Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina arrives at Perth to attend the Commonwealth Summit

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina arrives at Perth to attend the Commonwealth Summit

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will be attending the Summit of the Commonwealth heads of the Government (CHOGM). The heads of government of 53-member states of the Commonwealth will be meeting in the Australia city of Perth on 27 to 28 October
Sheikh Hasina is expected to reach Perth on 27th October. Besides attending the CHOGM, the Prime Minister will meet her Australian counterpart Julia Gillard. She is expected to attend a series of executive meetings and several receptions to be hosted by Queen Elizabeth, Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Commonwealth Secretary General Ambassador Kamalesh Sharma, former Indian High Commissioner to Britain.
The last summit was held in 2009 in Trinidad and Tobago which the Bangladesh Prime Minister participated

The Commonwealth is a unique organization. Its breadth of the membership includes countries of all continents. Almost one third of the world’s population lives in the Commonwealth countries. Countries of all races and religions are its members including the richest and the poorest.
Every two years, Commonwealth leaders meet at Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) to discuss global and Commonwealth issues, and to agree on collective policies and initiatives. CHOGMs are organised by the host nation in collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat.

The theme of the meeting is ‘Building National Resilience”. Building global resilience reflects the importance of addressing pressing challenges at multiple levels: as individual states, as members of the Commonwealth, and as part of the global community.

Statistics indicate that developing countries within the commonwealth constitute 86% of world’s population, 76% per cent of world’s land area and only 23% per cent of world’s wealth. There are countries within the Commonwealth whose per capita income is less than $2.00 a day.

Bangladesh joined the Commonwealth in 1973 and since then has always participated actively in all the Summits. Bangladesh has always emphasized the need for the donors to meet the specified target of development aid and highlighted the reduction of poverty and hunger in the poorer commonwealth nations.

Two most important documents of the Commonwealth are: The 1991 Harare Declaration and the other, the 1997 Edinburgh Declaration. The former relates to democracy and the latter with the trade and business within the Commonwealth.

One of the pillars of democracy is the observance of human rights. Most of the Commonwealth members carry strong memories of their struggles for rights and freedoms. All the Commonwealth countries are expected to be democratic based on multi-party system and respect human rights.

Three important issues are expected to come up before the leaders:
• Climate change: The leaders are expected to discuss how much financial assistance would be provided to poorer countries for adaptation and mitigation of adverse effects of change of climate. Bangladesh would need $2 billion dollars every year to address the degradation of environment due to climate change, according to one estimate.
• Migration: The World Bank estimates that in 2008, remittances from migrants amounted to approximately $444 billion, out of which $338 billion went to developing countries. Evidence suggests that immigrants often fill labour market and skills gaps and promote innovation and entrepreneurship, increasing economic growth to the countries they migrate. This role has only become more important primarily because of two factors: (a) huge number of young population in developing countries and (b) shrinkage of population in many affluent countries…
• The Ramphal Commission on Migration and Development, established in 2010, has been set up under the leadership of Mr. P J Patterson, former Prime Minister of Jamaica, to advise Commonwealth governments and agencies on how they may adopt mutually beneficial and practical policies to maximize the benefits of international migration.
• Commonwealth Business Forum (organised by Commonwealth Business Council) will provide key policy recommendations to CHOGM with regard to learn about new business and investment opportunities; conduct business with other international partners; network with key government and business leaders; and influence the debate on important trade and investment issues.

Furthermore, one day of the summit is entirely devoted in informal discussions among the heads of government, known as “retreat”. It is a one- to- one meeting without any aides and leaders may raise any issue with each other. Often informal talks between leaders in the past led to resolution of many prickly bilateral or regional issues.

.Within the Commonwealth, there are Commonwealth Foundation, Commonwealth Games, Commonwealth Business Council and Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation. They all are based on cooperation, characterized by commonwealth values.

Side by side with the meeting of CHOGM, three major forums are set to explore economic, social and youth issues at Perth. The Commonwealth People’s Forum will discuss social issues and the role of social service providers while the Business Forum will explore economic and trade opportunities between nations. The Youth Forum, discussing issues affecting young people. All three forums are expected to deliver their findings during the CHOGM event this weekend.

Critics say that the Commonwealth has nothing in common nor has wealth. It is a relic of the British Empire. It can bark but not bite. It is a toothless tiger.

Another fact is that, facilities of nationals of Commonwealth have gradually diminished in Britain, a member of European Union. A national of Spain will enjoy much more facilities and privileges (such as visa-free entry and right to work) than a national of a non- Commonwealth member in Britain enjoy.

The world is much more complicated than before and pattern of alliance has changed. Many Commonwealth members look increasingly to regional or distant partners, not necessarily a Commonwealth member-state, to form their most important alliances.

The Commonwealth needs modernisation and incorporation of innovative ideas for injecting dynamism. A committee may be constituted by the leaders of the Commonwealth to review the goals of the organization and suggest recommendations for vitalizing the institution in the light of the needs of 21st century.

Many suggest a programme of Commonwealth peace volunteers may be introduced offering services to Commonwealth countries and the interaction between young people will enrich vigor and strength of the organization.

The organization needs adequate resources and many well-wishers suggest that the Commonwealth leaders may seriously consider in asking for donations from philanthropists, such as Bill Gates or Ted Turner for the organization. (Ted Turner donated money for the UN).

Despite its difficulties, the Commonwealth could be a valued organization as its state-members make of it. It is an organisation with “a heart of gold but limbs of clay” as some journalist put it years ago.

The Commonwealth is a valued political piece of architecture because of its diversity and its ideals. Let me end by quoting Prince Charles, the future head of the Commonwealth, who said : “ The Commonwealth is a wonderful resource that embodies a particular kind of decency and humanity.”

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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