Commonwealth Secretariat funds withheld amid concerns


Baroness Scotland is excited to host the event
Baroness Scotland is excited to host the event

The UK government on Wednesday (12) confirmed that it has withheld its estimated £4.7 million voluntary contribution to a key Commonwealth fund amid concerns over procurement policies within the Commonwealth Secretariat in London.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said that funding to the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC) for the 2018-19 financial year was £4,721,664, the final tranche of which has been paid in. However, there will be a number of conditions to be met before the funding for the 2019-20 financial year can be made.

“We are committed to an effective Commonwealth that delivers for its member states, so we have set a number of conditions on UK funding to the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation for this financial year,” an FCO spokesperson said.

“These include conditions relating to ensuring that the Secretariat’s procurement policy and its implementation are in line with international best practice,” the spokesperson said.

The suspension of the funding follows similar action by Australia and New Zealand. Besides the UK, Australia and New Zealand, it is India and Canada who are the main financial contributors to the CFTC – used for funding important development projects within the Commonwealth’s member-countries.

According to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), India is the fifth-largest contributor to the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC), with an annual contribution of around 1 million pounds.

It remains unconfirmed if India is also planning any action to suspend its funding amid ongoing concerns around the internal functioning of the Commonwealth Secretariat – the administrative hub for the Commonwealth of nations, made up of 54 countries.

The FCO has said that the UK government remains committed to an effective Commonwealth delivering for its member states, and will continue to collaborate with its fellow member states in overseeing the Commonwealth Secretariat for that purpose.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Patricia Scotland has been under some pressure in recent months over certain internal processes, casting doubt over her re-election for a second term during the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda later in the year.

Commonwealth High Commissioners had called in KPMG auditors last year for a review of the Secretariat”s financial procedures.

The Commonwealth Secretariat said that it fully accepted the recommendations of the recent KPMG internal audit report on procurement across the 2015-2018 financial years and expressed the hope that the UK”s funding would be reinstated soon.

Its statement said: “All six of the recommendations were accepted and all but one have been implemented. The remaining recommendation will be implemented by the end of February, 2020. The follow up audit, in April, will test and verify this position.

“We hope that the withheld discretionary funding, which is for the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation, will then be reinstated, allowing the Commonwealth to continue delivering vital work on behalf of member countries.”

Lord Kamlesh Patel’s consultancy firm KYA Global also came under the scanner for being issued a contract without the usual competitive tendering rules. Lord Patel and Baroness Scotland both strongly deny any impropriety.