September 21, 2023
Our felicitations to you, Chair, for hosting the successful CHOGM Kigali Summit last year. We now look forward to similarly celebrating Samoa’s success next year.
2. The Kigali theme of “Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming” was a cue for the renewal of the Commonwealth, and which, in our view, should guide our discussions today. I am not breaking news, if I suggest that a universal virus has infected all large longstanding multilateral bodies. The symptoms are longer declarations and decreasing relevance. Commonwealth is symptomatic too. The Commonwealth has to respond to its member countries.
3. However, it seems that the member countries’ energy is increasingly spent on negotiating with its own back office. This is not a good sign for any institution. Reforms and renewal must be our call ahead. To this end, post Samoa, we must implement the proposals being discussed at the three ongoing Informal Working Groups. I assure you of India’s full support in carrying this work forward. Excellencies
4. We welcome the theme of Samoa CHOGM: “One Resilient Future: Transforming Our Commonwealth” which will help meet the challenges faced by Small States, which constitute a third of the Commonwealth family. We suggest that our thematic discussions focus on green growth, digital growth; and SIDS and Small States.
5. Climate change is a reality and it bites. Green Growth is our common future. It is important to stand by our friends in the Global South, who face the worst of this apocalyptic weather changes. Our roadmap flowing from Kigali provided us useful indicators and it is time that we collectively followed this GPS.
6. India’s G20 Presidency has centered the concerns of the Global South into the G20 Leaders Agenda and placed the concerns of the Global South at its forefront. Fellow Commonwealth members contributed in shaping that agenda in New Delhi. This agenda provides for financing for climate resilience and environment sustainability, managing global debt vulnerabilities, as well as digital trade connectivity, the themes that have been part of the Commonwealth agenda as well. AU as a representative of Africa was welcomed as the 21st member. We are pleased that AU finds a seat for the first time on a high table. This suggests that whenever there is political will, reformed multilateralism will happen.
7. Excellencies, SIDS should be a priority area for the next Samoa CHOGM. SIDS have always been India’s top priority. We continue to engage with SIDS bilaterally and multilaterally on this. I am pleased to report that in the last 12 months alone, India has contributed USD 50 million through the “Commonwealth Window” towards capacity building, especially of Small States and Small Island Developing States through 34 projects, operationalised through the India-UN Development Partnership Fund. These are completely SIDS-owned and SIDS-led, demand-driven, and transformational projects. Since 2018, we have also increased our annual contribution to the Commonwealth Small States Offices Program in New York to a quarter million USD and to Geneva at USD 150000 per year. During the COVID pandemic, 48 out of the then 54 Commonwealth members, received Vaccines from India, notwithstanding the challenges from the second wave to our own population.
8.Mr. Chair and, Excellencies, allow me to also flag some key issues for our collective consideration:One, Commonwealth’s core values of transparency, accountability and efficiency should be reflected in the incumbent Secretariat, especially in its working relationship with the Board of Governors, who, and this bears a double click, represent sovereign governments, and who are responsible for the operational oversight of the group and its activities.
Two, it bears consideration that we go beyond geographical regions for the selection of a dynamic, enterprising, efficient administrator of the Secretariat, who would anchor the Commonwealth in the principles and values of the Commonwealth Charter.
Three, on the Terms and Conditions of Service (TACOS), Troika is seized of the matter and will report directly to the Heads. However, without receiving the Birches report, it will naturally be difficult to recommend acceptance of its suggestions, which would anyhow apply post Samoa only.
And lastly, simplified reporting, a focussed Delivery Plan, rigorous budgetary and spending management, prioritisation of programmes based on available budget, respect for a consensus-based and membership driven approach will surely remove the static and improve the Commonwealth’s working.
9. In closing, Mr. Chair, may I say that the Commonwealth is a unique institution, that has been delicately reconciling historical experiences of the past, through an informal, friendly and collegial consensus-based process. Let us abide by that process so that the mandates of our principals are delivered in a timely, responsible, transparent, accountable and efficient manner. Performance and relevance audit of multilateral institutions is in the air, and why not! I thank you.