PM to address Johnson Smith’s Commonwealth bid at CARICOM meeting | Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News | Loop News

When CARICOM heads of government meet on Wednesday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness will have to address the controversy being generated by Jamaica’s announcement last Friday of the candidature of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, for the post of Commonwealth Secretary-General.

With the announcement, Johnson Smith will be challenging the incumbent, Dominica-born Baroness Patricia Scotland in June. This is despite CARICOM leaders issuing a communique at the end of their March 1-2 Inter-sessional summit held in Belize, expressing their “overwhelming support for the re-election of Scotland as Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.

Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, who has been critical of Holness in the past, has described Jamaica’s move as a “monumental error” while warning that it could divide CARICOM.

But, in a statement in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Holness defended his Government’s move while seeking to assure that his administration would do nothing to intentionally divide CARICOM.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, speaking in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (April 5). Photo: (JIS)

In a lengthy statement in the House, Holness stated that towards the latter part of the initial term of the current Secretary-General, several countries, including Jamaica, were approached regarding the possibility of nominating a candidate for the post.

“Jamaica took the view, at that time, that whatever the issues that gave impetus to members seeking alternative candidates, the first order of response would be to resolve, with dialogue, to avoid disruption,” said Holness.

He said it was clear that the impetus to seek an alternative candidate strongly persists, with Kenya at one time nominating a candidate before withdrawing. Holness noted that Tuvalu, in the South Pacific, formally launched its candidature in London on Tuesday.

“It is quite possible that others could emerge,” Holness stated, before adding that “we can conclude that the first term of the incumbent has left room for challenge”.

Holness said that Jamaica, in recent weeks, has had to “consider the state of affairs and future of the Commonwealth, in conjunction with the incredibly strong encouragement and support, to put forward a candidate, and specifically in the person of Minister Johnson Smith”.

The prime minister cited that her ministerial achievements in international affairs are well known within and beyond the Commonwealth. He said he was confident in Johnson Smith’s ability to play that leadership role and, as such, considered it important to engage in a process of consultation, starting with colleagues in CARICOM.

He explained that the consultations were aimed at seeking a better understanding of his colleagues’ thinking about the leadership of the organisation, as well as their views on Johnson Smith’s possible candidature.

“With very limited exception”, the responses of the heads of government and heads of state as well as foreign ministers with whom we engaged across the region have been extremely encouraging,” Holness said.

He told the House that several have voluntarily committed to seek support for the candidature of Johnson Smith from their regional colleagues.

“On the strength of that feedback, and more importantly, my personal knowledge of the minister’s unwavering commitment to public service in the interest of global development, we took a sovereign decision to put forward a candidate that has demonstrated the skill, energy and competence to bring unity, accountability and focus to the leadership of the secretariat and the wider Commonwealth family,” said Holness.

He pointed out that CARICOM Heads of Government will meet on Wednesday to revisit the issue, which has been on the agenda of several meetings since 2020.

The prime minister also argued that heads are aware that there has never been a unanimous position of support for the incumbent. And, he said some member states have previously raised the question of whether an alternative Caribbean candidate should be identified.

“It is never Jamaica’s intention to seek to divide our CARICOM family,” Holness stated, noting that the established processes for dialogue and communication will be the only channels that Jamaica will employ in these matters.

Meanwhile, with Wednesday’s meeting looming, Browne said that he is hoping “this matter will be resolved amicably”.

“I know that there is a push now to have a meeting early this week and hopefully we can have a consensus and we can dissuade Jamaica from proceeding on this particular issue and for us to support Baroness Scotland,” he said.

Continuing, Brown said: “I think we have a moral obligation to support her, to protect her, and stand in solidarity with her, especially considering that there are entities and individuals outside of the region who are trying to emasculate her. We have to protect our own.”

Browne said he has spoken with Holness on the issue. He cautioned that the decision to “break the CARICOM consensus” and present Johnson Smith as a candidate, “will only serve to divide CARICOM”.