End of Year Message by Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon
29 December 2000
Renewal and Change: Our Commonwealth in 2001
After nine months as Secretary-General I can say it has been something of a roller-coaster ride or, as someone said, "this was not in the brochure". Whilst a career in politics usually prepares one for the unexpected, the unexpected in the Commonwealth is far more wide-ranging and covers every part of the globe. Getting used to 54 fairly strong-minded constituents is challenging, especially when they each see the role of the Commonwealth and the Secretariat through a different lens.
Within the Secretariat, a host of new challenges and opportunities have kept us active and engaged at the beginning of this new millennium, but which we must tackle along with our routine activities. In response to this, there was a need to develop a mission statement to guide and focus our work. Our mission statement reads:
We work as a trusted partner for all Commonwealth people -
· as a force for democracy and good governance
· as a platform for global consensus building
· as a source of practical help for sustainable development
Through this statement we seek to ensure that people, wherever they are in the Commonwealth, as well as our own staff, know what we are about.
In relation to democracy and good governance, we continue to defend and promote equality, human rights, democracy and the rule of law in all member countries, big and small, poor and rich. This past year has seen a testing of the family resolve, but we have met the challenges to democracy head on. We do so with the confidence that our fundamental values have been wholeheartedly embraced throughout our membership. The "Commonwealth way of doing things" is rapidly entrenching itself at the national, regional and international levels.
In this context, we note that the Biketawa Declaration adopted by the Pacific Islands Forum this year shows a strengthening of support for democratic mechanisms where they are under pressure or have been pushed aside. This is a welcome emulation of the Commonwealth example - which will hopefully help to pre-empt further situations of democracy being undermined. We know also that the OAU now makes military dictators unwelcome.
We will continue to pursue the issues of governance through such activities as electoral support, the good offices of the Secretary-General, eminent persons groups, public service reform and the strengthening of institutions of accountability.
In terms of global consensus building, I believe that the Commonwealth has a unique role. We are arguably the sole international forum where a diverse group of countries with differing levels of capacity and resources come together as equals to find common positions through consensus in an effective, informal and congenial manner.
One of the reasons many countries support the Commonwealth is because they can have their views magnified through joining with others and hence see the value of playing a part in local, regional, and global consensus building.
Our leadership role in highlighting the vulnerability of small states and promoting the highly indebted poor countries debate, where we have identified the issues, debated policies and forged new partnerships, are successful examples of consensus building.
Debt relief for those whose aspirations are crushed by the debt burden is a must for development aims to be achieved. At the same time there is a case for developing greater transparency in public accounting systems.
We are also promoting multilateral dialogue on such issues as harmful tax competition.
Small states will always have a problem making themselves heard. Their collective voice, however, is now being heard due to clear messages from the Commonwealth on their behalf.
Not to be forgotten is the Commonwealth Secretariat's involvement in providing practical help for sustainable development and we place equal emphasis on each of those words.
Although responding to myriad global changes is a constant challenge, our technical assistance and capacity building activities are seen as the most cost-effective way of helping countries respond to the demands of the people, the markets and the international community. Whilst being able to see the global problems, we can impress upon many how best to act locally, not just for themselves but for their children and their children's children.
People are seeing the Commonwealth in a new, more favourable light. We have shown our ability to meet daunting new challenges with creativity, expertise and sensitivity. Our work with and on behalf of the many weak or small states is just one example of this approach, and one that we hope to expand in the run-up to the next round of international trade negotiations and other important global milestones.
I have travelled extensively since April, and have visited almost a third of our member states. Alongside my consultations with government leaders and officials, I have made it my policy also to meet with young people wherever I go, to hear what they think and to convince them of the Commonwealth cause. For, if young people do not know the Commonwealth and understand the benefits of membership, we have a very limited future.
Old alliances have broken up - as have some countries - partly, I believe, as a result of more than a decade of uncertainty in the world. New alignments are emerging and the negatives of globalisation are readily retailed. But to me it is clear that there is a renewed commitment to the Commonwealth by its citizens, and a reciprocal commitment by the Commonwealth to each and every one of the men, women and children it serves and the 1.7 billion people it represents.
To many the Commonwealth is a true family. We readily understand each other, we can easily empathise amongst ourselves and when I say we speak the same language, I mean more than just the English language. The recent announcement that Commonwealth studies will re-enter the school curriculum in the UK is an example that I hope others will follow. We from the Secretariat will certainly encourage it.
However, challenges remain. Whilst not having the budget of the United Nations, or even WHO or UNESCO or La Francophonie, there are still many niches we can and will continue to fill: the battles to overcome AIDS, to open up markets for developing countries, to see more women in responsible positions, to give people hope and a worthwhile future.
All in all, it has been an eventful year. But it has also been a positive and rewarding one, with the relevance and credibility of the Commonwealth further reinforced. I believe we enter 2001 as a dynamic and confident organisation which will bring real benefit to our member countries and our people. However, in order to guarantee a better future for our Commonwealth, there is still much work to do. This is our challenge, and one we face together.
00/112 29 December 2000