Caribbean leaders undecided on Commonwealth nominee

Bridgetown, Barbados — Caribbean leaders have still not decided on a consensus candidate for the soon-to-be vacant post of Commonwealth Secretary-General.

CARICOM chairman and Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart stated that a decision had not been made regarding the choice of a candidate to be put forward for the position of Commonwealth secretary-general, as there were currently three candidates nominated by various member states in the region.

Speaking during a press conference on the final day of the 36th regular meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Stuart claimed that other issues, namely the Venezuela/Guyana land dispute, dominated discussions and “we were not able at this conference to make that decision; in fact we did not even get to the issue”.

What Stuart apparently failed to point out was that the matter of candidates for the Commonwealth secretary-general at the election in Malta in November was, in fact, never on the agenda for the Barbados summit, and it could not have been because not all CARICOM members are Commonwealth states — Suriname, Haiti and Montserrat are not members of the 53-nation Commonwealth.

Any discussion of the Commonwealth secretary-general’s post could therefore only have taken place in the margins of the CARICOM meeting and then only with the agreement of all the heads of government.

Nevertheless, while reassuring the media that the issue was not a “dead one” due to the inability to come to a conclusion, the prime minister stressed that it was a decision “that cannot be made lightly”. The conference chairman added that although “in an ideal world we should not have been in this situation…”, as it was the reality, strategies must be put in place to solve the current predicament.

Currently nominated and vying for the position of Commonwealth secretary-general are Sir Ronald Sanders (Antigua and Barbuda), Baroness Patricia Scotland (Dominica) and Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie (Trinidad and Tobago).

According to the Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS), Commonwealth regulations require that a candidate must be put forward by the region by the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference, to be held in Malta in November this year.

However, in fact, there is no Commonwealth regulation that a candidate for the post of secretary general has to be nominated by a region, contrary to the factually incorrect statement on the Barbados government website. Indeed, only individual member states can nominate candidates.

In the entire history of the Commonwealth, candidates for the post of secretary-general have been nominated only by their own countries. While regional support would be useful, it is certainly not a Commonwealth regulation. As an example, in the current contest for the post, it is Botswana alone that has nominated its candidate, not the African region.

In fact, much of what Stuart had to say on the matter, as reported by BGIS, is misleading.

In Cuba, on December 8 last year, at a meeting of the Commonwealth Caribbean countries in the margins of a Cuba-CARICOM conference, nine of the 12 Commonwealth Caribbean countries indicated clearly that they would stand behind the Antigua and Barbuda candidate, Sir Ronald Sanders, for the post.

Stuart, who had absented himself from the meeting, reportedly insisted when he learned of the decision that formal endorsement should await a meeting where all heads of government would be present. That meeting was held in February 2015 in The Bahamas and although Antigua and Barbuda’s candidate continued to enjoy overwhelming support, Trinidad and Tobago refused to withdraw its candidate Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie and Barbados and Dominica declined to withdraw the British Baroness Patricia Scotland.

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