Jamaica’s foreign minister has denied she is a proxy candidate for the UK in her bid to replace Baroness Scotland as secretary general of the Commonwealth.
Kamina Johnson Smith told the BBC she was “offended” both personally and on behalf of Jamaica by the suggestion.
She said it “bore no relevance to reality”.
Commonwealth heads of government meet in Rwanda next week to decide who should lead the 54-nation body that encompasses 2.5 billion people.
The Queen remains titular head of the Commonwealth – and will be represented by Prince Charles in Kigali – but the secretary general runs the organisation from its headquarters in London.
The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is one of seven Commonwealth leaders who have thrown their support behind Ms Johnson Smith, saying she has the “vast experience and support to unite our unique family of nations and seize the opportunities ahead”.
Supporters of Baroness Scotland have claimed the UK government has been working behind the scenes to oust the Labour peer, who is seeking a second term despite facing criticism from some member states over her performance.
When asked if she denied being a proxy candidate for the UK, Ms Johnson Smith replied: “Absolutely and I have denied it before, and I’m a little offended not only personally, but nationally.
“If you look at our history, and you look at my practice of the role of Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica over the past six years, the argument doesn’t lend itself to any credibility whatsoever. So it’s actually surprising to me that people repeat it unthinkingly.”
“Those are clearly convenient narratives for a political campaign, but they would bear no relevance to reality. Jamaica has been a leader on the world stage so far beyond our size for years,” she added.
Ms Johnson Smith suggested some member states lacked trust in the Commonwealth Secretariat that Lady Scotland has led for six years.
“There’s been a fall-off in funding in the Commonwealth over the years, not just with this last administration, and there have been debates about the relevance of the Commonwealth,” she said.
Ms Johnson Smith is well known on the international stage, having been Jamaica’s foreign minister for several years. She suggested there were divisions within the Commonwealth leadership and said her country’s “good vibe” should replace a culture of “us and them”.
“You should vote for me because of the energy, the commitment and the capacity that I would bring to the organisation,” she said.
“I think that a perspective on diversity that unifies and acknowledges differences, but is respectful of them and recognises that cultural respect, is a critical part of building unity,” she added.
She said she wanted the Commonwealth Secretariat to be innovative and nimble and “fit for purpose”.
When I asked if it was not fit for purpose now, she replied: “I think there’s more it can do, and I think it can do better.”
So far, Ms Johnson Smith has won the public backing of the UK, India, Singapore, the Maldives, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada. She said her numbers “look good”.
“I am confident but I’m not overconfident. I’m by nature a cautious person, relatively conservative. I don’t count chickens, I count eggs and until they hatch.”
Campaign to ‘undermine Secretariat’
Commonwealth sources insisted the UK had been campaigning against the incumbent Secretary General, Lady Scotland – in particular, with allegations she was divisive.
“Some within the Commonwealth have relentlessly sought to undermine the Secretariat and secretary general and to divide the Commonwealth,” one source told the BBC.
“To now attempt to use the division they have sown as an excuse for their actions is dishonest and stands against the values of the Commonwealth. The majority of Commonwealth member states see what is happening and don’t want to turn back the clock on our hard-won values and aspirations,” they added.
A spokesperson for the Commonwealth Secretariat said Lady Scotland would use her second term to maximise the resilience of the Commonwealth “in a dangerous and uncertain world”.
They said she would draw on “all the talents of the Commonwealth to deliver a smarter, more resilient, prosperous, confident and sustainable Commonwealth”.
The Pacific island nation of Tuvalu has also put forward a candidate for secretary general, Sir Iakoba Taeia Italeli, a former governor general.