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Last updated: 27 Apr, 2023  

Secy.9.thmb.jpg Commonwealth like a family, remains effective and relevant: Secretary General

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IANS | 27 Apr, 2023
It does not have the megaphone that enables other world bodies broadcast their small and big achievements, such as the UN and its star body the Security Council, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union. But the Commonwealth of Nations has not only built up an impressive list of outcomes, it has, away from the limelight, led on key global issues, such as climate change.

Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland says this organisation of 56 member nations remains effective, relevant and engaged. But what sets it apart from the others is that it is like a family, tied by shared "love" and concern for each other.

Scotland spoke to IANS on the sidelines of the annual Spring Meetings of the World Bank group.

Excerpt from the interview:

The Commonwealth of Nations has 56 members and it's home to a quarter of the world's humanity but it is barely heard on issues of significance; Ukraine, for instance, or the present global financial crisis.

Patricia Scotland: Since 2016, the Commonwealth has really been at the forefront of a number of quite pivotal issues. We looked at the issues of debt; we looked at the issues of climate change; we looked at the issues in relation to corruption, looked at the issues in relation to women and domestic violence or the issues in relation to democracy and freedom.

On all of these issues, the Commonwealth has been right at the front, particularly in relation to climate. We are here right now (at the Spring Meetings) talking about the reform of the IFIs (International Financial Institutions), the need for us to have a universal vulnerability index because looking at the GNI as the arbiter for what should happen on climate finance is just not working.

Of course, the issues in relation to Ukraine are important to the Commonwealth in terms of food insecurity and the rise in the cost of living about which we've been talking a great deal because we identified that these exogenous shocks, which happened in one area, (have) disproportionate deleterious impact on our member states. So I think if what we are saying isn't being covered as extensively as it could or should be, we are trying to change that's why we're having these conversations.

Do you think there is a need for the Commonwealth to change to adapt to this new world that is emerging, a multipolar world where you no longer have just the US and the Soviet Union or now Russia; there is China?

Patricia Scotland: If you look at what has happened in the last seven years (since she took over as Secretary General) is that the Commonwealth is growing. It's one of the only organisations which more countries are joining and (to which) more countries that left have come back. (Togo and Gabon, which were never parts of the Commonwealth, became last year its 55th and 56th members). They've been looking at the change that has happened in the Commonwealth, particularly in those countries, which are similar to them, who are in the Commonwealth, but who are doing exponentially better. And these countries are saying why. And why the Commonwealth is becoming so attractive, I understand, is because it's a values driven organisation, not dependent on treaty, concentrating on common interests.

The world has become a very unstable and quite worrisome place. People are looking for friends. They're looking at friends with whom they can deal and work not only in sympathy, but also in safety. As the rest of the world becomes more difficult, I think people are attracted to an organisation which is bound on values and is based on equality because in the Commonwealth, it doesn't matter what size you are, how rich you are, how poor you are, you are equal.

If you look back at 2018 you remember, on the multilateral arena, nobody could agree on anything. You almost thought at one stage they couldn't even agree on a cold custard tart. And they thought therefore it would be impossible for those areas which were so difficult and so complex globally to be agreed anywhere. If you look at our Commonwealth communique, the Commonwealth came together - we were then 53 countries -- and we agreed on everything. We agreed on a new connectivity agenda. We agreed to create the blue charter (to work together on a fair, inclusive and sustainable approach to ocean protection and economic development), we agreed on what we were going to do on women, on every single issue. And it was extraordinary because here you had countries of all shapes, all sizes, five different regions across six oceans agreeing on everything.

We had a meeting of trade ministers and people said look, you know WTO was very difficult. You're never gonna get anyone to agree on and you know how disparate that family is. The whole Commonwealth came together and we agreed - every Trade Minister agreed - on a Trade Ministers' communique. The world looked at us 'how on earth'. And the reason is not only do we respect each other, we listen to each other. But we don't just look at what divides us, we look at what joins us. What we've been able to do in the Commonwealth is to work attention around that consensus.

Do you see the Commonwealth as a kind of model for all of the world organisations?

Patricia Scotland: I think the Commonwealth has been, and can continue to be a pathfinder. I'll just give you a few examples. There was the original example in relation to race and apartheid -- it was the Commonwealth who was ahead. But look at (the issue of) climate. In the 1989 Langkawi declaration in Malaysia, the Commonwealth identified that climate posed an existential threat. So three years before the original COP (Conference of Parties, the top decision making body of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), the Commonwealth came together and said, if we don't do this, this is what's going to happen.

Look at what happened in terms of HIPIC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) -- the highly indebted countries and debt forgiveness. Who came up with that idea? It was the Commonwealth.

Look at what then happens in relation to the climate. In 2013, the Commonwealth said what do you believe in, what's the direction? It took them two years, three months, 11 days to come up with a charter, one to 16. If you then look at what the UN did in 2015, one to 16 is one to 16 of our charter and SDG (Sustainable Development Goal number) 17 is partnership, which is in our preamble.

(If) you come to our meetings, what you'll see is people care about each other. You know, people don't like this word love (but) they do love each other and if you love someone, it hurts you to see them suffer and you want to do that. So that's what we have.

India holds the G20 presidency for 2023. Any expectations?

Patricia Scotland: India, the Commonwealth's largest member and the current G20 chair, has a unique opportunity to leverage its position to advocate for inclusive, transparent and consultative reforms of the international financial institutions among its G20 members. India can also push for inclusive financial policies and advocate for debt relief.
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