UK

Commonwealth deputy wins compensation for dismissal

Commonwealth boss Lady Scotland Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Lady Scotland became Commonwealth secretary-general in 2016

The Commonwealth secretary-general, Lady Scotland, has been accused at an employment tribunal of mounting a campaign to sideline and undermine one of her deputies.

Dr Josephine Ojiambo, a Kenyan diplomat, made the accusation after Lady Scotland decided not to renew her term of office as deputy secretary-general. The tribunal found the Commonwealth Secretariat breached its contract with Dr Ojiambo and ordered it to pay compensation and costs. A spokesman for the secretariat said it was studying the ruling.

Dr Ojiambo, a former Kenyan ambassador to the United Nations, was appointed deputy secretary-general in January 2015 by Lady Scotland's predecessor. Kamalesh Sharma said then that Dr Ojiambo brought "a strong track record in leadership, strategic and operational management... and an impressive versatility of high-level experience and skills appropriate for the position".

Dr Ojiambo was told that most staff in senior roles like this served two three-year terms. But in 2016 Lady Scotland, a former Labour minister, decided that Dr Ojiambo - and two other deputy secretaries-general - would not have their contracts renewed so the secretariat could save money.

Dr Ojiambo told the special Commonwealth employment tribunal that this decision was arbitrary and breached her reasonable expectation of serving a second term.

Image copyright The Commonwealth
Image caption Dr Josephine Ojiambo says she was told most senior staff roles served two three-year terms

She also claimed that Lady Scotland "undertook a campaign to sideline and undermine her in the period leading up to the non-renewal of her contract" in 2017.

She said this included "deliberate actions making it difficult for [Dr Ojiambo] to make travel plans", "uncertainty regarding resources to be applied to the new role", "the removal of [Dr Ojiambo's] name from an organigram [chart] showing management structure", and "refusals by [Lady Scotland] of several requests for meetings".

In its submission to the tribunal, the secretariat denied that any efforts were made to undermine Dr Ojiambo in the manner alleged.

The tribunal said these actions were not significant enough to amount to a breach of contract. But it did conclude that the Commonwealth Secretariat had broken its contractual obligations by refusing to renew Dr Ojiambo's contract without considering whether there was a good reason not to renew.

The tribunal decided that it would not be appropriate to order the secretariat to reinstate Dr Ojiambo, whose contract expired in January this year. But it did decide that she should be awarded compensation for the financial losses and stress she had suffered. It also said Dr Ojiambo was entitled to costs. Both amounts will be decided at a later date.

Dr Ojiambo was not available for comment.

This is not the first time that a senior figure working for Lady Scotland has taken the Commonwealth Secretariat to an internal employment tribunal. In April 2018 Ram Venuprasad, a former deputy head of office at the secretariat, won £300,000 compensation after a tribunal concluded his contract had been breached.

Mr Venuprasad felt forced to resign after he raised concerns about Lady Scotland's decision to spend £50,000 on a garden party and hire various political associates as consultants and advisers. An internal disciplinary body blamed Mr Venuprasad for leaking internal documents - something he denied - and ruled against him while he was on sick leave. But the tribunal ruled these decisions were flawed and should be set aside. It said the Commonwealth Secretariat had breached Mr Venuprasad's employment contract by suspending him and making adverse comments about him in the media.

The tribunal ruled: "We also trust that this judgment will encourage the Secretariat to reflect on the uncompromising and aggressive manner in which the disciplinary process and this litigation were conducted, despite the illness and vulnerability of the employee concerned. A more sensitive and humane approach would have gone a long way to avoiding the breaches that occurred, the harms that were caused by those breaches, and the cost to the Secretariat of compensating Mr Venuprasad for those harms."

Lady Scotland took over as Commonwealth secretary-general in 2016 and her term of office is scheduled to last four years.

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