Commonwealth row heads to leaders

Kamina Johnson Smith
Jamaica’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Kamina Johnson Smith.
Associated Press/Pavel Golovkin/File

After all the condemnation and talk in recent days about splitting the Caribbean vote, Jamaica is standing firmly behind its own candidate for the top position at the Commonwealth Secretariat paving the way for a fight off between another candidate being put forward by other regional nations.

At their mid-year meeting in Belize last month, CARICOM leaders reported that they had unanimously decided on a second term for Dominica-born Baroness, but British-raised attorney Patricia Scotland for the position of Commonwealth secretary general.

But in the past week, Jamaica threw the proverbial political spanner in the works by offering up Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kamina Johnson-Smith as a rival candidate to Scotland triggering region-wide fears that the bloc could open the gates for an outside candidate to take advantage of a split and divided regional bloc vote.

On Wednesday, regional leaders met in a virtual emergency session in a bid to resolve the issue, deciding to set up a seven-nation sub committee of heads of government to interview both candidates and likely recommend one who will receive the backing of the majority of the 15-nation grouping.

Montserrat, still a current British colony, cannot vote, neither can Suriname nor Haiti, who were not former colonies. In effect, the region has a bloc vote of 12.

A statement from the Guyana-based regional secretariat late Wednesday stated that while the grouping wished to reaffirm foreign policy coordination as a hallmark of the family, both Dominica and Jamaica had basically placed the community in a political vortex as both candidates are “eminently qualified.” Bearing in mind that it is the region’s turn for its candidate to serve two consecutive terms as has been traditionally the case, the matter has been referred to the sub committee for resolution.

“They (leaders) noted that two member states of the community had nominated two eminently qualified candidates for the post of secretary-general of the Commonwealth and agreed that a sub-committee of heads of government comprising of The Bahamas, Belize, Dominica, Guyana, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Jamaica will meet with the two candidates, Baroness Patricia Scotland, QC and Senator the Hon. Kamina Johnson-Smith,” the very terse release noted

There was no word on when the committee will hold its first meeting but it will most likely be led by Prime Minister John Brecinio who is the current regional chairman.

The 54-nation Commonwealth is scheduled to hold its COVID-postponed summit in Rawanda in June when a secretary general would be elected.

The move by Jamaica to nominate its own foreign minister was met with condemnation by some governments, including Dominica and Antigua. Antigua’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne accused Jamaica of plotting with others to hound Scotland out of office even as he wondered whose bidding Jamaica was serving. PM Roosevelt Skerrit praised her work in reforming the London-based secretariat, arguing that she should be the sole nominee. Jamaican officials say they have the backing of several countries including India to oust Scotland.

Scotland left Dominica as a toddler for England, becoming a Queen’s Counsel, a junior cabinet minister and a member of the race relations commission.

For some CARICOM countries like Trinidad, Scotland is seen more as British rather than a Caribbean person. She was derided in Britain and other capitals for alleged corruption and cronyism linked to alleged misuse of funds for an infrastructural project and for allegedly breaching procurement rules.