Needed - What the Secretariat is
Costing the Commonwealth
Head, Commonwealth Policy Unit (CPSU)
Secretariat, the key international agency which serves all 53
member states, turned forty on 25 June 2005. However, much as
the cause is for celebration, its clear that the Secretariat is
stuck in a time warp. High time that the finances and the structure
of the Commonwealth Secretariat were overhauled, before it completely
reduced in real value, resulting in adverse consequences for the
work it could do and the values it is meant to represent.
Neither of the
two recent reviews of the Commonwealth under Prime Minister Mahathir
Mohammed of Malaysia in 1989-91 or under President Thabo Mbeki
of South Africa in 1999-2001 have dared to tackle this. The present
structure seems to have been put in place in the mid-sixties,
in a pale reflection of the system which paid for the United Nations.
now bear little relation to the growth, or ability to pay, of
different member countries. Specifically they distinguish between“developed”
and “developing” countries in a way that cannot be justified.
- the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zeland pay nearly 61 per
cent of the budget between them, which means that they can often
negate proposals which might be attractive to other members.
have not kept pace with the changing costs of an international
body, so that staffing has dropped from around 420 in 1990 to
around 280 in 2005. The total budget in 2003/4 was only £11.4
as that of South Africa or departures like Zimbabwe tend to
be dealt with in an ad hoc fashion when it comes to the Secretariat
subscriptions; these have failed to take into proper account
the fact that there has been a net increase of four members
in the past 15 years.
of the Commonwealth is supposed to equate to that of the payment
of subscriptions to all inter-governmental bodies, but fails
to do so. South Africa and Bangladesh are among the governments
which have chosen not to join the Commonwealth Foundation that
supports civil society, arts and professional links and Australia
last year also pulled out of the Commonwealth of Learning, the
distance teaching service.
Secretariat hangs on to a definition of a developed
state which ignores the analysis of the World Development Report
which found in 2004, that 13 of the 53 member states were rated
as having high human and economic development. The implication
is that no developing state will ever stop being developing,
and some would say that the idea that only largely white states
are developed is grossly racist.
fact the gross domestic product per head in Singapore in 2004 was
$20,886 as compared with $14,872 in New Zealand, and on a purchasing
power parity basis Singapore was still ahead. On a purchasing power
parity basis Indias gross domestic product (GDP) at $2,799.6
billion was larger than the UKs at $2,6180bn, and its growth
rate of over 7% in the last two years was more than twice that of
the UK. Yet, the UKs 30% contribution to the Secretariat budget
(£3.43M) was nearly ten times the size of Indias 3.34%
is no doubt that, when the Secretariat budget was first put together,
it was designed to have a redistributive element. Richer countries
were expected to pay more. But all this has got set in stone and
Colin Ball, former Director of the Commonwealth Foundation, is not
the only one to have said publicly that the richer countries have
used their financial muscle although their absolute contributions
are tiny by UN or European Union standards to say no to Commonwealth
the UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, India and New Zealand aside
there are only four levels of subscription. Three countries (Nigeria,
Malaysia and Singapore) pay 1.37% each (or £156,674 in 2002/3);
15 (from Bangladesh to Zambia) pay 1.02% each (or £116,648);
ten (from Bahamas to Sierra Leone) pay 0.59% (or £67,473);
and 17 ( from Antigua and Barbuda to Vanuatu) pay 0.35% or (£40,026).
The arbitrary nature of all this was illustrated when Zimbabwe was
suspended from the Commonwealth and the 42 states in the three cheapest
categories were each asked to pay 0.01 % more just over £114
are some peculiar consequences of this system. Secretariat budgets
never rise by more than the cost of living zero net growth.
Commonwealth NGOs are supposed to be in principle representative
of every member country. This is almost a condition now for accreditation
to the Commonwealth under the rules operated by the Commonwealth
Secretariat which give NGO status at Commonwealth summits, and for
funding by the Commonwealth Foundation. However more member countries
do not equate to more NGO members or to supply more income for the
Commonwealth Foundation is embarrassed to support activities in
countries which do not subscribe to it. Further, it has switched
off funding for civil society in Zimbabwe, even though Robert Mugabe
never consulted his people before taking the regime out of the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth has played a fine role in helping black South Africans,
during South Africas absence in the apartheid years.
heart, the issue is that the Commonwealth has not adjusted to the
changing balance of power within it. The key change is the rising
economic and political significance of India, particularly in the
context of warmer relations with Pakistan. The UKs international
development committee in Parliament has reported that aid to India
ought to be phased out as unnecessary, and some experts anticipate
that within 20 years the Indian standard of living will be close
to the UKs.
the last two runners-up in elections for Commonwealth Secretary-General
have come from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. A readjustment of the financial
basis for the Secretariat, and the other inter-governmental institutions,
ought to be linked to the electoral campaign of the next Secretary-General
in 2006-7, and that to renewed purposes for the Commonwealth.
would be easy to imagine a coalition put together by countries like
India, South Africa and Nigeria perhaps behind an Indian-backed
Pakistani1 for Secretary-General. It should not ignore the needs
of small states, but it would signal that many Commonwealth countries
are making a success of their development, even though issues of
poverty and human rights abuse have not gone away. The UK, Australia
and Canada should still be the largest contributors to the Secretariat
budget, but their share should drop below 50%. Subscriptions, and
the current banding system, ought to be reviewed every ten years.
Commonwealth is a mutual association, not owned by any member or
handful of members. Its strength lies in its diversity, not only
for its own citizens but for the wider world, for it cannot be an
island. Yet in UK company law a shareholder with 30 % of the shares
is assumed to be the owner, where no other shareholder has a larger
holding. The Shridath Ramphal2 years demonstrated that, politically,
the Commonwealth was autonomous, responding to the demands of its
broad constituency. It is time to take this logic further.
Africa Commission on Human and Peoples Rights
37th session of the Africa Commission on Human and Peoples
Rights met in Banjul, Gambia from 27 April - 11 May 2005.
African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, composed
of 11 African experts, was chaired by Commissioner Salamata
Sawadogo. The Commission addressed the necessity to operationalise
the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights, as well
as the violations of human rights in the Democratic Republic
of Congo, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Zimbabwe and Togo.
the 37th session
Commission specifically discussed the human rights situation
in Togo, drawing attention to the absence of freedom of expression
among other violations of human rights. More than 100 people
died and thousands more were wounded in Togo before, during
and after the presidential elections that ended on 24 April
Session was attended by 300 participants representing 28 State
Parties, 6 National Human Rights Institutions, 6 Intergovernmental
Organisations, and 110 African and International Non-Governmental
38th Ordinary Session of the African Commission will be held
from the 21 November -5 December 2005 provisionally in Nairobi,