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CARICOM leaders to discuss Commonwealth Secretary General controversy

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ST JOHN’S, Antigua, CMC – Caricom leaders are expected to meet later this week to discuss the controversy that has arisen after Jamaica announced that Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith will challenge the incumbent Baroness Patricia Scotland for the post of Commonwealth Secretary-General in June.

At the end of the March 1-2 Inter-sessional summit held in Belize, Caricom leaders issued a communique expressing “their overwhelming support for the re-election of Baroness Patricia Scotland as Secretary-General of The Commonwealth”.

Scotland was elected to the post at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta in 2015 and her re-election is scheduled to take place during the June 20-25 Commonwealth summit in Kigali, Rwanda.

Scotland is the second Secretary-General from the Caribbean and the first woman to hold the post.

But last Friday, it was announced that Johnson-Smith would be seeking to replace Scotland, with the Office of the Prime Minister Andrew Holness describing her as “eminently qualified for the post” and that she has “held several crucial leadership posts both regionally and internationally”.

Prime Minister of Antigua Gaston Browne has been critical of Jamaica’s decision, describing it as a “monumental error” has said he is hoping that “this matter will be resolved amicably.

“I know that there is a push now to have a meeting early this week and hopefully we can have a consensus and we can dissuade Jamaica from proceeding on this particular issue and for us to support Baroness Scotland.

“Baroness Scotland is a “Caribbeana”, and as a member of the family, I think we have a moral obligation to support her, to protect her and stand in solidarity with her, especially considering that there are entities and individuals outside of the region who are trying to emasculate her. We have to protect our own,” Browne said.

He said he had spoken with Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness on the issue, adding that “for Jamaica now to take that decision to break the (Caricom) consensus and to present Johnson-Smith as a candidate, I think it will only serve to divide Caricom.

“I think it is a very dangerous precedent because what will happen [is] you will have an abridged term and when the rotation comes sometime in the future I can see another region arguing that we don’t have the capacity to serve….”

He said during his discussions with Holness over the last weekend “ I told him I would have literally closed my eyes to support Jamaica.

“I know Kamina very well, I have no doubt she would have made a very good Commonwealth Secretary-General, but the point of it is that Antigua and Barbuda would not support Jamaica’s position.”

Browne said that for the last couple of years, Baroness Scotland has come under criticism from individuals in certain member states who have been hounding her. He stated that“they exaggerated stories about her and for some reason they are trying to bring her tenure to an end”.

Dominica has since called on the 54-member Commonwealth grouping to re-elect Scotland, saying that despite the challenges of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and climate change, she has “laid a solid foundation to look at solutions for our countries in the future”.

Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, in a letter to the Commonwealth governments, recalled that the Dominican-born Scotland, who was first appointed to the position in 2015, had a mandate “to reform the Commonwealth Secretariat and to advocate and to be a voice for those of our countries without a voice.

“In her first term she delivered on reform and on change; she delivered on partnerships and innovation for the benefit of our countries; she delivered on good offices and democracy. She successfully braved the challenges of the climate crisis and of the COVID-19 pandemic and has laid a solid foundation to look at solutions for our countries in the future,” Skerrit said in his March 23 letter, a copy of which has been obtained by the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).

A statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kenya on February 15, and made available to the CMC indicated that Kenya had withdrawn Juma for the position and was looking “forward to considering and supporting any suitable candidate that emerges during process and look forward to working towards strengthening our Commonwealth”.

Kenya said when it had nominated Juma for the position, it was driven by a “strong conviction of the urgent need to revitalise our Commonwealth.

“A change at the head of the Secretariat is necessary if the Commonwealth is to address urgent, emergent and future risks and threats and if it is to assume its rightful place among the community of nations where its voice can shape and drive the pursuit of sustainable development for all,” Kenya stated.

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