Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit
ROSEAU, Dominica — Heads of government who attended the recent meeting of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in Roseau are reported to be “extremely disappointed” with their colleague Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica.
Reliable sources indicated that, at the suggestion of St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister, Dr Timothy Harris, the OECS leaders discussed the candidacies for the post of Commonwealth secretary general.
Two of the four candidates are nominated by OECS countries – long-serving Caribbean diplomat and regional advocate Sir Ronald Sanders of Antigua and Barbuda and Baroness Patricia Scotland, a sitting member of the British parliament.
The discussion centred on one of them being withdrawn to allow the 12 Commonwealth Caribbean countries to put forward a single candidate.
It was reportedly evident at the meeting that Sanders enjoyed the support of the majority of Caribbean countries and had more support in the wider Commonwealth than Scotland. Skerrit is said to have stated to his colleagues that he was prepared to withdraw the British baroness, but that he wanted to discuss the matter with his Cabinet on the following day (Friday).
At a press conference after the OECS meeting, Grenada Prime Minister Keith Mitchell said: “It was agreed among the heads that, given that the two possible candidates at this time are OECS citizens, that the leadership of both of the countries involved will meet, and by the time we leave here next week we are going to the Commonwealth meeting with one recommendation coming from the Caribbean region.”
He added that it makes no sense going to Malta with two candidates, thus reducing their possibilities and having the region eclipsed because of the lack of unified effort around a particular candidate.
However, at the press conference, which was also addressed by Dr Harris, the Dominica foreign minister Francine Baron made an unannounced appearance and in an awkward, halting style appeared to try to re-interpret statements from the two prime ministers that agreement was being sought for one candidate.
In a video clip posted on YouTube by the Dominica Information Services, Prime Minister Mitchell can be heard sotto voce referring to the Dominica foreign minister’s unexpected intervention as “She shouldn’t have …. This is unfortunate”.
Immediately after the press conference and contrary to Skerrit’s undertaking to his colleague heads of government that he would take to his Cabinet the proposal to withdraw the sitting member of the British House of Lords, the Office of the Prime Minister in Dominica issued a statement headlined “Dominica remains fully supportive of its nominee, Baroness Patricia Scotland”.
The statement continued that “clarification” was necessary “since it had been suggested in the media that OECS leaders had agreed on a single candidate”, without explaining the basis of the conclusion that the single candidate reportedly agreed was not Dominica’s nominee.
OECS leaders have expressed disappointment that the understanding they reached with Skerrit, as peers and in the interest of the Caribbean generally, was reneged on after their good faith discussions.
Baron said at the press conference that “it is important going forward to consider which of the candidates are likely to be able to command the majority votes within the Commonwealth.”
Given that Sanders already enjoys a preponderance of support from the Commonwealth Caribbean countries, and Asian and African member countries are unlikely ever to vote for a sitting member of the British House of Lords, her remark could be interpreted as an unplanned, tacit acknowledgment that the single regional candidate should be Sanders.
Prime Minister Harris said that the current failure to reach a regional consensus sets a dangerous precedent “where any island, any member of CARICOM could go on its own personal agenda which makes it ever so difficult whenever we need to leverage the collective strength of the region.”
In a subsequent statement, Lennox Linton, leader of the opposition in Dominica, pointed out that the island has benefited in recent years for example, from Caribbean Community (CARICOM) consensus on the appointment of Dominicans to the top positions at the Pan American Health Organization and CARICOM.
“Yet, in the interest of a Dominican by birth, whose life, work, accomplishments and dominant nationality are all absolutely British, Mr Skerrit is fighting against CARICOM consensus on one candidate for top Commonwealth job,” Linton said.
Speaking in an interview with state-owned DBS Radio, Skerrit said that, following the discussion at the OECS Authority meeting, the cabinet has carefully looked at all the issues and the government remains firmly behind its candidate.
“Dominica is firmly behind its candidate in the person of Baroness Scotland,” he stated. “Her name will be advanced at the meeting in Malta at the end of this month.”