By: Sarwar Alam
Antigua’s prime minister urges leaders to unite against “triple threat” facing Commonwealth
The prime minister of Antigua has warned Commonwealth countries not to “fall into the trap” of being pitted against one another, Eastern Eye can reveal.
It follows a concerted campaign by the UK government to oust incumbent secretary-general, Patricia Scotland, as previously reported by this newspaper.
In a letter seen by Eastern Eye, Antigua’s leader Gaston Browne wrote, “If we are to live up to the values of the Commonwealth which we share and hold dear, we should eschew any attempts 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.”
Although his language is diplomatic, Browne makes clear his concerns about “not following tradition”.
“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,” he explains.
“It now appears that 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 normally come to an end, followed in turn by the Pacific.”
Commonwealth insiders have interpreted the letter as a rebuke to the UK’s attempts to undermine Scotland.
Britain has made no secret of its dislike for the Commonwealth leader, and sources in the Caribbean have previously said UK-government representatives have gone around the Commonwealth “cajoling, bribing and threatening” countries to toe the line.
CARICOM’s (Caribbean Community and Common Market) 20 developing countries met on September 13.
Antigua is the current so called “chair in office” and Browne wrote that Scotland should be allowed an automatic second term, which enjoyed “broad support”.
“The unprecedented circumstances of the Covid 19 pandemic have conspired to delay the appropriate renewal for a second term at a regularly convened CHOGM and have occasioned a series of extensions to the first term of the secretary-general, from 1 April 2020.
“Despite this uncertainty and despite the challenges of Covid 19 and its ravages to our countries, secretary general Scotland has continued to give of her excellent service to the Commonwealth.
“In her first year, secretary general Scotland moved the Commonwealth secretariat from a C rating given by the then DFID (Department for International Development, now defunct) to the Commonwealth secretariat for the two years preceding her assumption of duty, to an A-plus awarded by the same DFID, by instituting proper internal governance and financial systems.”
Sources told Eastern Eye that Britain does not like Scotland because she will not “slavishly follow its agenda or do its bidding”.
“The secretary general has, without fanfare, effectively carried out her good offices role in collaboration with our member states that have needed it,” wrote Antigua’s prime minister.
“She has continued to promote the values of all Commonwealth states as well as being a voice for small island developing states (SIDS) and other vulnerable and developing countries, particularly in the area of climate change.
“She continues to advocate for our countries in the area of debt. She has introduced innovative ideas to assist member states in the areas of trade, economic development, criminal and civil justice reform, anti-corruption and public sector reform and governance, to name but a few.
“Immediately in March 2020, in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, the secretary general was able to seamlessly move all the operations of the secretariat onto a digital platform which had been created with a view to future proofing the secretariat.
“This has accrued to the benefit of all member states without exception.”
In August, Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta said his defence minister, Monica Juma, would stand against Scotland.
Eastern Eye understands that the move is despite Kenyatta telling Scotland personally that “he would never put up anyone” to run against her.
Juma is being seen as a stalking horse to bring out more credible candidates.
“Events we have faced in recent years have illustrated that our Commonwealth family cannot afford to be divided,” Browne concludes in his letter.
“We must be united against the triple threat of the Covid 19 pandemic, climate change and the economic fallout, which will scar all of our countries for the foreseeable future.
“This is the time for consistency, stability and a proven track record of delivery.
“On behalf of CARICOM, I wish to request your support for Secretary-General Scotland’s completion of her full second term, namely to 31 March 2024.”