ROMSEY’S MP has defended her much-criticised decision to join a cross-party parliamentary delegation to the west African country of Equatorial Guinea.
Mrs Caroline Nokes joined fellow MPs Nadine Dorries and Steve Baker on the trip funded by the Triarius Foundation, which weeks later produced a report claiming human rights violations in the country were “trivial”.
This contradicted a recent Amnesty International report which claimed press freedom on the country was severely restricted and that police and soldiers regularly tortured and ill-treated detainees.
Labour MPs have criticised the Conservative trio for not finding more out about the Equatorial Guinea government before travelling to the country in August.
Labour MP Paul Flynn told the Daily Telegraph: “Five minutes of research should have informed these MPs that this was not a regime with which our parliamentarians should be associating with.
“One would have thought that recent events in Libya would remind MPs that cosying up to corrupt dictators is unwise.”
However, Mrs Nokes says the trip had the support of officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Mrs Nokes said: “I specifically asked if the delegation had the support of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The MP said she was aware “the appalling reputation” of Equatorial Guinea but said that the last report on the country’s human rights record was several years old and possibly out of date.
Mrs Nokes added: “The Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated that any updated information that we could provide would be welcome and would assist the Government in shaping policy towards a county that has appalling human rights records, but is not of significant commercial interest to the UK. “ The MP pointed out that after being given guarantees about her freedom of movement and being given details of meeting and assurances by the trip’s organisers that a balanced report would be published, she agreed to join the delegation.
Mrs Nokes also pointed out that she had a long-standing interest in international development and regularly speaks on the issue.
The £25,000 trip which was funded through the Triarius Foundation via Equatorial Guinea’s government and while in the country the delegation stayed at the five-star Sofitel Hotel at Sipopo which has an 18-hole golf course.
The delegation had meetings with government ministers including Prime Minister Ignacio Milam Tang, and they visited several hospitals.
The trip has been described as junket by the national press but Mrs Nokes, commented: “In light of the relatively short visit, the busy field trips, hectic rounds of meetings and the mosquitoes, I will leave it to others to consider if recent media reports of the trip are accurate.
“However, I would say that in light of the predicted protest against anyone who dares set foot in the country, that those who decided to go showed considerable resilience and courage in deciding to independently examine the country and form our own opinions without fear of either the Equatorial Guinea (EG) regime or a hostile press. I would hope that those who wish to know more about my involvement in the delegation will not criticise without first establishing the facts and read a of copy of the report.”
The MPs’ report, entitled “For the Children Who Wash in Rivers” has been filed in the House of Commons library.
The MPs acknowledged the country has an undeniable appalling global reputation based on the president’s reputation as a cannibal.
Looking at governance, the reports states that the EG government exists to increase the personal wealth and political power of the ruling class at the expense of the wider population.
Public hospitals were “shocking” says the report, which also says the MPs were not allowed to look at schools or question teachers during their visit but were given the opportunity to meet a number of key influencers including the education minister and the minister for labour.
The MPs agreed that if EG is to become a member of the Community of Nations, the ruling family has to relinquish its hold on power and accept the premise of free and fair elections.
They add in the report that healthcare needs to become a priority and the EG government needs to buy in expertise and establish a robust healthcare service as an investment for the future.
Foreign journalists should be given entry visas and freed to travel in the country, states the report. The MPs suggest that EG could be a land of milk and honey for all inhabitants if the country’s leadership relinquishes power and shares the nation’s wealth.