Toxic row as Baroness Scotland accused of 'suppressing critical report'

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Baroness Scotland's future will be decided when she stands for reelection later this week - Carl Court/Getty Images/Getty Images
Baroness Scotland's future will be decided when she stands for reelection later this week - Carl Court/Getty Images/Getty Images

The Commonwealth secretary-general has been accused of suppressing a report that criticises her administration as a toxic row flared on the eve of the organisation’s most important summit in years.

The Prince of Wales, who is representing the Queen in her role as Head of the Commonwealth, flew into Rwanda on Wednesday to find the gathering engulfed by in-fighting ahead of its official opening on Friday.

Baroness Scotland is said to be withholding the results of an independent review of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s finances, according to a furious letter from the chairman of its oversight body.

But allies of the Labour peer have hit back by suggesting her enemies have deliberately concocted the argument in order to undermine her as she seeks reelection.

It comes just days after Lady Scotland’s camp accused Boris Johnson of pursuing a “vendetta” against her following a series of controversies that have blighted her term of office.

Lady Scotland’s future will be decided at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) when she stands for reelection later this week. Mr Johnson wants her out, and the UK is one of seven member states that has already declared support for a rival candidate, the Jamaican foreign minister Kamina Johnson Smith.

In a letter addressed to all 53 other Commonwealth governors and seen by the BBC, Kevin Isaac, chairman of the Commonwealth Board of Governors, said the refusal to hand over the report was “an affront” to the board’s authority and showed “indifference” to its oversight remit.

The secretariat said it had “factual concerns” about the report which it was pursuing with the authors, and supporters of Lady Scotland suggested Mr Isaac’s letter “was deliberately written so it could be leaked and cause damage”.

Two years ago Britain, Australia and New Zealand all suspended their voluntary payments to the Secretariat because of questions over its financial procedures. In particular, Lady Scotland was criticised by auditors for waiving procurement rules 50 times, which included the award of a lucrative contract to a company run by a friend.

Earlier this year the board, which takes decisions on behalf of member states in between summits, asked the secretariat to commission a review into its financing following a drop in funding from member states from £50m to £30m over the past decade.

The accountancy firm Ernst & Young (EY) carried out the review and its report was delivered to the Secretariat on June 1, but to date the Secretariat has declined to share the report with the Board of Governors.

Mr Isaac believes the Secretariat has no right to withhold the report.

By convention, incumbents are re-elected unopposed if they stand for a second term as secretary-general, but in 2020 Boris Johnson informed member states that there had been opposition to Lady Scotland’s reelection from a “significant and diverse number” of member states.

Her term has already been extended by two years from her initial four-year tenure because the Rwanda summit, originally scheduled to take place in 2020, was postponed until now due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A Commonwealth source with knowledge of the issues said: “This is a draft report which was commissioned to assess a range of options and mechanisms for the long-term sustainable funding of the Secretariat. It is not an investigation into our finances and it is disappointing some might try to spin it that way.

“We received the draft final report late and have strong technical and factual concerns with the report which we have raised with Ernst & Young. We are working with Ernst & Young on this to make sure the draft report fulfils the terms of the contract.”

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