Jamaica’s Mr. Vaz needs a lesson

We are happy that Prime Minister
Bruce Golding has now clarified Jamaica’s position on the future of its relief
effort in earthquake-ravaged Haiti after the seeming game of baiting and brinksmanship
that was being played last week by his information minister, Mr. Daryl Vaz. Our
soldiers and doctors will be there at least until March 15.

Whatever else happens, this country
can be justly proud of its efforts in the aftermath of last month’s disaster
that killed an estimated 200,000 people and injured tens of thousands more,
primarily in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince..

But then last week, there was this
series of public pronouncements by Minister Vaz of Jamaica’s intention to pull
its soldiers out of Haiti and drastically scale down, if not end, its relief
effort because the treasury could no longer manage the J$774,000 a day it cost
to maintain the mission. Mr. Vaz left no doubt that Jamaica’s real and
over-riding concern was that its CARICOM partners were freeloading by leaving
the entire burden of what was meant to be a CARICOM operation entirely to
Kingston.

To be frank, the substance and tone
of Mr Vaz’s remarks appeared vulgar and crass, lacking an appreciation of
statecraft and seemingly intended to publicly shame or strong-arm CARICOM to
pay its way. Indeed, it was embarrassing when on one radio-discussion programme
the information minister all but scoffed at the potential impact of $10 million
that the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency had transferred to
its Jamaican counterpart to help finance the Haiti relief effort.

This newspaper, of course, is very
aware of Jamaica’s economic circumstance and the limitations this places on its
ability to finance humanitarian projects such as being undertaken in Haiti. But
one’s good deeds for a neighbour in need are not expected to be paraded as
receipts for mandatory reimbursements.

Nor do we expect the creation of
unnecessary tension or such public and brassy display of intra-regional
diplomacy.

Mr. Golding, though he did not say
so directly, made it clear that Mr. Vaz was not operating on his instructions
with his unnecessarily aggressive statements.

The PM has made it clear that there
was no prior commitment for CARICOM to finance Haiti’s mission and “neither
were there any demands on the part of the Jamaican government for CARICOM to do
that”.

Of course, Jamaica alone should not
bear the burden of the region’s response to the Haitian crisis, assuming that
no other CARICOM state had relief mission in Port-au-Prince and the entire
effort fell under Kingston’s umbrella. But as we have argued before, CARICOM
has a wider responsibility in helping to guide Haiti’s recovery, in which
Jamaica offered to take a key role. Mr. Golding needs to instruct Mr. Vaz about
this mechanism.

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