Commonwealth choses first female secretary-general 

VALLETTA, Malta (AFP) — The Commonwealth appointed its first female secretary-general on Friday when leaders chose Dominica-born lawyer Patricia Scotland to take over the running of the 53-country organisation.

At their biennial summit in Malta, Commonwealth heads of government chose Scotland, a former attorney general to the British government, to take over from Indian diplomat Kamalesh Sharma on April 1, 2016.

“I am incredibly proud to be the first woman to hold the post of secretary-general,” Baroness Scotland of Asthal told a press conference.

“Can I just say what a huge privilege and a pleasure it is for me to be entrusted with one of the most burdensome but wonderful roles that there is in the international world?” the 60-year-old asked rhetorically.

“There is much to do but I hope all 53 of us will look together at the vision, will look at what we need to do on climate change, on education, on science and technology and we will make this a better world for our children.”

While Queen Elizabeth II is the head of the Commonwealth, the secretary-general’s duties involve representing the organisation globally and promoting its values and principles, chiefly democratic standards and development.

A secretary-general can now serve a maximum of two four-year terms.

When Scotland takes over from Sharma, she will get the keys to the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Marlborough House headquarters in London, close to Buckingham Palace.

Sharma, 74, will return to Delhi when his second term expires.

“I’m a hard act to follow but I’m sure she can do it,” the career diplomat said of his replacement.

Scotland moved with her family to London aged two. A prominent lawyer, she became a member of the British parliament’s upper House of Lords in 1997.

She then held various government roles under Labour prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, including becoming the first female attorney general, a post that dates back centuries.

Scotland had eventually secured unanimous support for the Commonwealth post, said Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who oversaw the process.

The two other candidates were Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba of Botswana, a former deputy secretary-general, and Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the United States.

A report in British newspaper The Daily Telegraph on Friday alleged that Sanders had participated in a fraud against his country’s government, citing a leaked unpublished report.

Sanders’ lawyers said their client had “conducted himself with due propriety” in “all his financial dealings”, the broadsheet said.

Previous Commonwealth secretaries-general have been Arnold Smith of Canada (1965-1975); Shridath “Sonny” Ramphal of Guyana (1975-1990); Chief Emeka Anyaoku of Nigeria (1990-2000); and Don McKinnon of New Zealand (2000-2008)


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