A Commonwealth case of concern
Is it a case of an overzealous and prejudiced British media blowing things out of proportion with the objective of bringing down a successful black woman who would have defied considerable odds to rise to a position of power and influence within the white-dominated British establishment?
Or is it a case where the actions of the particular individual which appear to smack of cronyism in one case and extravagance in another, needed to be exposed because public funds were involved and the media were simply fulfilling their watchdog role in the public interest?
We will not rush to pass judgement but the allegations being levelled against Dominica-born Commonwealth Secretary General, Baroness Patricia Scotland, are cause for concern to Caribbean countries, especially since she was elected with regional support to head the 53-nation grouping, with Dominica and Barbados as her foremost sponsors.
Now, six months after assuming office, the Labour peer who served as Britain’s first black attorney-general, has found herself under intense media scrutiny with several newspapers accusing her over the past fortnight of engaging in “lavish spending” on renovations to her official residence while the Commonwealth is reportedly in bad financial shape.
Writing in the Times, columnist Oliver Kamm said the Baroness “needs to get a grip or go”. The former Tony Blair supporter said while Scotland has denied the allegations of extravagance, has pointed out that the renovations were okayed by her predecessor and that the cost was about £330,000 and not £450,000 as the media alleged, such expenditure still amounted to “a betrayal of the ethos of the organization” which is based on modesty. “Lady Scotland’s spree bears scant relation to these original ambitions,” Kamm posited.
The Daily Mail said leaked documents in its possession revealed how Scotland asked for dozens of lavish additions, drawn up by a celebrity interior designer, at the six-storey London residence. However, Scotland responded: “I can say there are no chandeliers, there are no marble fireplaces, none of those things which are alleged has been spent at all.”
The Daily Mail said, however, that emails and other leaked documents between Scotland’s aides and Commonwealth staff, appear to contradict her denial. The Sun tabloid said Scotland had received a “public dressing down” over the matter from Conservative British Prime Minister Theresa May while on a recent visit to India which reportedly has threatened to cut Commonwealth funding because of concerns related to spending and the overall direction of the organization.
“We believe [the Commonwealth] does need to operate as effectively and efficiently as possible,” Prime Minister May said. “That means there does need to be reform of the secretariat. For Baroness Scotland, of course she needs to respond to the allegations that have been made. She will be judged on how she delivers on that need for reform for the Commonwealth secretariat to be operating effectively and efficiently.”
Scotland’s office has blamed the furore on “false, misleading and distorted allegations and outright lies by a profoundly disaffected individual”. The whistleblower, an ex-Commonwealth official identified as Ram Venuprasad, raised concerns over “procurement, transparency and use of public funds”.
Since taking office, Scotland has also been accused of giving lucrative jobs to a few political friends and using £45,000 to visit Rio for this past summer’s Olympic Games. She said the Rio visit was primarily to open a Commonwealth sports ministers meeting and meet officials. The British media are suggesting the latest revelations will increase pressure on Scotland to quit the £160,000 a year post.
Reacting to the developments, Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne was reported as saying the reports were an embarrassment for the region. His government had proposed veteran diplomat Sir Ron Sanders for the top Commonwealth post but withdrew his candidature after it failed to attract sufficient regional support. Antigua and Barbuda then threw its support behind Scotland.
Browne reportedly said that instead of bringing benefits to the Caribbean, Scotland had brought shame. In apparent reference to Sir Ron, he also said the election of “a real Caribbean citizen of great competence and experience was missed because of insularity, a culture of non-cooperation and hate of our own”.
We wonder what are Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s thoughts on the issue. We also wonder what informed the his Government’s decision to go with Scotland instead of Sanders, as the reasons were never made public. We can only wonder because of the Stuart Government’s policy of maintaining a deafening silence on most issues.
Given the damaging allegations which have emerged against its preferred candidate, Bay Street surely ought to be concerned.