour relationship that we enjoy with the United States, we should not be comingled with jurisdictions that violate the laws of the United States or threaten their well-being.
For instance, it will likely be sound diplomatic and economic relations that will influence our ability to successfully address the proposed “Stop tax haven abuse bill.” As you would recall, through similar efforts, The Bahamas was able to repel the advances of the OECD black listing.
Recent undertakings of the Embassy
The Embassy also has as one of its responsibilities that of promoting The Bahamas’ cultural heritage. This is facilitated by our participation in the D.C. Carnival and the Norfolk Virginia Cultural Weekend. Bahamians who reside in the Tri-State area come together to parade along with Bahamians from home and other Caribbean areas. Funding for these events is received through the hard work of members of the Bahamas Junkanoo Association in Washington and from private donations.
The Embassy is presently seeking to become better equipped in reaching its nationals and facilitating the access of information to Bahamians. In this vein an official embassy website is being established to provide easy access on procedures for visas and passports. These enhancements and innovations will allow the embassy to remain relevant, informed and more able to respond to the needs of our citizens abroad.
The Embassy in Washington, D.C. is aptly named “Bahama House.” The Embassy is your house. I invite you to your home away from home and I encourage you to adopt, as a practice, when travelling abroad, to always contact your nearest Embassy or consulate to notify them of your presence. Please do not wait until you are in distress to do so also, encourage your relatives and friends living abroad to register with the embassy so that we may have a point of contact in case of emergencies or so that we can involve them in our activities.
Having offered some insight into the Embassy, I would like to bring focus to the challenges that we are now facing here at home.
History will record 2008 as the year of great challenges. We saw the worldwide meltdown of the stock markets and the implosion of global financial markets. We saw rising energy prices, the bottom fall-out of the housing industry and declines in the productive sectors of global economies. The impact of these collective events has been significantly amplified, from the U.S., which served as the epicenter to The Bahamas as they say, when the U.S. sneezes, The Bahamas catches pneumonia.
Although these are some of the toughest of economic times in recent history, these are also times that create incredible opportunities. it was Charles Dickens in the opening lines of “a tale of two cities” who penned these words” it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” These words aptly describe our current situation.
For thousands of Bahamians who, in the last three months sat helplessly as their jobs evaporated, their homes placed in the for sale page by the mortgagor, sales volume in their businesses dropped to the point where they had to close the door, their life savings eroded with little help or hope on the horizon these are the worst of times. But for those of us, who keep their wits about them, take corrective actions and spend the time to explore the tremendous opportunities and possibilities that times such as these deserve, these are the best of times.
What steps can we take to mitigate these circumstances as we seek out the opportunities firstly we must recognize that “hurricane financial meltdown” is upon us and we must batten down the hatches. As individuals, families or government, there are serious consequences to pay if we continue to spend more than we earn.
In the face of bank failures in the U.S., which are being attributed to the absence of industry regulation, we in The Bahamas have the opportunity to tell the world that our democracy, judiciary and financial systems are stable and our regulations are formidable.
In the face of down turn in tourist arrivals we in The Bahamas can invite the world to a rebranded warm weather destination which is close to their shores and represents an affordable visit. The recent announcement by the ministry of tourism which arranged for a predictable low air fare from several major us cities to The Bahamas is the kind of proactive approach which will help to put more heads in our hotel beds.
Our hotel managers must take advantage of this lull in business to train and retrain their staff to ensure that we are all well trained to provide world class service both now and when the boom comes again as it will.
Our transportation professionals must find ways to solve their differences around the table rather than on the streets in front of our guests.
In the face of fears of wealth protection we in The Bahamas can roll-out and promote our varied secure wealth management products and our cadre of industry professionals.
The competitive advantages which we in Grand Bahama have, our strategic location, our cadre of trained professionals, our skilled workforce, our unmatched tax advantages guaranteed under the hawksbill creek agreement , our stable democracy, our independent judiciary, should not be kept as our little secret which we whisper from one ear to the next. We must shout about it and we must promote it.
It is time for the decision makers in the pink building to grasp the opportunity and together with the Government of The Bahamas, the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce, the Freeport Council and all stake holders form and adequately fund a meaningful public private partnership with the sole purpose of promoting Grand Bahama as the ideal destination to locate businesses or to build second homes.
Undoubtedly, this yuletide season will be a difficult time for all of us. The challenges are many, but I believe that our people are resilient and with the help of organizations like the rotary club I am assured of the strength of our civil society support system.
To extract two profound sentiments which i trust will resonate from Washington, D.C. to The Bahamas these are difficult times “This IS our defining moment,” but will we overcome, “Yes we can”, and yes we will and yes we can overcome these challenges – together.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I thank you.
Watch a Streaming VIdeo Interview by The Bahamas Weekly with Ambassador Smith from April 2008: