Commonwealth funding reduction will impact Samoa

The Australian Government’s decision to reduce its funding to a technical assistance programme run by the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat will be felt across the membership of the 54-member state body, including Samoa.

That is the view of the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peseta Noumea Simi, when the Samoa Observer sought her comment on the decision by Australia to reduce its funding to the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (C.F.T.C.).

An Australian Government spokesperson confirmed that their government will reduce its support to the C.F.T.C. by over 60 per cent, due to growing concerns following an audit of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s procurement process.

“In response to an independent K.P.M.G. audit of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s financial and procurement process,” the spokesperson said, in an email to the Samoa Observer, “Australia has reduced its funding to the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation from $1.3 million in 2018-2019 to $500,000.”

The C.F.T.C. was established in 1971 to provide technical assistance to Commonwealth nations.

Peseta, when commenting on Canberra’s decision, said: “That is a sovereign decision by the Government of Australia. Any impact will be felt across the whole membership and not just Samoa.”

Funding from Australia is now dependent on the Commonwealth Secretariat confirming that “issues” identified by the audit will be addressed, according to the spokesperson.

“This new funding amount will be paid only after there is independent confirmation that the issues identified in the audit have been addressed by the Secretariat. Australia has not reduced its ODA-eligible funding to the Commonwealth,” the spokesperson added. “Australian Commonwealth funding previously allocated to the C.F.T.C. will be redistributed to other Commonwealth-related programs.”

Australia’s announcement of funding cuts to the Secretariat-run programme comes on the back of the New Zealand Government’s decision last month to halt its funding, citing weaknesses in the Secretariat’s approach to managing procurement.

The decision by the region’s two heavyweights does not augur well for the Commonwealth Secretary General, Baroness Patricia Scotland, who is seeking another four-year term at the next C.H.O.G.M. (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) in Rwanda in June this year.

According to the BBC, the Secretary General has been accused by the Secretariat’s Audit Committee of “circumventing” its competitive tendering process by awarding a £250,000 commission to the U.K. accounting firm KYA Global.

The firm is reportedly owned by fellow Labour peer, Lord Patel of Bradford, whom the BBC said was tasked to do a review of the Secretariat. 

A spokesperson for the Secretariat, when asked to comment on the Australian Government’s decision to reallocate funding as well as Baroness Patricia’s future at the upcoming Rwanda summit, said: “The Commonwealth Secretariat does not comment on leaked documents as a matter of principle.  The appointment or re-appointment of the Secretary-General is a matter for Commonwealth Heads of Government to determine.”

New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson confirmed they are putting on hold their voluntary contributions.

“New Zealand has put a hold on its voluntary financial contribution to the Secretariat, until we receive independent confirmation the recommendations from the audit report have been addressed by the Secretariat,” the spokesperson said. 

“New Zealand currently provides approximately NZ$4.45 million each year in total funding to the Secretariat and has put on hold NZ$3 million. The remainder of this year’s funding, a mixture of voluntary and compulsory contributions, had already been paid prior to the release of the audit report.”

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