Delano Franklyn | Jamaica, CARICOM and Commonwealth secretary general
The Government’s nomination of the Hon Kamina Johnson Smith, minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, for the position of secretary general of the Commonwealth, has left many Heads of Government in the region angry because of what they perceive to be an act of betrayal.
The negative reaction of the Heads of CARICOM states has nothing to do with the qualification and experience of Minister Johnson Smith, but instead, how the Government went about putting her forward as a candidate. I am sure, if she is elected, she will carry out her duties in the finest tradition of Jamaican professionals who have found themselves, in the past, as head of international organisations.
CARICOM leaders are upset because at their Inter-sessional summit held in Belize, in March 2022, Jamaica, which was represented by Minister Johnson Smith, and virtually, by our prime minister, and who both, it is said, expressed their overwhelming support for the reappointment of the Dominica-born Baroness Patricia Scotland, as secretary general of the Commonwealth.
Without warning and without any form of consultation with other Heads in the region, the Government of Jamaica, by way of the Office of the Prime Minister, issued a press release on April 1, 2022, in which it announced the candidature of Minister Johnson Smith for the position of secretary general.
In the press release, the Government said that Minister Johnson Smith is “eminently qualified for the post” and the prime minister was quoted as saying that her work makes her “an excellent candidate”.
Is it that the prime minister did not know these things about his minister when he, and the said minister, endorsed Baroness Scotland at the CARICOM meeting in Belize? Why put Minister Johnson Smith in the embarrassing position of supporting Baroness Scotland at the meeting and then a few weeks later, nominate her for the said positiona?
Due to the deep rift which the move by the Jamaican Government has caused, CARICOM Heads convened an emergency meeting and agreed to establish a subcommittee to meet with the two candidates and make a recommendation as to which of the two should be supported by CARICOM. Interestingly, both Jamaica and Dominica are represented on the subcommittee, the countries of origin of both candidates. One will have to concede to the other if a consensus is to be arrived at, at the sub-committee level.
CHANGE OF POSITION
What could have happened between the meeting of the Heads in Belize and April 1, 2022, the date of the press release issued by the Office of the Prime Minister, which caused Prime Minister Holness to change his position.
Of note, is the fact that Prince William and his wife Kate visited Jamaica. Of course, nothing in the press releases out of the meetings with the royal couple mentioned the position of Secretary-General, but we all know that back channel discussions could have taken place in which there might have been a reminder by the royal couple that the current conservative leadership in Britain is not too happy with Baroness Scotland.
The current prime minister of Britain, Boris Johnson, has made it known that he is not in support of Baroness Scotland. As chairman of the Commonwealth, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is doing everything to ensure that he has a secretary general of the Commonwealth who will fall in line with the thinking of British conservative politics. As a consequence, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been trying desperately to find someone to oppose Scotland.
Baroness Scotland, who was appointed the first female Attorney general by the Gordon Brown led Labour Party Government, has never found favour with the conservative government led by Boris Johnson. It is said that she does not, ‘toe their line’.
Britain has a bit of support from some of the larger commonwealth countries, as was demonstrated in 2020, when Australia and New Zealand, along with Britain, suspended discretionary funding to the Commonwealth Secretariat, reflecting their disagreement with decisions taken by Scotland, regarding the award of contracts.
When the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, the Hon Gaston Browne, described Jamaica’s nomination of Johnson as a ‘monumental error’ and went on to say that ‘’those who are hounding Baroness Scotland out of office have now skilfully engineered a plan to divide CARICOM”, it is fair to assume that he had the British conservative leadership in his crosshairs.
For our prime minster to have put forward his foreign minister as a candidate, he would have been told by one or two ‘big’ governments that they will support him in his bid.
DO BORIS JOHNSON A FAVOUR
Is it that our prime minister decided to do Prime Minister Boris Johnson a favour by putting up Minister Johnson Smith as a candidate to give those who do not support Baroness Scotland an alternative candidate to vote for, thus fulfilling the wishes of the said Boris Johnson?
It is not that Baroness Scotland has not had her fair share of criticisms by some members of the Commonwealth. Some claim that she is ‘stiff’ in her relations with others, that she is not a good administrator, that she has circumvented the Commonwealth’s policies, at least in one instance, in the award of a contract, and that she overshot the budget when she choose to refurbish the Commonwealth provided house, which she occupies. There have been ‘reports of cronyism and profligacy’ by her, which she has denied.
Despite the criticisms levelled at her, Jamaica, up to the meeting of the Heads in Belize in March, seemed quite comfortable with her in her role as the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.
We would hate to think that our government changed its position in an effort to carry out the bidding of another government, even if it meant turning its back on a collective decision taken with fellow Caribbean Heads.
Nothing is wrong with the Government changing its mind. The only problem is that it did not have the backbone to raise its objection at the Belize meeting, instead, it left the Heads of CARICOM to believe that Jamaica was supporting Baroness Scotland.
It is this that has led many of the Heads in the region to be hopping mad, and has led Prime Minister Gaston Brown to say that “our (CARICOM’s) consensus decisions should never be broken without overwhelming cause”.
We need to hear from our prime minister what is the ‘overwhelming cause’ that could have led our government to change course on this matter.
Delano Franklyn is an attorney-at-law and the former minister of state in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.