Commonwealth Secretariat in ‘urgent need’ of reform, according to leaked report

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Baroness Patricia Scotland

By Caribbean News Now contributor

LONDON, England – According to a leaked internal report obtained by the BBC and recently reported that the Commonwealth Secretariat in London is in “urgent need” of reform; there are “deep concerns” about the governance structures of the organisation which “lacks clarity” and requires to be “more transparent and accountable”, adding, there’s a “serious and urgent need” to maintain stabilise the organisation’s finances.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General is presently headed by the previous Labour minister Baroness Scotland, which comprises of 53 nations, most of them previous British colonies, which include nearly one third of the world’s inhabitants.

In recent years, several member states have been less prepared to provide the organisation funds. Its core budget has now sunk to just £32m, down from £52m in 2012/13.

However, a spokesman for the Commonwealth secretariat said: “The secretariat is working to mitigate a declining budget from member countries by entering into partnerships with international organisations and foundations.

“During recent years under the secretary-general’s stewardship there has been a significant increase in extra budgetary funding, from £700,000 in 2012 to £3.5m in 2017. “

When heads of government elected Lady Scotland in 2015, they directed her to examine the way the secretariat was being operated. Three years later, she established a so-called ‘high-level group’ of chiefly previous Commonwealth foreign ministers whose report last autumn was never published.

The conclusion implied there was “an urgent need” for the governance structure of the secretariat to be reformed.

“There is also an immediate need for redressing the lack of clarity in policy and priorities; for the secretariat to be more transparent and accountable to stakeholders.”
There were “deep concerns about the adequacy of the current governance structures” and “there is a serious and urgent need to place the funding of the secretariat on a more stable and predictable footing”.

A separate survey of staff at the secretariat implied there were “strong indicators of low morale” with “high levels of dissatisfaction with opportunities for career progression”.

In light of the concerns, the Commonwealth’s 52 high commissioners in London plus one senior British diplomat have drawn up new rules to attempt to enhance the responsibility of the organisation.

These rules also clarify that Lady Scotland could be contested if she attempts to remain in post following her first term of office expires in 2020. The new rules state explicitly: “Re-appointment of a secretary-general for a second term is not automatic.”

It’s uncommon for Commonwealth secretaries-general to be contested after their first term. Only six persons have held the post since it was founded in 1965 and most were reappointed unchallenged. The sole notable difference was Don McKinnon who was unsuccessfully challenged in 2003 by a Sri Lankan nominee representing southern African countries outraged over the suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth.

The high commissioners, who make up the Commonwealth’s Board of Governors, had also directed an internal audit of procurement spending arrangements by the secretariat since 2016 when Lady Scotland commenced her post amid anxieties that procedures might not have been followed accurately.

The Commonwealth Secretariat response is such that: “Since her assumption of duty, the secretary-general has made changes to the Commonwealth’s organisational structure to make it more dynamic and integrated. She is confident that the great majority of staff are hard-working and committed to the Commonwealth. They are producing exemplary results.”

Lady Scotland’s supporters insist she is making progress reforming a dysfunctional secretariat and has ruffled feathers by making job cuts. Since 2016, the secretariat has cut staff from 295 to 223.

Despite concerns of leadership a strong alternative is yet to emerge from the formal ad informal structures, albeit diplomats say Lady Scotland, who was attorney general under Gordon Brown, has started canvassing unofficially to ensure a second four-year term in 2020 and has disputed confidentially there was a rational expectation she should be reappointed unchallenged.

However, the 53 high commissioners in London agreed to new rules in March confirming the unwritten convention that secretaries-general can be opposed when their first term of office concludes.

They also toughen up the accountability and oversight of the secretariat, including regular assessments of the secretary general’s performance are yet to be agreed by Commonwealth foreign ministers and eight have already rallied to Lady Scotland’s cause, formally challenging the new provisions and whether they should appeal to the current secretary-general.

The Countries that opposed the new rules are said to include Barbados, Belize, Seychelles, Nigeria, Saint Lucia, Dominica and St Kitts and Nevis.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has now sent correspondence to those eight nations to try to address their anxieties. The matter is anticipated to come to a head at a meeting of Commonwealth foreign ministers in London on July 10.

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