Why does the Caribbean have two candidates for Commonwealth Secretary General?
Baroness Patricia Scotland

The following is the first of a two-part series. Part two will be published on Monday, May 16.

There are numerous questions around the issue of candidature for Commonwealth Secretary General, and each is deserving of an answer. Before looking in greater depth at the candidates and the candidacy process, let us begin by looking at how Caricom treats with foreign policy.

The Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC) aspires towards co-ordination of foreign policy where possible, and we understand this to include candidatures for positions in external forums, such as the Commonwealth.

Notably, the treaty does not prescribe harmonisation of foreign policy as an obligation; instead, it provides for member states to establish measures to co-ordinate foreign policies as far as practicable, thereby recognising the sovereign right of each member state to make its own decisions.

Indeed, in the case of Commonwealth candidatures, we have the precedent of three countries — Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Trinidad and Tobago — initially putting forward candidates for the post of Secretary General in 2015. Ultimately, it was only a week before the convening of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November 2015, that one Caribbean candidate stood in the race against the candidate from Botswana.

It is on the strength of the leverage provided in the RTC, coupled with the conviction that its candidate has value to add to the leadership of the Commonwealth at this time, that Jamaica has put forward a candidate, even as the incumbent seeks to continue in office.

We can look shortly at some of the considerations that will most certainly have impacted the fact that not all Caricom states — nor other Commonwealth countries — supported a second term in office for the incumbent and why another Caribbean country has come forward at this time.

As it stands, we currently have a British peer, Baroness Patricia Scotland, born in Dominica, serving as Secretary General since April 2016. With the term of office of Secretaries General established on the basis of a four-year contract, Baroness Scotland’s tenure would have come to a natural end in 2020. It was anticipated that a decision on future leadership, including a possible second term for the Secretary General (permissible under the guiding principles), would be taken at the CHOGM scheduled for 2020, to be hosted by Rwanda. However, it was postponed as the advent of the novel coronavirus pandemic meant that a meeting was not feasible at that time.

This was clearly an unprecedented situation and naturally required consideration.

Senator Kamina Johnson Smith

Most certainly an early decision would have needed to be made about leadership in the interim, particularly given that the Secretariat is the driver of action mandated by Heads in the interest of their people. We note that the Heads agreed to a short-term extension of the tenure of the Secretary General in the hope that a meeting in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, would materialise in short order.

A “triumvirate” of strong supporters of Baroness Scotland within the Caribbean region then sought to lobby Commonwealth governments for her automatic reappointment for a second four-year term of office. We imagine, of course, that the process of decision-making regarding the approval of a second term for a Secretary General would have to be guided by certain performance criteria. In the interim, Caricom Heads continued discussion on the matter but never reached consensus on supporting Baroness Scotland, even though she remained the sole nominee at the time.

Sadly, relatively early in Baroness Scotland’s tenure, member states were privy to audit reports and staff complaints alleging multiple ill-conceived management decisions. We note that this gave rise to several influential member states withholding significant funding from the Commonwealth. Certainly, that status quo would not be in the long-term interest of the 54 member states of the Commonwealth. What decision would the Heads make, therefore, about renewing the contract of a Secretary General whose tenure has been dogged by allegations of impropriety?

Interestingly, we have learnt from letters from the Commonwealth chair-in-office Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson, that consultations among heads of State and government resulted in the rejection of the idea of an automatic second term for Baroness Scotland and deemed the matter of future leadership in a new term of office one that should be discussed in a face-to-face setting. But COVID-19 was still at a global peak and no precise date for the CHOGM appeared to be in sight.

In the face of these uncertainties, surely some action would be urgently needed to treat with a possible extended hiatus in leadership and the attendant impact on member states. Accordingly, Heads agreed to offer Baroness Scotland a further extension of her contract until such time as the next CHOGM could be convened in Kigali to decide on leadership for the next four years.

Again, through the chairman’s letters, which have been floating in media, it was confirmed that the Secretary General accepted that offer. Questions remain, however, regarding the decision for the extension of her tenure. Should countries have been invited to immediately put forward candidates for consideration, instead of continuing with a leader with whom a “diverse and significant” number of states were not fully comfortable? Those answers now remain in the realm of 20/20 vision.

Lloyd George Waller

Lloyd George Waller is the executive director of Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre

Lloyd George Waller

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