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Caribbean leader warns against challenge to Commonwealth secretary general

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA</span>
Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Efforts to oust the Commonwealth’s secretary general risk dividing member states when they should be united on Covid-19 and the climate crisis, the chair of a bloc of Caribbean nations has warned fellow leaders in a private letter.

Gaston Browne, the chair of Caricom, a 15-state Caribbean group, said attempts to remove Lady Scotland also ran contrary to the principle of rotation between regions, and the tradition that a secretary general holds the post for two terms.

He suggested that candidates were being encouraged to stand against her. Browne does not name the UK, but some supporters of Scotland are convinced that the UK is championing the announced candidacy of the Kenyan defence minister, Monica Juma. The UK foreign and Commonwealth secretary, Liz Truss, met Kenya’s foreign minister at the UN general assembly to discuss Juma’s bid to run the 54-member Commonwealth.

Juma is offering herself as a consensus-building candidate, but privately some Commonwealth leaders have said the efforts to oust Scotland “risk breaking the Commonwealth apart region by region. They have stirred up more than they can handle”.

The Commonwealth, still a symbol of post-imperial cooperation and much cherished by the royal family, has normally tried to operate through consensus. Stories have appeared in the British media accusing Scotland, a Labour peer and attorney general in the government led by Gordon Brown, of lavish spending, arrogance or mismanagement of staff.

Gaston Browne
Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and the chair of Caricom. Photograph: United Nations/AP

So far, the auditing process has not confirmed any irregularities, and some of the controversial spending was inherited from her predecessor. Her allies claim the Conservative party dislike her independence, and would prefer to see the Commonwealth as more closely aligned with the “global Britain” approach.

Since 1993, secretary generals can serve a maximum two terms, and there has been an expectation that someone seeking a second term will be reappointed.

But by writing to fellow Commonwealth heads, Browne, the prime minister of Antigua, is clearly trying to rally support for Scotland against what the Caribbean countries see as an improper attempt to oust her. Scotland herself was born in Dominica.

Browne writes: “Our Commonwealth family has until now held to the tradition of at least two terms for a secretary-general and to the principle of rotation between regions. It now appears the separate regions of Africa, Asia and the Pacific have been, or are being encouraged to present candidates in opposition to the current secretary-general. This runs counter to the principle of rotation which would see Africa assuming the office of secretary-general in 2024 when the Caribbean’s turn would come to an end followed in turn by the Pacific.”

He urges: “If we are to live up the values of the Commonwealth which we cherish and hold dear we should eschew any attempt to pit our countries and our regions one against the other. Only in that way can the Commonwealth continue to be a beacon in this world which is beset by turmoil.

“Events we have faced in recent years show we cannot afford for this Commonwealth to be divided. We must be united against the common threat of Covid, climate change and economic fallout which will scar all our countries for the foreseeable future.”

Lady Scotland has had her position renewed twice on an annual basis amid the postponement of the Commonwealth Summit at which an election would normally take place.

But since Juma emerged in August as a candidate, the Kenyan politician has started lobbying ahead of the next summit, which will probably be held next year.

There has also been talk of holding the election on the sidelines of the Cop26 summit in Glasgow in November. It remains to be seen whether the African nations will fall in bloc behind Juma, but lobbying for her has already begun across Africa and Asia.

If Scotland served two terms, she would retire in March 2024.

Browne argues that “now is a time for consistency, stability and a proven track record of delivery”.

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