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NEWS | Sunday, 02 December 2007

Malta snubs Great Britain

Karl Schembri

The Maltese government has left Britain out in the cold on the diplomatic front in the wake of the secretive backdoor dealings it believes to have led in the last-minute shift of the vote to India in last week’s election of Commonwealth Secretary General.
Sources say the British High Commissioner, Nick Archer, is under pressure to restore relations with the country while trying to also get the government into distancing itself from MaltaToday’s reporting of a feeling of “betrayal” and “diplomatic backstabbing” carried last Sunday. At the same time, he remains steadfastly refusing to state whom his country lobbied for and backed in the election.
But Archer’s calls have remained unanswered both publicly and in private as top government officials have snubbed his pleas for explanations, also repeated on his blog earlier last week.
Sources close to the British diplomat added Archer even tried pressuring the Nationalist Party in this regard, something they said reminded them of the Libyan government’s confusion between government, party and free press when it had taken issue with this newspaper’s reporting, recently.
Writing on the high commission’s website, Archer said he could “hardly believe his eyes” at the reports carried by this newspaper. He also informed MaltaToday editor Saviour Balzan he was pulling out of an agreed interview that was to be broadcast on TVM on the daily programme, Reporter, in reaction to the reports.
“There have been some strange things written here about the British attitude to Michael Frendo’s Commonwealth candidacy,” he wrote. “ ‘Betrayal’? ‘Unashamed double-dealing’? I could hardly believe my eyes. This implies our reneging on some promise to Malta, or at least our giving different messages to different people. We made none and gave none … Somebody’s letting off steam.”
Speaking to MaltaToday Midweek last Wednesday, Archer said: “We cannot say for whom the UK voted; to do so would undermine the Commonwealth’s system for identifying new Secretaries General, so it goes far beyond us and you and India. Only Dr Frendo can explain his words, but clearly we did not declare for either country as Cyprus did for Malta.”
Yet in an interview with MaltaToday (see pages 12-13) Foreign Minister Michael Frendo expounded further on his disappointment at Britain’s disloyalty towards a fellow EU member.
“As a policy they never promise who they are going to vote for, but there was no clear support for our candidature,” he said. “It was unclear where the political side was. There was information in both directions.
“Cyprus on the other hand was a country that once we announced the candidature issued a public note-verbal saying that they support us. And more than that: they were given instructions to use all their embassies and high commissions, their foreign minister lobbied alongside me, and gave us their full support of the highest degree. We’re EU members like them… They have been true friends.”
Frendo also hinted that Britain acted to confuse the Commonwealth heads of government in his election through its manoeuvrings: “This election showed that if the larger states get together, then they will cloud the sun. And when the sun is clouded they might even cloud people’s thinking.”
He also rubbishes Archer’s claims that “there is a strong sense in the Commonwealth that the job should rotate region by region and between the more and less developed”, meaning that “it was ‘Asia’s turn’.”
“When would Malta’s turn be, then?” Frendo retorted. “If there’s rotation one assumes that one day we’ll get the post by default. When is that going to happen? I don’t believe that should be the issue. I think with the Commonwealth’s secretary general it should be about the candidates, who is the best person to run it, irrespective of where that person comes from. If the Commonwealth gets into that logic it loses much of its strength. If you had to turn to that logic then one might well argue it was the turn of the small island states, who have never made it to the post, and the Commonwealth has a great number of small island states. … If that’s how they want it to be then they should change the rules and call for candidates from a given region, but that would be a great loss.”
And about Archer’s comment a week before the election in Uganda that the Queen’s visit to Malta on her diamond anniversary was “a happy coincidence”, Frendo said: “I can’t understand if this was a problem of expression. I believe she came here because she had a special place in her heart for this country … Coming here on her diamond anniversary by coincidence? I don’t know what that means. What’s the coincidence?”

Sharma Sharma Chameleon
Meanwhile the Commonwealth’s choice for secretary general, Kamalesh Sharma, has already come under heavy attacks from his own compatriots even before he was elected, specifically from his former workplace in London.
An anonymous letter circulated to all heads of government through the Indian High Commission’s official envelopes in London describes him as a “useless, selfish diplomat” who climbed up the diplomatic ladder through “nepotism and favouritism”.
Well-known as Sonya Gandhi’s protégé, the ageing diplomat has already dodged questions about Pakistan on his first opportunity to speak as secretary general, clearly conditioned by his country’s history of wars with its neighbour.
Instead, he said he will “concentrate on the needs of small member states” – a useless proposition evidenced by his own voters, who opted for big India and big business.
India’s flirting with nuclear weapons and its crippling caste system that leaves a good part of its nationals in absolute poverty were clearly not enough to discourage any possibility of electing a Commonwealth head from the Asian continent.
Instead, Commonwealth heads of government have been allured by the country’s growing economic clout, and its hefty arms deals with Britain, whose spin-offs are anything but trickling down to the poor the same Commonwealth claims to help.
Describing India’s aggressiveness in its bid not to lose face again since the failure to secure the post of UN Secretary General last year with its candidate Shashi Tharoor, Michael Frendo said the Asians stormed Uganda “with a jumbo jet” to change the vote that was evidently tipping in Malta’s favour.
Just like his prime minister, Manmohan Singh, Sharma is “convinced that the 21st Century will be an Indian Century”.

kschembri@mediatoday.com.mt

 



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