I stand early this evening as Chairman of the Commonwealth Foundation, the Commonwealth peoples organisation, to be a part of the Minister’s launch of the Commonwealth Peoples’ Forum 2015. It is being launched today some 175 days before the forum in November in order to give civil society, importantly here in Malta, but also elsewhere, a chance to prepare, focus and then deliver a contribution to Commonwealth dialogue that will add further to Malta’s reputation as a significant Commonwealth nation. By reason of its Commonwealth relationships, and its position as a small state, one of 31 small state members of the Commonwealth’s 53, and its proven ability to lead Commonwealth discourse as it did in 2005, make it a significant host.
This is an important year for many intergovernmental organisations to be resetting their compasses in terms of the Post-2015 development agenda, and the direction and thrust of the Commonwealth I want to take an early opportunity to thank the Government of Malta for its readiness to host the events later in 2015, and Maltese civil society for the way on which they have engaged to date. This is an important year for many intergovernmental organisations to be resetting their compasses in terms of the Post-2015 development agenda, and the direction and thrust of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth represents 53 member countries comprising two billion people from some of the world’s largest as well as smallest countries. All these countries have committed themselves to upholding values of furtherance of democracy and development. Former New Zealand Prime Minister and current UNDP head, Helen Clark put this well when delivering the recent Commonwealth Lecture when she said, “the triumph of the Commonwealth is that it has not lost its relevance. It has developed a shared vision and a set of values which aim to shape our common future”.
The recently promulgated Commonwealth Charter underlines a commitment to civil society. That is those who are not in government or in business but who have legitimate viewpoints to air. It is a fine hallmark of the modern Commonwealth that civil society has been given its place to have meetings and to present the outcomes of them to Ministers. This has two benefits – that of encouraging people to have their say and for Ministers to know that their deliberations have some relevance to ordinary community thinking.
Civil Society’s importance is reflected in the Foundation’s makeup. Although its officials are professionals in their fields who work out of London headquarters, the Chairman has always been a Commonwealth citizen – a member of civil society – with the responsibility provided by the Governors of the Foundation for leading its work. I have had that privilege for three years and have seen a number of instances where civil society deliberations have made their way to the Ministers’ table at the time of their meeting. Not all occur in large sessions like CHOGMs the last one of those having been in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2013. In my time there have been meetings of Women’s Affairs Ministers, of Education Ministers and Health Ministers where the agenda of Ministers was influenced in a positive fashion – for example, the Commonwealth advocating gender empowerment as a stand alone goal, as occurred in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013.
The importance of the Commonwealth Foundation is that it strengthens civic discussions among people, it enables discussions between civil society and policy makers and it stimulates creative thinking I have a question. What does all this add to Commonwealth processes? The importance of the Commonwealth Foundation is that it strengthens civic discussions among people, it enables discussions between civil society and policy makers and it stimulates creative thinking. The days of the CPF in November will centre on answering the question ‘What Makes Societies Resilient?’ The wide range of civil society people will add credibility to the Commonwealth processes. In fact it can be said that the people’s voices have a way of providing oxygen for the Ministers’ meetings. The way in which this will be done will rely on the Foundation’s experience in mounting discussions and roundtable meetings involving people from diverse backgrounds and working with Maltese organisations to synthesise this over the weeks and months up to November.
I want to end by posing a challenge, by saying that all of what civil society do here in November will only be an asset if people at the next CHOGM in 2017, can look back and articulate the value that came from the Malta discussions and continue the work. The way has been prepared by the work done to date. Your launch, Minister, now very soon, will result in a great deal more. The 175 days will be time well spent. I thank you publicly, Minister, for putting the weight of the Malta government behind this enterprise and thank everyone present for your attendance here today on this auspicious occasion and the courteous reception provided to my Foundation colleagues and I.