Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma retires at the start of next year, having completed two terms in office. He reflects on the last eight years and considers the Commonwealth’s future
Global: What do you consider to have been your main achievements during your two terms as Secretary-General?
Kamalesh Sharma: There are several things that stand out to me:
- Overseeing the development of a Commonwealth Charter and having it adopted by all member states
- Advancing Commonwealth values through adoption of eight triggers by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group including free and fair elections, democratic space for opposition, freedom of expression, separation of powers and independency of judiciary
- Promoting the Commonwealth Secretariat as preferred or principal strategic interlocutor on global issues with United Nations, IMF, World Bank and the G20
- Bringing internal corporate governance up to international standards. As an example, the Internal Justice Systems of International Organisations Legitimacy Index has put the Commonwealth Secretariat on top of 28 organisations, including the European Union, World Bank and United Nations. Aiming to have the best gender ratio of any multilateral organisation
- Redefining Commonwealth convening power through digital networking on the cloud-based web platform ‘Commonwealth Connects’, which now has more than 100 Commonwealth entities on it, and Hubs to develop a Commonwealth gold standard on election management, on education and on health, for knowledge transfer, disseminating best practice and creating partnerships
- Bringing advocacy and initiatives to a new level on behalf of small states on debt, trade, climate change and capacity building
- Creating a new level of partnerships with Commonwealth and global organisations
- Lifting the contribution of the Secretariat to the empowerment of women and youth to a new level. For example, development of the Youth Development Index and diplomas on youth work as a global first and restructuring regional provision of youth services with the aim of creating a new and contemporary business plan to serve the youth of the Commonwealth
I trust my term will be seen as one of ambition, diligence and pragmatism, with dedication to advancing Commonwealth values and goals, and of the Commonwealth as a great global good.
What do you see as the key priorities for the Commonwealth over the next five years?
The Commonwealth has always maintained that global outcomes must be inclusive, equitable and embrace all human communities, irrespective of size and endowment. We need to be in the forefront of global advocacy of these values and on behalf of small states, and raising awareness and creating practical approaches.
The Commonwealth is also special in its work as a champion for young people, empowering them to participate in decision-making processes. There is growing awareness that we must partner with young people in nation building. As young people will be the ones living with the decisions made today, they should help shape them.
I see great scope and widespread impact in our potential contribution in advancing respect for diversity and our multiple identities.
Another priority is identifying and shaping key partnerships for the Commonwealth. By working with partners we open up new opportunities for advancing our goals.
What do you see as the main challenges for the Secretariat going forward?
As the world moves into a new period of post-2015 international development and cooperation, the way forward can be rewarding for the Commonwealth. More than ever the Commonwealth needs to continue to be an advocate for inclusivity and the needs of those who struggle to find have a voice on the international stage.
By harnessing the immense potential of its young people, and inspiring in them vigilance towards values of democracy and diversity, and a deep commitment to inclusive development, the Commonwealth will continue to have a vital role in improving the lives of all its citizens.
What has the impact been of the recent re-organisation of the Secretariat?
Our recast staff structure, reflecting our new strategic plan, has been tailored to focus on action with measurable results and impact, to enable the Commonwealth to advance positive change and build capacities. We are now delivering more efficiently and cost-effectively for the benefit of our member states and our peoples. Levels of attainment have increased with the adoption of a robust Strategic Results Framework, which is now firmly embedded throughout the Commonwealth Secretariat, with staff trained to focus on evidence-based impact when planning and reporting on programmes and projects.
Embracing purposeful change with energy and enthusiasm, the Secretariat has continued to demonstrate the distinctive contribution the Commonwealth can make. In partnership with member states we build on the strengths, successes and the special features of the strong Commonwealth brand.
What distinguishes the Commonwealth from other inter-governmental organisations?
There is no international organisation like the Commonwealth. Our diversity is manifest in our 53 independent and equal sovereign states from all parts of the world, home to more than 2.2 billion citizens, with every member state having an equal voice and representation.
Our Charter, adopted in 2012, is that of a values-based rather than an issues-based organisation. We are a pragmatic organisation constantly evolving and finding innovative ways to serve the contemporary needs of our member states and the global good.
An objective measure of the way in which the Commonwealth adds global value is seen in highly regarded assessments in which Commonwealth member states have been consistently given high rankings on good governance and other measures, true to their membership of the Commonwealth as a values-based organisation.
Eight of the top ten ranking countries in the Transparency International index, which looks at the perception of corruption in Africa, are members of the Commonwealth. Only 18 of Africa’s 54 countries are Commonwealth members. Seven of the top ten countries in the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which measures rule of law, human rights, participation, human development and sustainable economic opportunity, are Commonwealth members.
We are also unique, and particularly fortunate, in having a strong family of civil society organisations actively committed to advancing the goals and values of the Commonwealth, and to connecting the people and institutions of our member states in multiple ways and to mutual benefit. Through their programmes and initiatives, civil society organisations have helped strengthen some of the most fundamental rights and freedoms necessary to build a true culture of democracy.
Should the Commonwealth be looking to welcome new members? If so, which countries would be the best candidates?
The initiative has to come from the countries wishing to join. They must exemplify commitment to our collective Commonwealth values of democracy, diversity and development. There is a formal procedure for registering an expression of interest in joining, and then several stages for consideration by the governments of our existing members of any applications for membership. There is merit in expansion only if it strengthens us as a values-based organisation.