Baroness Scotland, the peer who could face her own day of reckoning

Baroness Scotland, the peer who could face her own day of reckoning

09/01/2021

SIMON WALTERS: Baroness Scotland, the profligate peer who could face her own day of reckoning

When BA cabin crew struggled to control rowdy reality TV star Matthew Mawhinney on a flight from the Caribbean earlier this year, he yelled: ‘Go and f****** look up who my mum is…’

The Too Hot To Handle show contestant soon learned that being the son of the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Baroness Scotland, was no help to him: he was fined £3,000 by a court after admitting using ‘abusive’ language and apologising for his ‘shameful’ conduct.

Now it is Mawhinney’s mother who is in the spotlight; within weeks she could become the first person to be effectively sacked from her £160,000-a-year job.

This is the grim prospect facing Baroness Scotland, the first woman to hold the prestigious role, after it emerged that she faces a challenge from Kenyan politician, Monica Juma, to run the organisation.

Within weeks Baroness Scotland could become the first person to be effectively sacked from her £160,000-a-year job

Oxford-educated Dr Juma, 58, is expected to win the backing of Boris Johnson and other key Commonwealth leaders.

If she is successful, it will bring Baroness Scotland’s controversial five years in charge of the Commonwealth Secretariat to an ignominious end.

Dubbed Baroness Brazen or Baroness Shameless, the former Labour Cabinet minister has been dogged by allegations of extravagance, cronyism, and a revolt by some Commonwealth leaders.

Indeed, she had barely got her feet under the desk in 2016 than extraordinary details of a lavish makeover of her grace-and-favour Mayfair residence were revealed.

The bill is said to have included £24,000 for a bathroom; £8,000 to repair curtains; £307 for a lavatory seat; £5,000 to replace locks and £360 for two electrical sockets.

Baroness Scotland was reportedly advised by celebrity interior designer Nicky Haslam and six of the 28 rooms were decorated with Farrow & Ball or Sanderson paint, costing £5,000 and wallpaper at £100 a roll.

The former deputy head of Baroness Scotland’s private office later won nearly £300,000 in compensation after claiming he had been wrongly blamed by her for leaks about her spending.

Baroness Scotland, 66, whose salary package includes a generous pension, chauffeur and private health cover, dismissed claims of extravagance as ‘outright lies, half-truths and innuendo’.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General with her son Matthew Mawhinney who appeared on the TV show Too Hot to Handle

It was ‘absolute nonsense’ that she had misused public money, she insisted, denying wrongdoing of any sort. 

But Lady Scotland’s reputation suffered another blow when an auditor’s report criticised her over a £250,000 commission paid to a firm run by her fellow Labour peer Lord Patel of Bradford.

She was accused of ‘circumventing’ the usual competitive tendering rules by awarding the commission to KYA Global, owned by Patel. He had served alongside her as a minister in Gordon Brown’s government. 

Patel’s company was contracted to carry out a review of her Commonwealth Secretariat, but the audit committee said the firm was ‘apparently insolvent’ at the time with debts of nearly £50,000.

Auditors said procurement rules had been waived by the Secretariat on over 50 occasions. Furthermore, it is alleged she appointed political allies to key posts in the Secretariat.

Enraged at the exposure of such criticisms by whistle blowers and the media, Lady Scotland complained to Ipso, the Press watchdog, which dismissed the bulk of her complaints in 2017.

Oxford-educated Monica Juma (pictured), 58, is expected to win the backing of Boris Johnson and other key Commonwealth leaders

By 2018 senior political figures in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada were resolved to stop Baroness Scotland being automatically given a second four-year term, as is customary.

However, because of the global pandemic the bi-annual Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings, where such decisions are made, have not taken place.

But, frustrated by her determination to cling on to office, there are reports some Commonwealth leaders may move against her in a Zoom meeting next month. 

Boris Johnson increased the pressure on her last year by suspending Britain’s £4.7million annual grant to the Commonwealth Secretariat, arguing that a majority of its leaders wanted her to go.

No further funds would be forthcoming from the British Government until the Secretariat put its financial house in order – and included new protection for whistle blowers.

It meant the Secretariat, run from Marlborough House in Westminster, was in danger of going bust.

Defiant, Baroness Scotland, who was born in Dominica, accused the Prime Minister of a ‘fake news’ style attempt to undermine her and vowed she was ‘going nowhere’.

Her allies claimed the bid to oust her was led by mainly white member nations who did not want a black female leader.

Critics, meanwhile, claimed that her supporters were playing ‘the Meghan card’ – a reference to claims that criticism of the Duchess of Sussex is partly related to race.

If Baroness Scotland’s detractors had tried to invent a candidate better suited to taking her on they would have struggled to improve on Kenyan defence minister, Dr Monica Juma.

After obtaining a masters and doctorate in philosophy at Oxford, she joined Kenya’s foreign ministry, pioneered its anti-terrorist policy and has worked for the UN.

A senior diplomat told the Daily Mail: ‘Baroness Scotland’s backers cannot play the race card against Monica Juma. She is hugely respected in Africa and beyond and as a former diplomat has the skills that Scotland, who has an unfortunate tendency to rub people up the wrong way, lacks.

‘Even Caribbean nations who supported her in the past are losing patience with her.

‘The Commonwealth Secretariat has wasted money and covered up wrongdoing – yet lectures member states, including some of the poorest countries on earth, on the need for transparency and prudence. It cannot go on.’

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