In a guest editorial in this newspaper last December dealing with the competition for the post of Commonwealth Secretary-General, it was opined that, at a time when the Commonwealth is in need of assertive leadership and revitalization, a strong regional candidate, with the unambiguous endorsement of Caricom, would have an excellent chance of success. The editorial had been prompted by the withdrawal of Sir Ronald Sanders of Antigua and Barbuda on a point of principle – the inability of Caricom Heads of Government to reach consensus on a matter requiring unity.
At that time, there had already been much media commentary about the merits or otherwise of the three candidates in the race – Sir Ronald Sanders, Dr Bhoe Tewarie of Trinidad and Tobago, and Baroness Patricia Scotland of Dominica and the United Kingdom (not necessarily in that order) – most of them favouring Sir Ronald.
Subsequently, in a letter to his colleague heads, in early February, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne announced that he had persuaded Sir Ronald to reconsider his decision, at the urging of several in the region and the Commonwealth and buoyed by the fact that the candidature could count on the support of “9 of the 12 Commonwealth Caribbean governments.” The stage thus seemed set for arriving at consensus at the Caricom Inter-Sessional Meeting in Nassau last week, on the basis of the wishes of the overwhelming majority.
Preceding that meeting, Reginald Dumas, a retired ambassador and former Head of the Public Service of Trinidad and Tobago, now one of that country’s most respected independent commentators, noted wryly in the Trinidad Express, on February 18: “Disdaining the obvious path of coalescing behind one person, and hewing happily to our practised ways of incoordination, Caricom Heads have come up with three names, and have so far declined to budge.” And, in analysing the qualities of the candidates and summarily dismissing the claims of two, he pointed to the way forward: “I hold no brief for Sanders, but, if only from the viewpoint of professional background and nationality, I consider him the best of the three candidates; Caricom should support him for the job unless it can find someone better. The governments of Dominica and T&T should withdraw their proposals. All they have to say, or have the meeting’s chairman announce, is that they ‘do not insist’ on their nominations. That would send a message, welcome to the region and beyond, of Caricom coherence and resolve.”
But insist they appear to have done; heads once again failed to reach consensus on a single candidacy, with nary a mention of the matter in the Inter-Sessional communiqué.
SN’s editorial on the subject on Wednesday (‘Choosing the Commonwealth Secretary General’), explored the relevance of the Commonwealth to Caricom and the importance of a collective regional approach to securing that organisation’s top job, focusing on the commensurate diplomatic leverage afforded, in the context of global geopolitics and Caricom’s relations with other developing countries and regional groupings. In this respect, we observed that little is known about the candidates for the post apart from Mr Sanders and that “our governments have been functioning like private clubs, as distinct from agencies of the people whom their proposed appointees will be representing.”
Indeed, it seems that some basic principles of diplomacy were ignored in the presentation of candidates, with countries doing so via the media rather than pursuing conventional diplomatic consultations aimed at a testing the waters and obtaining broad support to underpin a consensus position, for the collective good, with the quality of the candidate being the foremost consideration in putting the region’s best at the service of the Commonwealth.
Whatever the reason, against the backdrop of confrontational domestic politics (Dominica had elections in December and Trinidad and Tobago will have theirs later this year), perhaps no government felt that it could withdraw without losing political face. And, absent any objective mechanism in Caricom for determining the best candidate, beyond the claims of the respective governments, all that remains is a dispiriting obduracy, no matter the damage to the region’s image and strategic interests.
The only conclusion we can now draw is that the aim of foreign policy coordination, enshrined in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, has fallen by the wayside, along with other ideals and goals of Caricom, victim to insularity and narrow, political self-interest. To borrow from Mr Dumas, “incoordination” reigns; “Caricom coherence and resolve” is a myth.