A Long Way Gone*

Stephen Harper’s bullish foray into Commonwealth politics is a late entry in this long-running saga.  His boycotting of mid-November’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo and his threat to rescale Canada’s £10 million in annual funding are attributed to Sri Lanka’s human rights record.  Canada may also be carrying a message on behalf of an elitist, backroom consortium.

While appearing unfazed by the Prime Minister’s shenanigans, Marlborough House remains wary of exacerbating badly bungled diplomacy.  Choosing his words carefully, a spokesperson was more clever than useful in offering that, “Canada is a valued member of the Commonwealth family, and its contribution to the association is appreciated by other member countries and the Commonwealth Secretariat.  Like other members, it too is able to avail itself of the advantages of Commonwealth membership.”

Among the highlights of October’s unfolding drama were:

  • The United Kingdom’s £3 million cut over two years in its £16 million in annual funding;
  • The UK’s targeting of its cut in public sector development;
  • Canada’s stop payment on its contribution while considering potential cuts;
  • The Gambia’s bizarre pull-out in protest over the arrogance of a “neo-colonial club”; and
  • Calls for Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma’s ouster as “the wrong person for the job”.

Two Commonwealth public sector stalwarts are in jeopardy — the Governance and Institutional Development Division, widely regarded as the visible face of the Secretariat in member countries, and its sidekick, the Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management.  To paraphrase Robert Frost’s self-penned epitaph, they are having “a lover’s quarrel with the world”.

The spectre of the membership following suit haunts, but does not sufficiently humble, the Secretariat.  It is advertising for a new Deputy Secretary-General: Corporate Affairs as an upgrade to the existing Assistant Secretary-General post.  More than the dosh, the Commonwealth’s credibility and survival are at stake.  For a change, this CHOGM will be one to watch.

*Title of Ishmael Beah’s memoirs as a boy soldier during Sierra Leone’s civil war 1992-2002.


John Wilkins
John Wilkins was a Commonwealth diplomat and a career public servant in Canada. He is Associate Director with the Public Management Program in the Schulich School of Business at York University (jwilkins@schulich.yorku.ca or johnkwilkins@gmail.com).

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