LONDON, England — Sir Simon Gass, a recently retired senior official with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has been appointed acting chief operating officer at the Commonwealth Secretariat in an attempt by the British government to shore up the troubled organization amid concerns over the leadership of Dominica-born Baroness Patricia Scotland.
Gass was appointed at the suggestion of the FCO, which is funding his salary, the BBC reported. In addition, Tim Hitchens, a senior FCO official and former ambassador to Japan, has been put in charge of a team preparing for the Commonwealth summit in London next year. Hitchens, a former assistant private secretary to the Queen, will be based in the Cabinet Office and will report directly to British Prime Minister Theresa May.
What appears to be a takeover of the Commonwealth Secretariat by Britain has been noted in the Caribbean.
“Has the Commonwealth of Nations now reverted to the original British Commonwealth?” asked St. Lucian commentator Melanius Alphonse. “With a British citizen as secretary general for the first time ever, the secretariat in London now being run by the British government and the Queen as head of the organization, how much more British could it be?”
He added that it will be interesting to observe the reaction by Commonwealth Caribbean prime ministers to this latest development since it is also their taxpayers who have to foot the bill for Scotland’s extravagant and apparently unrepentant spending.
Last year, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne described the reports of misspending and wastage by Scotland as an embarrassment to the Caribbean. Browne said that, instead of bringing benefits to the region, she has brought shame.
Britain’s Department for International Development said last month the Commonwealth Secretariat in London was “underperforming” and needed “urgent reform”. In a highly critical report in December, DfID threatened to withdraw its £20 million ($25 million) annual funding from the organization unless it improved its performance.
Senior diplomatic and political sources – speaking to the BBC off the record – have accused Scotland of “poor leadership.”
She has been accused of financial profligacy over the refurbishment of her official residence and attacked for appointing political allies to key posts in the secretariat in “no bid” contracts, contrary to the secretariat’s customary procurement procedures. She has denied the accusations of wasteful spending and insisted no procurement rules were broken.
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