Alas, Still on a ShoestringPosted by ZoeWare - 11/02/10 at 03:02 pm
One of the best outcomes of the recent Commonwealth summit in Trinidad was that at long last the leaders agreed to rationalise the organisation’s finances. Many people are under the impression that the Commonwealth costs a lot of money. Nothing could be further from the truth…
For an organisation of 54 countries it is run on a shoestring. It is right that the Commonwealth is a lean operation and, as in many ways, an example to others. On the other hand, to be effective it must have adequate resources for its worldwide activity. This has never been the case – and it still isn’t.
The situation is complicated. The price of membership is a country’s subscription to the Secretariat and that is compulsory. All the other Commonwealth organisations are run on countries’ voluntary pledges. The biggest is the development aid arm, the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC). The others are the Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP), the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), based in Vancouver, and the Commonwealth Media Development Fund (CMDF). The CFTC pledges in 2008-9 totalled £28.1, COL £6.9 m and the CYP £2.7. The Commonwealth Foundation is a separate entity housed with the Secretariat in Marlborough House. Its budget was £3.9 million.
In addition are the 90-odd organisations that make what is now called civil society, some tiny and comparatively new and others like the Royal Commonwealth Society and the Commonwealth Telecommunications Centre that are large and over a century old. In between are substantial bodies such the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the Commonwealth Games Federation and the Commonwealth Business Council.
For 20 years, a period of considerable inflation, the Secretariat contribution scales were frozen. In 2007-8 the budget still totalled only £14.2 million. One major factor helps to keep this low: Marlborough House is on permanent loan from the Queen and therefore accommodation costs are minimal. Member countries’ payments are on a percentage basis ranging from £4.2 million from the UK to £49,157 from small states like Samoa.
After years of tension and tough argument the freeze on levels of contribtuions has been lifted, and in Trinidad it was agreed that the scale will be reviewed every five years. This makes sense since members’ economies rise and fall. Many smaller countries are no longer in the “developing” category – places like Mauritius, Malta, Cyprus, Singapore, Trinidad, Barbados, Bahamas, and Brunei and can well afford to move up the scale. India, which in recent years has funded a growing number of Commonwealth projects, has paid till now only £474,407 subscription to the Secretariat.
Some countries, India among them, have agreed to raise their contributions considerably – eight by around 25 per cent and a ninth has doubled its money. Some smaller countries will pay a little less, but hopefully will pass on their savings to the CFTC and the CYP. All this is good news, but the long-term aim must be to get a better balance so that there is a much reduced disparity between the old member countries – UK, Canada, Australia – and the rest. This would give it all less of a look of the old British Commonwealth. Alas, under the changes agreed in Trinidad these three will proportionately be giving a little more.