By Elizabeth Smith, Chair, Commonwealth Media Group
“Now is the time for reform” is the message from the Eminent Persons Group, set up to carry out “Blue Skies” thinking on the Commonwealth. They met in London on 22 March and a member of the Group and their spokesman, Sir Ronald Sanders, emphasised that, without reform, the Commonwealth was in danger of becoming irrelevant and unconvincing as a values-based organisation.
They have drawn up various suggestions to present to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth in October. These include a Charter, to be developed by and for the Commonwealth.
Sir Ronald explained that this would bring together all the Commonwealth principles at present spread across a variety of documents. And the setting up of a Commissioner on Democracy and the Rule of Law, possibly based somewhere outside London, and advising the Secretary-General and the Ministerial Action Group on serious or persistent violations of the Commonwealth’s core values.
And what about increasing the awareness of the Commonwealth, a topic on which the Commonwealth Media Group gave evidence to the EPG?
The CMG called for a major upgrading of the Commonwealth’s media presence and spelt out ways in which this could be done. It is disappointing that there was no reference to this area in outline of the recommendations issued on March 22nd.
When Sir Ronald Sanders was questioned about this, however, he confirmed that the need for greater impact through the media is acknowledged and some proposals in this area will be included. Sir Ronald was also asked about pre-publication of the EPG Report, to allow for public discussion. He favoured this but said it would be decision for Commonwealth Governments rather than for the EPG.
My own view is that widespread discussion of the EPG recommendations in the run up to CHOGM is absolutely essential. It will allow the Heads of Government to realise that there are strong feelings on the need and scale of Commonwealth Reform. For too long the Commonwealth has taken its decisions behind closed doors, without opportunities for civil society to make their views count, and with virtually every country having the capacity to slow things down and impose a veto.
The time for the Commonwealth to adopt the principles of Open Government is now. The time for reform is overdue.