March 17, 2021

Embattled Commonwealth SG Likely to be Replaced by Kenyan at CHOGM Kigali


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President Paul Kagame meets Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland at Village Urugwiro, January 11, 2021

Queen Elizabeth II has lately avoided being associated publicly with SG. The UK, New Zealand and Australia, have put off crucial funding, leaving the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Patricia Scotland’s own future uncertain.

Baroness Scotland’s latest troubles stem from forensic audit conducted by the firm KPMG that surfaced in the media in February last year. The secretary general was found to have misused the Secretariat’s funding and some staff also accused her of “bullying”.

Last week, Baroness Scotland was in Rwanda for a three-day visit to put final touches to preparations for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit (CHOGM), taking place here June 21-26.

Scotland held talks President Paul Kagame. She was hosted to an event with Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Vincent Biruta, held various meetings and toured conference sites. Scotland also had choreographed interviews, including with the state broadcaster RBA.

In interview with The New Times, Baroness Scotland said: “Rwanda is absolutely ready, if you think about the venues that have been constructed specifically for CHOGM. The CHOGM taskforce is motoring 100 per cent, I don’t think we have ever seen a country as ready, anxious, prepared and hopeful about hosting CHOGM. It is a delight to see the passion.”

According to planning by the host Rwanda, up to 10,000 delegates are expected from the bloc’s 54 members. It will be the first such global gathering since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in late 2019.

The government of Rwanda is banking on holding a face-to-face CHOGM to send a message to visitors and tourists that it could be the safest place to travel. Minister Biruta actually issued statement on Commonwealth Day March 8 affirming that delegates shouldn’t worry at all.

But for Dr Biruta’s partner in making sure CHOGM is a success, Baroness Scotland, she is having her final months in the job. She would have otherwise preferred to continue until 2024.

The Chronicles can report that the powerful members including Australia and the UK have endorsed holding the summit in the middle of a global pandemic partly to see Scotland out.

Despite the Commonwealth being a British-instituted bloc, with London having as much control of its destiny, the UK cannot singlehandedly remove the Secretary General. The SG is voted on and approved by the Heads of State during their summit.

The controversies around the Secretary General rose immediately she got the job in 2016, as allegations in the media. Audit firm KPMG would later be hired to establish exactly what was happening at the Secretariat in London.

On February 13, 2020, two Australian newspapers The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald published details of the audit. The audit found Scotland “circumvented” normal tender procedures to award $500,000 worth of work (or Rwf 682m) to a friend and former colleague.

According to the audit’s findings, the Baroness Scotland asked a staff member to sign a waiver form to suspend normal tendering guidelines just days after taking over as Secretary-General in 2016. That decision allowed her to award Commonwealth-funded work to a friend and fellow Labour peer, Lord Patel of Bradford, even though his company’s debts far outweighed its minimal assets.

More waivers were signed but “gaps” in record keeping meant not all forms could be handed to the auditors for scrutiny.

Earlier in 2016, internal memos leaked to the media showed Baroness Scotland, then new in office, had signed off on a lavish refit of her residence worth £338,000 – making extravagant decisions over paint, curtains, bathrooms, chandeliers and even the loo. The media storm left her branded as “Baroness Brazen” and “Baroness Shameless”.

Patricia Scotland was born in Dominica in 1955 as the 10th child in a family of 12, and raised in east London, where she attended state schools. From that modest background, she became the first black female QC – at just 35, the youngest person to take the silk since William Pitt the Younger, before being elevated to the House of Lords in a political career that included a cabinet post as attorney general.

She is the first woman to become secretary general of the Commonwealth with a brief to drive forward development, economic success and democracy in 54 countries including Rwanda, which joined in 2009, but is not a former British colony.

Baroness Scotland’s tenure has been through such a storm that Queen Elizabeth II, the head of the bloc has reportedly been skipping Commonwealth events.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in June last year, as current “chair-in-office” for the Commonwealth, said in confidential letter that member governments had rejected allowing Baroness Scotland an automatic second term. Her contract was to end last year but CHOGM didn’t take place as scheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She got a year extension until this coming June.

The Chronicles has established that when President Kagame and his colleagues meet in Kigali, among the few candidates they will consider, is a Kenyan, who is also said to have biggest chances of getting the job.

If nothing changes, it means Kenya will be at the top of the Commonwealth and the East African Community (EAC) as Kenyan Peter Mathuki became SG last month at the Leaders’ virtual summit.

As a result of the scandals at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Australia last year slashed annual funding by $800,000 in response to the allegations and is withholding a further $500,000, while New Zealand suspended nearly $3 million.

Britain’s annual £4.7m voluntary contribution remains withheld until the Secretariat improves its financial procedures.

For her part, Baroness Scotland has remained largely silent over the scandals. The Secretariat in London responded within minutes to our query seeking to speak to the SG’s spokesperson. However, by press time, no response had come to our email which was asking if Baroness Scotland will seek another four-year term at CHOGM 2021 Kigali in view of the scandals.

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