Commonwealth Secretariat

Commonwealth Secretariat
Formation1965; 53 years ago (1965)
PurposePrimary organ of the Commonwealth of Nations
HeadquartersMarlborough House
London, SW1
Patricia Scotland (2016–present)
Parent organisation
Commonwealth of Nations
Websitewww.thecommonwealth.org

The Commonwealth Secretariat is the main intergovernmental agency and central institution of the Commonwealth of Nations. It is responsible for facilitating co-operation between members; organising meetings, including the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM); assisting and advising on policy development; and providing assistance to countries in implementing the decisions and policies of the Commonwealth.[1]

The Secretariat has observer status in the United Nations General Assembly. It is located at Marlborough House in London, the United Kingdom, a former royal residence that was given by Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Commonwealth.

History

Marlborough House, London, the headquarters of the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Commonwealth's principal intergovernmental institution

The Secretariat was established by Heads of Government in 1965, taking over many of the functions of the United Kingdom Government's Commonwealth Relations Office, as part of a major shake-up of the organisation of the Commonwealth. At the same time, the United Kingdom succeeded in advocating the creation of the Secretariat's sister organisation, the Commonwealth Foundation was founded to foster non-governmental relations and the promotion of the Commonwealth Family network of civil societies.[2] Other attempts by members to create similar central bodies, such as a medical conference (proposed by New Zealand), a development bank (Jamaica), and an institution for satellite communications (Canada) failed.[2]

The creation of the Secretariat itself was a contentious issue. The United Kingdom and other long-established countries had hoped to slow the tide of expansion of Commonwealth membership to prevent the dilution of their traditional power within the Commonwealth (particularly after the admission of Cyprus).[2] This may have involved a dual-tiered Commonwealth, requiring the continuation of the organisation of Commonwealth co-operation by meetings, rather than a central administration. However, the new African members were keener to create an independent inter-governmental 'central clearing house' (as Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah described it) to remove power from the older dominions.[2] Milton Obote of Uganda was the first to propose a specifically titled 'secretariat', which was then formally proposed by Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago, who wished to see it based upon the secretariats of the OAS, EEC, and OAU.[2]

Earlier attempts at the formation of a central secretariat had been made and failed. Australia had proposed the establishment four times (in 1907, 1924, 1932, and 1944), whilst New Zealand had also made proposals in 1909 and 1956.[2]