Division among CARICOM Heads over nominations for Commonwealth secretary-general
By Ronda Luke
A diplomatic chess game, which started two years ago to oust Dominican-born Baroness Patricia Scotland as Commonwealth secretary-general, is now playing out in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) following Jamaica's decision to nominate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson-Smith for the post.
Jamaica's move sparked controversy and caused division among several CARICOM countries as just last month, CARICOM leaders had issued a communique in which they expressed their "overwhelming support" for the re-election of Scotland for the position.
Scotland, who was elected at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta in 2015 and whose extended first term will end in June, has been mired in controversy over her governance of the Commonwealth Secretariat.
Scotland's reign was marred by allegations
The reign of Dominica-born, who is the second Secretary-General from the Caribbean and the first woman to hold the post, has been marred by allegations of corruption and cronyism at the London headquarters of the organisation, whose 54 nations have a combined population of 2.4 billion. She has denied the allegations.
Scotland has been the centre of controversy since it was reported in 2016 that she had spent thousands of pounds on refurbishing the London house that came with the job. She has, however, denied extravagant spending on the house.
In 2020 she was criticised by internal auditors for awarding a lucrative consultancy contract to a company run by a personal friend. Scotland was accused of "circumventing" the usual competitive tendering rules, but her lawyers insisted she complied with procurement procedures.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness told Jamaica's Parliament last Tuesday that their candidate was an "alternative in response to persisting issues" and said that Jamaica was approached to enter the race.
In a previous statement, the office of the Prime Minister in Jamaica described Johnson-Smith as "eminently qualified for the post" and that she has "held several crucial leadership posts both regionally and internationally."
"Her qualifications for the post of Secretary-General, including her high moral character, diplomatic and political acumen, proven competence, and commitment to the work of the Commonwealth make her an excellent candidate," the statement continued.
It further noted that she will bring a wealth of experience to the position, as she is committed to international public service, with special regard for sustainable development, gender and the interests of small states, "which will contribute significantly to the work of the Organisation towards 2.5 billion citizens of the Commonwealth." Gaston Brown: Jamaica's nomination is "a monumental error"
But Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne, the first CARICOM leader to respond to the nomination, labelled it a "monumental error".
He cautioned that the decision to "break the CARICOM consensus" and present Kamina Johnson-Smith as a candidate, "will only serve to divide CARICOM".
Browne said it now appears that having failed to get the separate regions of Africa, Asia and the Pacific to successfully field a candidate; "those who seek to divide and rule, are encouraging Jamaica to present a candidate in opposition to the current Secretary-General, who is serving on a CARICOM rotation.
"I would have argued previously that the manoeuvrings to replace Baroness Scotland risk dividing the commonwealth; we now risk dividing CARICOM," Browne said, adding that Baroness Scotland's performance as Secretary-General is comparable to many of her predecessors; yet, she is being hounded out of office.
"Those who are hounding Baroness Scotland out of office have now skilfully engineered a plan to divide CARICOM and to stain the performance of the region," he declared. "We must not fall prey to these Machiavellian tactics. Despite the pledges of support, there is some level of naivety for Jamaica to believe that the success of its candidature will be assured."
Dominica's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has not yet commented on the Jamaica position but in a letter dated March 23, 2022, Skerrit called on the 54-member Commonwealth grouping to re-elect Scotland, saying that despite the challenges of the novel coronavirus pandemic and climate change, she has "laid a solid foundation to look at solutions for our countries in the future".
Remaining divided on their support for the two candidates, CARICOM has agreed instead to appoint a sub-committee to meet with two women at an undisclosed date and time to delve further into the matter.
Antigua and Barbuda is not included in the sub-committee, with representatives from the Bahamas, Belize, Dominica, Guyana, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Jamaica.
It is hoped that following that meeting, CARICOM will decide on a single nominee.
A decision on the appointment of a Secretary-General is to be made during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to take place from June 20 to 25 this year in Kigali, Rwanda.
Last year Kenya announced that it was nominating its defence minister, Monica Juma, for the post but withdrew the nomination on the basis that while it wanted a change in the leadership of the Commonwealth it did not want to split the grouping.
However new reports have emerged that the country may be putting forward another candidate.