The controversial head of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Baroness Patricia Scotland, has had her four-year term extended…. By Latika Bourke


Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland.

The controversial head of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Baroness Patricia Scotland, has had her four-year term extended due to the coronavirus pandemic but has failed in her bid to have it renewed amid a push from Australia and the UK to have her replaced as soon as possible over claims of cronyism.

While the extension is a temporary reprieve for Scotland, the extension sets the clock ticking on her leadership for the first time.

Earlier this year, Australia and Britain pulled funding from the secretariat after an investigation found the Labour peer and former attorney-general circumvented normal tender rules to deliver a contract worth $500,000to a friend, and want her replaced.

Scotland's term at the helm of the London-based secretariat was due to expire in March but was extended until the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting planned for June, when her fate was to be decided.

But with CHOGM in Rwanda postponed until at least next year and possibly even longer due to the coronavirus pandemic, the secretariat revealed her position had been extended until the meeting could be held.

The decision came after a four-hour virtual meeting on the pandemic involving diplomatic officials and some of the 54 Commonwealth leaders on Wednesday.

« The UK as Chair in Office wrote to the Secretary-General today to inform her that there had been consensus to extending her contract until leaders are able to meet at the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), » a secretariat spokeswoman told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

« The usual reappointment process for Commonwealth secretary-generals occurs when leaders gather for CHOGM, therefore the Chair in Office has proposed that, as is customary, the reappointment process will now take place when CHOGM is able to meet.»

A new date for the meeting would be set as soon as possible.

Commonwealth secretary-general Baroness Patricia Scotland has provoked the ire of Australia's Foreign Minister.

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Born in Dominica, the 64-year-old baroness became a member of the House of Lords in 1997 and served in ministerial positions under the Brown and Tony Blair Labour governments. She was the first black woman appointed a Queen’s Counsel and, at 35, also the youngest. She is the first woman to ever run the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Her already-extended contract had been due to expire on June 27. She had sought a second term and her critics in Boris Johnson's government are being accused of acting as a colonial power in trying to replace her.

She denies any wrongdoing, despite an audit criticising her for circumventing normal tender rules to give a contract to KYA Global — a firm owned by Lord Patel of Bradford — her friend and fellow Labour peer. Scotland awarded the contract on her personal recommendation.

She has previously infuriated the Australian government by inviting world leaders to Adelaide for a charity cricket match without seeking Australia's permission first. That prompted an uncharacteristically stern letter from Foreign Minister Marise Payne that she cease and desist.