Trinidadian and Chinese officials walk during the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Trinidad recently.
Trinidadian and Chinese officials walk during the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Trinidad recently.

PORT OF SPAIN — Embarrassing!

This was the reaction yesterday of former diplomat and head of the Public Service Reginald Dumas to what he described as “particularly glaring protocol lapses” which occurred during the three-day visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan.

“We have been making a lot of protocol lapses and I am confident that a lot of them are totally avoidable,” Dumas said.

He added that he was embarrassed as a citizen and as someone who has served Trinidad and Tobago at home and abroad for decades.

“I don’t like to see these kinds of things because it damages the image of the country.”

Dumas said he had noticed a number of protocol lapses within recent times which are rather worrying. But with the Chinese President, he said, even persons who are not normally familiar with all the details of protocol noticed that things were so glaringly wrong.

He said he got e-mails on the matter.

“You had the Chinese President arriving in rain. I would have thought there would have been some kind of canopy over the red carpet… There was none. I was also surprised to see the President (Xi) himself holding an umbrella over his head and that of his wife’s head. I have never seen this before. Where were our (protocol) people?” Dumas asked.

He said two protocol persons should have gone on board the aircraft with umbrellas, one for the Chinese head of state and another for the first lady.

Noticeable blunder

Dumas said people also noticed the Chinese President walking not with our President, but with the prime minister slightly behind him and the President of Trinidad and Tobago Anthony Carmona “somewhere in the back”.

“What’s going on? What is this?” he asked.

Noting that the contract of Lenore Dorset (a former chief of protocol who had been employed by the President’s Office) was not renewed, he wondered aloud who was the protocol person now advising the president.

“Is there one (such person)?”

He said that protocol person, in liaison with the embassy or high commission of the country from which the visiting dignitary is coming, along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, would normally plan the protocol aspects of the visit.

Detailed planning

“And those persons sit down and plan that (the protocol aspect) down to the very last detail – at what time the arrival is, at which time the president and first lady come down the steps of the aircraft and so on.”

Dumas said his understanding is that there is no protocol officer currently attached to the Office of the President.

He also pointed to the fact that at the media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre in St. Ann’s on Saturday, President Xi was called upon to speak first before the Prime Minister (who gave her address after him).

“Who advised Andy Johnson (of Government Information Services)? Andy is not a protocol expert. Was there the meeting of minds with the president’s office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the embassy of China? I don’t know. Because all of this should have been worked out in great detail … and written down.

“Clearly Johnson was not so advised because he promptly calls on the president of China (to speak before the prime minister), much to the president’s consternation.

“How can the guest speak before the host?” Dumas asked.

Johnson apologised for the protocol breach, taking full personal ownership for the error and saying that to err was human and to forgive was divine. (Express)

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