Trinidad Foreign and CARICOM Affairs Minister Dr. Amery Browne on Saturday said he would seek to achieve “a resolution in the shortest possible time” after the Indian High Commissioner to the country, Arun Kumar Sahu, was quoted in the local media as saying that he had been “personally attack(ed)” by statements made by Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley.
Sahu was responding to statements made by Prime Minister Rowley during his Thursday night “Conversation with the Prime Minister” programme regarding the availability of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines that India is reported to have made available to several Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries as a gift to deal with the deadly virus.
Rowley told the programme that was carried live on radio and television, that he had been informed by the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat that the Indian High Commissioner in Guyana was reported in the Guyanese media as saying that the vaccines would be made available to the region and that Guyana, Antigua, St Kitts and Nevis, the countries to which that High Commissioner was accredited, would receive donations.
Rowley, who also chairs the 15-member regional integration grouping, said that the CARICOM Secretariat informed him that the arrangements were bilateral and that “each High Commissioner would be responsible to the countries to which he or she is accredited.
“We have an ambassador here in Trinidad, if you are required, as happened in Guyana and the other small islands to know about this, then we should know about it here and there is a pathway.”
Rowley said the first time he heard about the vaccine was from local doctors whom Sahu had spoken to, adding that the diplomat “did not speak to the Government about it”.
Rowley said it was also being said that Trinidad and Tobago did not access those vaccines because of where it was being made, telling the programme “all of a sudden it’s not that small countries being left out of the market and availability but it became an issue of race.”
The main opposition United National Congress (UNC) has been accusing the government of being tardy in its response to acquiring vaccines from India, but Rowley insisted that Trinidad and Tobago will acquire vaccines under the COVAX facility which is being administered by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO).
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has accused the government of not positioning the island to receive some of the vaccines sent by India. The government later rebuked Persad Bissessar after she wrote to the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Damodardas Modi, on behalf of Trinidad and Tobago requesting vaccines.
“When you go to somebody asking for a gift, you’re begging. I have been accused of not moving to get Trinidad and Tobago’s share of some 500,000 vaccines from the Government of India. A lot of people in this country either, by ancestry or by political persuasion, have taken it upon themselves to be mouthpieces for the government of India. (They’re saying) 500,000 vaccines available and Trinidad and Tobago was not moving to get it, and accusing us of all manner of evil,” Rowley said.
Browne told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that he has noted quotes in several local newspapers attributed to Sahu “which express public criticism of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.
‘There are also published claims attributed to His Excellency the High Commissioner which referenced a view that the Prime Minister had engaged in “personal attacks” against him, however, there was no evidence in the articles of any such attacks’”.
Browne said that “it is in the interest of both nations to prevent any such tensions from growing,” adding “dialogue and diplomacy are the tools of our trade.
‘They offer the potential to bring us closer together even than before, and have been successfully deployed to resolve differences far greater than the ones that currently confront us”.
The Foreign Minister said he has always “maintained good communication” with Sahu and up to last Friday “reached out and made multiple attempts to engage in further dialogue to help resolve the situation.
“I have since taken additional measures toward a dialogue with the objective of achieving a resolution in the shortest possible time,” Browne added.
Trinidad and Tobago has recorded 140 deaths from the virus and more than 7,000 infections and Rowley warned that the country cannot afford a second lockdown as there will be no money available to fund it.