CARICOM washes hands on Commonwealth race

Patricia Scotland
Secretary-general of the Commonwealth, Baroness Patricia Scotland.
Associated Press/Alessandra Tarantino/File

Days after incumbent Commonwealth Secretary General, Baroness Patricia Scotland had asked the Jamaican government to withdraw its rival nominee for the group’s top position, the 15-nation Caribbean Community has said that its member nations are free to support any of the candidates as it bowed out as a referee in the case.

Dominica-born Scotland is seeking a second term as executive head of the 53-nation group of former British colonies, but instead of the region rallying around her as its single candidate, Jamaica jumped into the race by nominating Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kamina Johnson-Smith as Scotland’s rival.

Jamaica’s largely unanticipated move has caused consternation in the bloc with several leaders suggesting that a single candidate from the region is the preferred way as in-family rivalry could make way for a third candidate from outside the region. This has not happened so far as Kenya has abandoned plans to nominate one of its own to run for the position.

Late on Tuesday, CARICOM Chairman and Belizean Prime Minister, John Briceno made it clear that heads of government had proverbially washed their hands on the issue as it appears that consensus on a single candidate was not forthcoming. This is in the wake of a statement from Johnson-Smith in the week that Jamaica had absolutely no intention of withdrawing her as Scotland’s rival.

John Briceno, Belize prime minister. Photo taken when he was vice president on Sept. 17, 2002 while addressing the United Nations General Assembly 57th Session at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Associated Press/Osamu Honda/File

“That will never happen,” the foreign minister told a Jamaican TV station, noting that “that will not happen. That will never happen.”

Scotland had pleaded with the Andrew Holness administration to withdraw Johnson-Smith, saying that “I would be incredibly pleased, as you can imagine it, if Senator Johnson Smith thought again and felt maybe this wasn’t the appropriate time to challenge for this post. I’ve done six years of my eight-year term. Africa anticipates that they will have an opportunity to put forward an African secretary-general in 2024 when I complete my second term,” she told ABSTV in Antigua recently.

In its late night statement, the bloc said that “member states of the community will vote for the candidate of their choice. “Two candidates from Caricom have been nominated for the post, the incumbent Baroness Scotland and Senator Johnson Smith of Jamaica,” as it ruled on the issue after several rounds of failed consultations. It also reminded the Commonwealth that it is still the turn of the Caribbean for one of its candidates to serve two consecutive terms as has been the tradition in the grouping.

The Baroness, though born in Dominica, is regarded by several leaders and countries as more representative of British rather than Caribbean culture as she had left Dominica as a mere toddler, is a British citizen and had served in several cabinet and other positions in Britain.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and several western Commonwealth nations have accused her of poor governance and nepotism and have made it clear they want her out.