How the Commonwealth is run
HEAD OF THE COMMONWEALTH
Upon her accession in 1952 and on the initiative of India, all nations of the Commonwealth accepted Queen Elizabeth II as the second Head of the Commonwealth. The position of Head implies no executive or constitutional power: it is a symbolic role. Queen Elizabeth II’s heir will not automatically become Head of the Commonwealth. When the time comes, Commonwealth Heads of Government will make a decision about this role.
The Queen addresses and opens the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and holds audiences with Commonwealth leaders. Amongst her Commonwealth tours, she visits the host country during each summit, holds a Banquet for Heads and hosts other social events. She delivers a Christmas broadcast to the Commonwealth and sends a Commonwealth Day message which is widely publicised on Commonwealth Day (the second Monday in March). She is usually present at Commonwealth Day events, including the multi-faith observance held at Westminster Abbey and the Commonwealth Secretary-General’s reception held at Marlborough House in the evening.
To find out more about the Queen and the Commonwealth visit the Royal website.
COMMONWEALTH HEADS OF GOVERNMENT MEETING (CHOGM)
The main decision-making forum of the Commonwealth is the biennial CHOGM. Here, the Commonwealth Heads of Government assemble for several days to discuss matters of mutual interest. A key element of the Summit is the retreat where Heads meet entirely on their own. The last CHOGM was held in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, in November 2009. The next CHOGM will take place in Australia in 2011.
Click here for information about the key outcomes of the 2009 CHOGM on the Commonwealth Secretariat website.
THE COMMONWEALTH SECRETARY-GENERAL
Elected by Commonwealth Heads of Government for now no more than two four-year terms, the Secretary-General is the prinicpal face and voice of the Commonwealth and his relationship with Commonwealth Heads is crucial in sustaining Commonwealth co-operation. Assisted by two Deputy Secretaries-General, he is also the Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Secretariat. The current Secretary-General is Indian-born, Kamalesh Sharma, who took office in April 2008, succeeding Don McKinnon of New Zealand (2000-2008). The first Secretary-General was Arnold Smith of Canada (1965 – 75), followed by Sir Shridath Ramphal of Guyana (1975 – 90), and Chief Emeka Anyaoku of Nigeria (1990 – 2000).
For more information see the Secretary-General’s page on the Commonwealth Secretariat website.
The position of Chairperson-in-Office was created at the 1999 CHOGM in South Africa. Heads of Government believed that the Chairperson of each CHOGM (the Head of the host nation) should be able to play a representational role, especially in other intergovernmental organisations in the period between Heads of Government Meetings. Prime Minister Patrick Manning of Trinidad and Tobago is the current Chairperson-in-Office. He will hold this position until the next CHOGM in 2011.
Established in 1965 and based at Marlborough House in London, the Commonwealth Secretariat is the main intergovernmental agency of the Commonwealth, facilitating consultation and cooperation among member governments and countries. The Secretariat is responsible to all member governments collectively. It assists in policy development and provides policy advice; it facilitates multilateral communication among member governments; and provides technical assistance to help governments in the social and economic development of their countries.
Commonwealth countries share many links outside government with over one hundred Commonwealth-wide non-governmental organisations, most notably in the areas of education, culture and sport. The Commonwealth Foundation is an intergovernmental organisation resourced by and reporting to Commonwealth governments and guided by Commonwealth values and priorities. Like the Secretariat, the Foundation is based at Marlborough House in London. Its mandate is to strengthen civil society in the achievement of Commonwealth priorities: democracy and good governance, respect for human rights and gender equality, poverty eradication and sustainable, people-centred development, and the promotion of arts and culture.
COL is an intergovernmental organisation created by Commonwealth Heads of Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning/distance education knowledge, resources and technologies. Based in Vancouver, COL is helping developing nations improve access to quality education and training.