PM Harris calls on OECS leaders to unite on one candidate for Commonwealth Secretary-General

Basseterre, St. Kitts, November 21, 2015 (SKNIS)—Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris, has called on the leaders of the OECS (Organization of Eastern Caribbean States) to move the programme forward with respect to deciding on one single candidate for the soon to be vacant post of Commonwealth Secretary General thereby avoiding setting 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.”

Speaking at the recently concluded 62nd OECS (Organization of Eastern Caribbean States) Authority Meeting in Roseau, Dominica (November 18-19), Prime Minister Harris said that leaders of the Caribbean Community had not yet settled on a single candidate and that it would be embarrassing for the region if they go to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to be held in Valletta, Malta, from November 27-29, 2015, without having done so.

“One of the realities which we have, for example, is that for some time we have had in relation to the utilization, the leveraging of our support within the region with respect to international candidacies. We are facing Malta very soon as the prime minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica has just said and yet we have not settled on one candidate,” Prime Minister Harris said.

At present two nominees from the OECS, Dominica and Antigua, are in the race for the position of Commonwealth Secretary-General to replace Kamalesh Sharma, 74, who is the fifth and current Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Nations since 2008, having previously served as the High Commissioner for India in London.

One of the nominees is Sir Ronald Michael Sanders, who is a Guyanese/Antiguan scholar, journalist and diplomat. Born in 1948, Sir Ronald is currently Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the United States and the Organization of American States (OAS). On April 25, 2014, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters (DLitt) by the University of the West Indies’ Council and Senate at the St. Augustine Campus.

The other is Patricia Janet Scotland, 60, more commonly known as Baroness Scotland of Asthal. She was born in Dominica but moved to England (where she grew up) when she was two years old. She is a British barrister and jurist who has served in many ministerial positions with the United Kingdom Government, most notably as Attorney General for England and Wales and Advocate General for Northern Ireland.

In speaking at the OECS Heads Summit, Dr. Harris said it was important for the wider world to recognize that small island developing states (SIDS) can form consensus and make decisions as a body with respect to electing one of the two OECS candidates.

“We believe that this is a matter that we should try to cure and perhaps the gathering this day in Dominica with two of the countries from the OECS with particular and special interest in the candidature of one or the other, we could perhaps today through conversation achieve the consensus that we will need,” Prime Minister Harris said, adding that “that to me is a matter that the OECS can lead and indeed at the efforts of integration at the broader level, the OECS has always lead CARICOM (and) we must continue with that leadership.”

“As small island states, the reality is that we are becoming more and more irrelevant in terms of critical decision making whether they relate to climate change or they relate to the management of the financial services sector—the truth is that in the corners and at the tables at which decision making is being made, nobody says wait let us hear what the OECS has to say about this. Nobody is waiting to hear what CARICOM has to say about this. They may want to hear what Brazil will say. They will wait to hear what France or China or the US or the UK will say because for them these entities, these countries, these states matter,” he said.

Dr. Harris said that because “SIDS cannot individually influence the international agenda which is so critical to all of us” it is important “to recommit to engagement in the OECS, in CARICOM and to extract the most that can advance our agenda.”

Meanwhile, Grenada and the Grenadine’s Prime Minister, Dr. the Honourable Keith Mitchell, said that his country’s position has been known for months and that they have declared their support for Sir Ronald Sanders. He also said that Dominican Prime Minister, Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit and Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister, Honourable Gaston Brown, will hold talks in Antigua to break the deadlock between the two nominees.

“We agree in the process for naming the candidate. If we had the candidate finalized right now we will tell you but we’ve said there are two candidates right now and the leaders of the two countries from which the two candidates come from will in fact be meeting soon,” said Dr. Mitchell, Chairman of the OECS Authority, at the closing ceremony of the 62nd OECS Authority Meeting.

“By the time we leave here next week we will be going to Malta with one candidate. The whole region will be supporting one candidate,” Prime Minister Mitchell added.
On the other hand, Dominica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Hon. Francine Baron, has said that Dominica remains fully supportive of its nominee, Baroness Patrice Scotland, for the soon to be vacant post of Commonwealth Secretary- General.

“We are in a situation where we have two candidates now from the Caribbean Region and it is important going forward to consider which one of the candidates is likely to be able to command the majority of the votes in the Commonwealth,” Minister Baron said.
Although St. Kitts and Nevis has not declared its hand with respect to its choice of candidate, Prime Minister Harris said that arriving at consensus will speak volumes about the region’s integration efforts.

“I want to say as we look at the integration efforts—at the end of it, it is being weighed in every member state in terms of the contribution it makes to the quality of life of our citizens,” he said.