A reflection on Jamaica’s entry into the race for Commonwealth Secretary-General: Examining issues of leadership readiness

May 25, 2022

Jamaica’s entry into the race for the post of Commonwealth Secretary-General (CSG), in nominating Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Kamina Johnson-Smith, has been fraught with complications, as seen in the positions advanced by proponents and opponents to her candidacy.  Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness in announcing Johnson-Smith’s candidacy, on April 1, 2022, cited various posts she has held in regional and international bodies (related to her role as Foreign Affairs Minister) and asserted that, “The Government of Jamaica has every confidence in Minister Johnson-Smith’s abilities to build bridges and consensus, bringing governments and peoples to a common understanding….” 

Senator The Honourable Kamina Johnson Smith
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade

The incumbent Secretary-General, Baroness Patricia Scotland, in the meanwhile, has defended her stewardship and has declared that there is no vacancy in the office and thus has invited Johnson-Smith to back down, contending that her term is not yet up.

Baroness Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations

The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda and current chair of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), responded on April 2 to Holness’s announcement and Jamaica’s decision as a “monumental error” adding that it “…could only serve to divide the Caribbean”.

Professor Lloyd Waller, of The University of the West Indies and an advisor to the Government of Jamaica, in an ostensibly descriptive piece published in the Jamaica Observer on May 16, cites Johnson-Smith’s comments at the launch of her candidacy in which she claims that she is “fully dedicated to drive more purposeful and visionary action to promote and protect the principles and values…” of the Commonwealth.  Waller is of the view that Scotland’s contention that there is no vacancy in the office is unfounded and argues that Jamaica is justified in “exercising its right” to nominate a candidate.

Orin Gordon, a media consultant, in a piece entitled, “CARICOM’s Commonwealth conundrum”, published in The Gleaner on May 25, criticizes arguments of people such as Prime Minister Keith Rowley of Trinidad & Tobago who suggest that the Dominican-born, British-raised Scotland is not Caribbean enough. Gordon also mentions the references to unproven allegations of cronyism made against Scotland, and also suggests that the opposition to her candidacy by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson “…seem rooted in longstanding UK political animosity between Johnson’s Conservatives, and Scotland, a Labour peer”.

Support for Scotland’s candidacy

I do not support Jamaica’s decision to nominate  a candidate for the post at this time, given that CARICOM Heads at their meeting in Belize, earlier this year, had voted “overwhelmingly” to support Scotland for a second term. 

My position would be the same regardless of the candidate, but I am further of the view that, based on her track record here at home, Minister Johnson-Smith does not represent an ideal candidate.  Johnson-Smith, who is Leader of Government Business in the Upper House of Parliament has conducted herself in what one local newspaper, which is generally sympathetic to the ruling party, has described as a petulant manner by her practice of leaving the Senate chamber whenever an Opposition member is speaking.  I share the characterization of the local paper.  Johnson-Smith also badly mischaracterized the nature of exchanges she had with a former member of the Senate, leading some to believe that he had sexually harassed her.  The email exchanges between her and the former member, which were made public by him, not her, showed that no harassment occurred. What was deeply troubling about Johnson-Smith’s claims is that she made them during public furor over the alleged public beating of a woman by a man who from all appearances, and who never denied, was a fellow Member of Parliament and belonging to the party of which Johnson-Smith is a member. 

A reasonable conclusion is that given that the date of the emails, claimed to amount to harassment, was years prior to the public assertions of Johnson-Smith, in the midst of public discussion over the public beating, was designed to deflect attention away from her colleague whose conduct was under the microscope.  That she would have used her position in the Senate in such a manner raises, in my view serious questions about her judgement and qualities as a leader.  What confidence can one have that she would not abuse other offices held?

I would not support a Jamaican candidate simply because he or she is Jamaican, as is the view of some. I consider such a position parochial and unsustainable. I am a passionate regionalist and regard the insular thinking which says support the candidate because she is Jamaican, lacking in reasonableness and balance.  Such a position cannot stand the test of time. 

I also do not regard custom and tradition as inviolable and, therefore, do not subscribe to the view that Scotland should remain in the post for a further term merely because it is customary for Commonwealth Secretaries-General to do two terms.  There are three reasons I support Scotland’s candidacy. These are:

  1. CARICOM Heads voted overwhelmingly, when the matter came up for consideration, to support her candidacy.  Unless there are compelling facts to set aside the decision, the decision should stand.  To do otherwise would render the regional entity untrustworthy and morally suspect.
  2. The initiation of the pressure to reverse the support of CARICOM Heads came from outside the region and from sources which are to be deemed questionable and having probable ulterior motives.  There is the clear smell of gamesmanship and manipulation and I am of the view that the region should stand strong against attempts by the power brokers who have possible duplicitous intent to divide the region.  We have seen this game played before, the most recent being former United States of America President Donald Trump using Jamaica as a tool in America’s “war” on Venezuela.  Jamaica is paying a high price for its leadership having been conscripted in this hegemonic war, and will likely, but for the mercy and diplomacy shown by the leadership of Venezuela, continue to pay a high price.
  3. There is no evidence that Scotland has committed acts which warrant removal from, or being denied the opportunity to continue in, the office of CSG.  It is, however, exceedingly ironic that some of those heads of governments who have cited /hinted at, alleged misconduct by Scotland, are among the most notorious when it comes to corruption and disregard for law.  These include Britain, India, and Jamaica.

Corruption and disregard for the rule of law in Britain, India, and Jamaica

A recent poll in Britain, cited by reporter Beth Rigby at a news conference on May 25, 2022, found that 60% of Britons believe Boris Johnson should resign.  This poll follows the Sue Gray report which revealed that drinking, fighting, and karaoke were taking place at No. 10 Downing St., during Covid-19 lockdowns.  Johnson was also fined by police for those parties.  On these bases, Johnson has no moral authority to raise questions about allegations of misconduct by anyone; not until and unless he resigns and atones for his own misdeeds.

Saarthak Katyal, in a January 14, 2022 piece in the Times of India, notes that:

“Despite the fact that India’s ranking in the Global Corruption Index 2018 has improved by three places, it still ranks 78th among other countries. India is still a long way from being a corruption-free country”.

An article published on July 14, 2021 entitled, “An analytical study on political corruption in India in the last 10 years” found that India has the highest level of political corruption in Asia, which is the primary cause of rising corruption cases. 

Public corruption in Jamaica is one of the country’s major problems, and accounts for losses totaling about 5% of GDP.  The Holness administration which came to power in 2016, promising to root out corruption, has overseen billions of dollars lost from the public purse due to corruption and Prime Minister Holness has himself broken the law and violated the constitution on several occasions.

If Scotland were plausibly accused of wrongdoing which disqualifies her from office, then she should be held accountable and no amount of misconduct by others could be a defence.  But it is my submission that in the absence of such, the intimations, of these by some or all of the leaders of these countries, are wholly lacking in worth.

Jamaica’s role as a pawn of the powerful and our being used in highly unhelpful ways should worry every Jamaican citizen.

Dr. Canute Thompson is Senior Lecturer in Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership at the School of Education, The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, and Head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning. He is author of two award-winning books and articles, among his collection seven books and over a dozen journal articles, and the operator of leadershipreimagination.com website.

1 thought on “A reflection on Jamaica’s entry into the race for Commonwealth Secretary-General: Examining issues of leadership readiness”

  1. Pingback: Kamina Johnson-Smith, Private Sector Interests in Jamaica, and Boris Johnson: Lessons and Legacy – Leadership Reimagination Enterprise

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *