Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda has now written his colleagues, saying that after withdrawal of Sir Ronald’s candidature on the principled stand that the Region should be united, he was “overwhelmed by messages of regret and requests for reconsideration from within and beyond the Caribbean”.
He said, “the burden of those messages was that the Commonwealth has been deprived, at a time of crisis, of the candidate manifestly most suitable and most likely to be chosen given Sir Ronald’s Commonwealth-wide network and diplomatic experience”.
We agree with those messages and applaud Prime Minister Browne for persisting and persuading Sir Ronald to restore his candidacy.
The experienced diplomat and scholar had secured support of nine of the 12 Commonwealth Caribbean Governments when they met in the margins of the Cuba-CARICOM Summit in Havana in December. His competitors Baroness Patricia Scotland (Dominica) received support from two governments and Bhoendradatt Tewarie (Trinidad and Tobago) from only one.
It should not be difficult to find consensus in the Caribbean. The Dominica candidate is really an undeclared British ‘candidate’ – not through any formal act of Britain; but through the candidate herself. She is Baroness Scotland of Asthal, a former Cabinet Minister and Attorney-General of Britain (in which capacity and with a British mind-set, she lectured the Caribbean on various matters including abolishing the death penalty). To this day, she is a sitting member of the British House of Lords. She is a UK Parliamentarian.
A Secretary-General with such a track record in, and loyalty to, the British government will be like a return to a colonial past. Baroness Scotland would no doubt be comfortable in Whitehall; but the resulting Commonwealth ‘Britishness’ would be unacceptable – and not only in the non-white Commonwealth. So the Baroness has borrowed a Dominican/Caribbean cloak for the occasion. The Commonwealth is not likely to be fooled; the Caribbean would be derided for supporting the ruse.
The other candidate Minister Bhoendradatt Tewarie of Trinidad and Tobago has no Commonwealth or diplomatic experience and is little known outside of Trinidad. Mr Tewarie seems to be supported only by his Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar. And, not surprisingly, she seems to seek support for him from her Caribbean colleagues as a favour to herself –not to the Caribbean or the Commonwealth.
Trinidad and Tobago also now has the Deputy Secretary-Generalship of the Commonwealth Secretariat and the top post in the Commonwealth Foundation. It is highly unlikely that any government would give Trinidad the tree top posts in the Commonwealth.
By contrast, Sir Ronald is well-known and respected in the Commonwealth and he has a strong record of Commonwealth knowledge and experience as a senior diplomat, as an academic who has produced quality work on the Commonwealth and more recently as a member and rapporteur of the Eminent Persons Group that produced the report on urgent reform of the Commonwealth.
With Sir Ronald as its candidate, the Caribbean would have this important post within its grasp. If it stumbles now it will confirm the worst fears of critics that it has lost its way. Gaston Browne and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda – though new to the CARICOM scene (but, perhaps, because of that) – is setting a notable example of pursuing joint Caribbean endeavours in the Region’s interest.
Prime Minister Browne knows that he can put forward Sir Ronald as a candidate of Antigua and Barbuda; that is how it is usually done. However, he is seeking full Caribbean backing – which is what the rest of the Commonwealth expects. Yet, Prime Minister Browne has said: “In the interest of the projection of our unity to the Commonwealth I am still anxious that we proceed by consensus if we possibly can.”
The Region has not adorned itself in glory in the past over joint candidates, and continues to let itself down even now. Prime Minister Browne has summoned the region to act in its own interest by putting the best candidate it has back into contention.
(This Op-Ed is republished with the permission of Guyana’s Kaieteur News)