By Marie Claire Williams
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, February 20, 2020 (CMC) – Embattled Commonwealth Secretary-General, Baroness Patricia Scotland, defended her track record, yesterday, amid reports that she may not be granted an automatic second term, when her current term ends, in March.
Earlier this month, Britain suspended its funding for the Commonwealth Secretariat, after Baroness Scotland was criticised by internal auditors for awarding a lucrative consultancy contract to a company, run by a friend.
Auditors also said that the Secretariat waived procurement rules, no less than on 50 occasions, over a three-year period.
However, she told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), yesterday, that “there are a number of misconceptions, and it is very unfortunate that a number of stories have been posted, which are inaccurate and fallacious”.
She maintained that the proper procedure was followed, when the contract was awarded to fellow Labour Peer, Lord Patel.
“The procurement process was absolutely adhered to. When I came in to office on the first of April, I was not responsible for the process that had gone before me. I was advised by the then Australian DSG, who I had total faith in, and I still have total faith in, that the process that was being adopted, was the right process,” Scotland told CMC.
Some Commonwealth countries, including Britain, have suspended voluntary contribution to the Commonwealth Secretariat, in the wake of the audit report.
London has withheld its funding of £4.7 million, joining New Zealand and Australia in doing so, until the Secretariat’s financial systems are tightened up and tested by external auditors.
The Commonwealth Secretariat is the central administrative hub for the intergovernmental organisation that comprises 54 countries – many of them former British colonies – and encompasses almost a third of the world’s population.
But the 64-year-old Commonwealth Secretary-General said, “I have been told, and I can only believe what countries tell me, is that they wanted to have certain issues clarified, before the money could be sent forward.
“They gave six issues, last month; five of those issues have already been dealt with, and one more remains, which will be completed by the end of this month. So, I hope, that any proper impediment that people might have thought was in the way, will be absolutely moved.”
She defended the Secretariat’s performance, under her leadership, as “the most transparent and accountable system of any international organisation”.
“We have just posted, on the (Commonwealth) website, all of our data. This is the most transparent and accountable system, I think, of any international organisation. I don’t know that anyone else is doing what we’re doing, and I’m very proud that for each of the years I have been Secretary-General, our auditors have given us a totally clean audit. Our audit from our auditors is also online for anyone to look at.
“So I hear the comments that are being made, but I really do believe that if one looks at facts, one would see that not only when I came in to the Secretariat were we considered to be functioning at a lower rate, we were at that stage when I started. I was told that we were standing on a burning platform… We’ve taken the Secretariat from a C Grade organisation to an A plus. I’m proud of that,” Scotland told CMC.
She also questioned whether the criticisms, levelled against her, were an effort to “distract us so we won’t focus on our work”.
“Because these are troubling times. These are difficult times, when multilateral cooperation is under threat; narrow-minded nationalism is on the rise and we, in the Commonwealth family, demonstrated our strength and our commitment to each other in 2018.
“I, as Secretary-General, on behalf of all 54 countries, am determined that that strength, that family feeling, that collaboration, that cooperation, will not falter,” Baroness Scotland stressed.
CARICOM leaders have pledged their support for Scotland, as she seeks re-appointment for a second term.
Antigua and Barbuda, which had nominated a candidate to contest the position of Secretary-General, four years ago, said it believes that there’s support for her re-appointment to the post.
Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, said there’s “overwhelming support” for her re-appointment, “to literally fight the humiliation that is taking place among some within the Commonwealth, in which they’re seeking to humiliate her”.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, also told reporters he was confident that Scotland will be reappointed to serve a second term.
“We think that the attempts to hound her out, are entirely unacceptable, and that those, who are doing so, must cease it. It is unbecoming. And I look forward, very much, to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kigali in June. I am very confident that she will be re-elected to serve as Secretary-General of the Commonwealth for a second term,” Gonsalves said.