Election for Commonwealth Secretary General only if ‘consensus’ not reached at Rwanda summit
Kamina Johnson Smith (left) and Dame Patricia Scotland

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) – Commonwealth leaders, including those from the Caribbean Community (Caricom) will only vote for a new secretary general to replace the incumbent, Dame Patricia Scotland, if they fail to reach consensus on the matter during their summit in Rwanda next month.

A Commonwealth spokesperson told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) on Friday that “as is the custom” the consensus vote will be taken during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

“As is set out in the agreements that govern the Commonwealth and in line with precedent, a decision on the reappointment of the incumbent Secretary-General for a second term will be taken by Heads of Government at CHOGM, in Kigali, by consensus as is the custom.

Earlier this week, Belize Prime Minister, John Briceno, who is also the chairman of the 15-member regional integration grouping, said that Caricom leaders will vote for “ a candidate of their choice” when Commonwealth leaders meet for the June 20-25 CHOGM in Rwanda

Jamaica had apparently scuttled any attempt by Caricom to have a consensus candidate for the position with Kingston defending the decision to nominate its Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister, Kamina Johnson Smith for the post.

In April, the Caribbean leaders had issued a statement indicating that they were still divided in their support for the two candidates – Scotland and Johnson Smith – for the position agreeing instead to appoint a sub-committee to delve further into the matter.

Caricom did not announce a date as to when the regional sub-committee of leaders would meet with the two Caribbean candidates for the post

Scotland was elected to the post at the CHOGM in Malta in 2015 becoming the second Secretary-General from the Caribbean and the first woman to hold the post.

Scotland has already said that if re-appointed she would only seek to stay in position for two years, a reference to the fact that she would have been be in office for a total of eight years.

This would allow Africa to take up their position in the rotation system and appoint a Secretary- General from within Africa and in line with precedent in two years time.

The Commonwealth spokesperson told CMC that Scotland was appointed by CHOGM leaders in 2015 for a four-year term, “renewable for one additional four-year term, taking office in April 2016.

“Following the postponement of the CHOGM in 2020 and again in 2021, due to the impact of COVID-19, the first term of the Secretary-General was extended for two years and the re-appointment of the Secretary-General was postponed until Heads had a chance to meet at a CHOGM. Heads have confirmed that they will meet in Kigali in June 2022,” the spokesperson told CMC.

Last month, Dominica, which has nominated Scotland for a second term, said it remains “very confident” that she would be re-elected “and at the end of the day countries have to vote and we know how elections run.

“We are very confident that she can go through but we would not want to have any divisive, contentious elections. If you go into this divisive approach whoever becomes victorious will have a difficulty in properly functioning in that office,” Skerrit said, adding “we are not at war with Jamaica, we are not at odds with Jamaica,” Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit added.

But Jamaica said it was necessary to point out that the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the regional integration movement “aspires towards co-ordination of foreign policy, including candidatures for positions in external forums, as far as practicable.

“It does not mandate harmonisation and acknowledges therefore, the sovereign decisions of member states. Jamaica’s decision was made not only within the latitude in the CARICOM treaty, but more importantly, by virtue of its conviction that the leadership being offered would be in the interest of the Commonwealth”.

Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne had regarded Johnson Smith’s entry into the race as “monumental error”.

“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,” Browne had told CMC.

Meanwhile, a regional political observer has told CMC that Caribbean countries should take note of the message posted by Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, that the United Kingdom will “support” Johnson Smith for the position of Commonwealth Secretary General.

“She has vast experience and support to unite our unique family of nations and seize the opportunities ahead,” the British prime minister said in a message posted on social media.

The Jamaica Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister in welcoming the “UK’s endorsement” said he vision “is for our family of nations to deliver meaningfully for all members in a rapidly evolving world.

“I am heartened to see the UK government join us on this journey toward shared peace and prosperity for all our peoples,” she added.

But the political observer told CMC “it is the established duty of the UK as Chair in office to maintain neutrality.

“I is hugely disappointing that they have chosen to misuse their position to back a candidate publicly. It goes against the values, processes and customs of the Commonwealth that they are supposed to uphold and further sours their already questionable behaviour towards the current Secretary general,” the observer noted.

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