Mon | Sep 26, 2022

Johnson Smith should back off

Published:Thursday | May 19, 2022 | 12:06 AM


I was taken aback by Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith’s response to a comment made by Commonwealth Secretary Baroness Patricia Scotland of Dominica, who suggested she reconsider her challenge for the position and withdraw. Johnson Smith said, “That won’t be happening ... that will not happen. That will never happen.” It seems like Johnson Smith should’ve taken the high road, use diplomacy and not respond, considering the rift in CARICOM on the matter. The perception among many is that the position means more to Prime Minister Holness’ ego than anything else. It appears as if Jamaica was pushed into the race at the last minute by big funders of the organisation (mainly the United Kingdom (UK)), who are at odds with Scotland’s leadership, and their apparent inability to manipulate her to push a more conservative agenda and policies. I’ve never seen such fire and confidence in Johnson Smith since the challenge was announced. This could be good; it could also backfire if critical relationships are damaged.

Baroness Scotland is an experienced and well-connected barrister, diplomat and politician who was born in Dominica and lived and worked in UK. She has denied allegations of mismanagement and the award of improper contracts and questionable spending. I am sure the organisation has sufficient controls and audit procedures to deal with any type of allegation. Since announcing her candidacy, Johnson Smith has been busy touring the Commonwealth, most recently in Africa, where she campaigned, networked and presented her portfolio and platform. There is no doubt who pays for this. Scotland’s campaign, on the other hand, has been relatively quiet and behind the scenes, using diplomatic channels. In 2021, CARICOM took the unified position to support Scotland’s completion of the second term as secretary general, although it is known that some members opposed Scotland. Antigua and Barbuda’s PM and former CARICOM chair described Jamaica’s surprise bid as a “monumental error”. Jamaica’s bid has created a rift in CARICOM, and there is tension.

The secretary general vote will take place in Rwanda at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting from June 20-26, chaired by none other than Rwanda’s president, who visited Jamaica recently. Some found the timing of his official visit to Jamaica rather suspect.

The Commonwealth of Nations is headed by her Majesty the Queen. The organisation aims to foster partnerships and cooperation for the advancement of economic, social, democratic and human-rights policies. Jamaica, like any member country of an organisation, has the right to oppose, voice control and even challenge; but we are also an independent sovereign state, and should not be pushed around or manipulated to advance another country’s agenda. We should be moving away any form of colonialism, not courting it. Either way, Jamaica has found itself in a mess. Johnson Smith must win, if not, this could be embarrassing. Johnson Smith has picked up some endorsements in the Commonwealth, but, alas, there are 54 members voting; it could go either way.

P. Chin