Mon | May 27, 2024

Editorial | Hussen must apologise

Published:Wednesday | April 17, 2024 | 6:30 AM
Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s Minister for International Development

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, has a carefully curated image as a progressive leader of a rich nation in tune with the issues facing the Global South, and eschewing the arrogance with which powerful countries often conduct their relationships with poor ones.

If this is indeed a clear, morally grounded stance of Mr Trudeau and his government, rather than a tinsel display posture, then he must instruct his minister for international development, Ahmed Hussen, to promptly apologise to the prime minister of St Kitts and Nevis, Terrance Drew, the collective leadership of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), and the Caribbean people for his clunking, supercilious handling of Dr Drew’s questions over the Gene Leon affair at the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).

Mr Hussen did not deign to respond directly to Dr Drew. Instead, he did so through a third party – a law firm in America that works for the CDB.

And, essentially, the law firm, Arnold and Porter, declared the issue not the business of the OECS and that Dr Drew should keep his mouth shut on the matter. Essentially!

Canada, of course, has standing in the CDB. It is a founding member of the bank and, with its 9.31 per cent stake, is the CDB’s single largest non-borrowing shareholder, who collectively owns 44.74 per cent.

Mr Hussen is the current chairman of the bank’s board of governors – the ministers who form its top policymaking council. They generally meet annually.

There is another way in which Canada has a long and presumed special relationship with the English-speaking Caribbean. Like the anglophone countries of this region, Canada has maintained a Westminster-style parliamentary system. At times in the past, these political structures and relationships have been used by Canada to define its separateness from its powerful neighbour to the south, the United States.

SIGNIFICANT FAMILIAL TRADITION

Mr Trudeau himself, as the leader of a Liberal government and son of Pierre Trudeau, stands on a significant familial tradition regarding the posture he appeared to have adopted towards the Global South in general, and this region in particular, of which Jamaica has been a beneficiary. Such as when his father, a former prime minister, intervened to ensure Jamaica received a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on terms less draconian than the IMF preferred.

Additionally, the elder Mr Trudeau was among Venezuela’s Carlos Andres Perez, Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo, Germany’s Helmut Schmidt, Australia’s Malcolm Fraser and Norway’s Odvar Nordli for the 1978 North-South summit at Discovery Bay, hosted by Jamaica’s then Prime Minister Michael Manley, to discuss some of the issues that are again on the agenda for the Global South. Justin Trudeau was there, too, as a wee tot in short pants – as photographs from the period show – holding his father’s hand.

This brings us back to the current matter of Mr Hussen’s behaviour.

In January, Dr Leon, the CDB’s president, was sent on leave, reportedly by the oversight and assurance committee (OAC) of the board of directors, while an investigation was conducted into matters regarding the performance of his job.

The specifics of the allegations against Dr Leon have not been made public and are not the immediate concern of this newspaper. What, though, is, is the short shrift Dr Drew received in seeking procedural clarity on behalf of his fellow OECS prime ministers on what has been a highly controversial development. He also wanted Mr Hussen to convene a meeting of the bank’s governors on the matter.

There is an important point worth repeating: the governors are the top policymaking body of the CDB. The board of directors is made up of technocrats, who provide operational oversight on the work of the bank. The OAC, Dr Drew argued, is merely an advisory body to the board of directors, and therefore without authority to take action against Dr Leon.

All of these issues may well be in dispute. Ultimately, Dr Drew’s argument might, in the end, be proven to be without merit.

DECENCY, GOOD MANNERS AND RESPECT

The matter on which he will not be proven wrong is the rude and discourteous manner with which a Canadian minister handled a group of regional prime ministers. The OECS is an 11-member group, of which seven are ‘protocol’, meaning that they are part of its deepened economic integration arrangements, including the free movement of labour.

In response to the letter from Dr Drew and the other OECS shareholder leaders, some of whom also sit on the CBD’s board of governors, David J. Reis of Arnold & Porter insisted that it was in compliance with the bank’s rules.

Then he provided this kicker: “This is an internal bank matter and is not within the jurisdiction of the OECS Commission. Therefore, to maintain the integrity and confidentiality of the investigation, we recommend that you cease from commenting on this matter publicly and from contacting the board of governors regarding the investigation.”

Decency and good manners and respect for the notion of equality in sovereignty, to which Canada presumes to subscribe, ought to have inclined Mr Hussen to, in the first instance, respond directly to Dr Drew - and not in the haughty tone of Mr Reis.