Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Editorial: Best choice in Baroness Scotland

Published:Thursday | December 3, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Even up to the time of last Friday's vote, Jamaica did not publicly indicate which of the candidates it supported for the job of secretary general of the 53-member Commonwealth, even though its voice would have carried weight and improved the chance of consensus among Caribbean countries. Happily, the best candidate - and the one that this newspaper had urged Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to endorse - Baroness Patricia Scotland, won.

Baroness Scotland will, in the New Year, replace the Indian diplomat Kamalesh Sharma, bringing to the job not only a sharp intellect, but other unique attributes that should enhance her possibility for success. And she has much work to do if the Commonwealth is to recapture its position as an organisation of relevance.

First, though, the Caribbean Community's (CARICOM's) approach to this selection represented a fracture in the group's usually consensual approach towards support for candidates for international office and ought to be a lesson for the future of how not to conduct such business, lest these mini-states be isolated and marginal zed by powerful nations. CARICOM's security is in its numbers - as a bloc of up to 14 votes in international institutions.

In this case hubristic sentiment got the better of the region. So, apart from Baroness Scotland, who was proposed by Dominica, CARICOM fielded a second candidate, the Guyana-born Antiguan diplomat, Ron Sanders, who had the backing of his adopted country. The third candidate was Botswana's Mmasakgoa Masire-Mwamba, who served two terms as a deputy secretary general of the organisation.

In the event, Baroness Scotland prevailed and will make history as the first woman to be secretary general of the Commonwealth. She has already signalled, rightly, that gender and women-related issues, such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage and human trafficking, will be among her key priorities.

But she understands that there is other critical work to be done, which demands urgency and for the tackling of which her background gives her running start. Indeed, she, in her own circumstance, epitomises this newspaper's concept of a Jamaica that is beyond its island border - Greater Jamaica - and how it ought to consider the position and role of its citizens in the Diaspora.

Baroness Scotland was born in Dominica to a Dominican mother and Jamaican father and grew up in England. She has deep Caribbean roots, which she has nurtured. But in Britain she served in Tony Blair's Labour government in the Foreign and Home offices. She was Gordon Brown's attorney general. She knows her way around global power.

The latter fact is important if she is to lead the revitalisation of the Commonwealth, which accounts for a third of the world's population, in an environment where critical players have chosen to exercise the franchise in more exclusive clubs of power. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth won't be a unified, discreet voice at the current world Climate Change summit. But the outcome of Paris is important to many small islands and other developing states that are the majority of the organisation. The future Commonwealth must have a loud voice on this subject. Debt, and its constraints on development and how poor countries interface with multilateral and other global financial institutions is another matter that must be high on Baroness Scotland's to-do list.

We think she is up to the challenge.