By Trevor Grundy
The 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, is expected to be postponed or cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The summit was due to be held between June 22-27.
But Commonwealth-watchers in London say that it’s almost certain to be cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak that has already shut down normal life in Kigali.
A Rwanda government spokesman said: ”In order to protect people’s lives, we remind those in charge of activities that gather many people in such as churches, hotels, nightclubs, bars and restaurants to put in place strong hygiene measures and sanitisers in order to protect against coronavirus.”
In 2018, just over 5,000 delegates attended the Commonwealth summit in London, but the Rwandans say they’re catering for twice that number.
In May last year, Rwanda’s then-Foreign Affairs Co-operation Minister, Dr Richard Sezibira, said that 8,000 rooms had been secured to ensure the comfort of visitors to the summit.
“We expect to receive between 8,000 to 10,000 delegates,” a spokesperson said.
The future leadership of the Commonwealth, in particular the role of the current secretary-general Baroness Scotland, was shaping up to be the main issue of the Heads of Government meeting.
The uncertainty follows the decision by the UK government to follow Australia and New Zealand in suspending funding of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London.
British government officials are reported to have told Lady Scotland that Britain’s annual contribution of £4.7m will be withheld until the secretariat improves its financial procedures.
The move came after Lady Scotland was criticised by auditors for “circumventing” usual competitive tendering rules when she awarded a lucrative consultancy contract to a company run by a friend. The auditors also claimed that procurement rules had been waived by the secretariat on many previous occasions.
The funding crisis came to a head when Commonwealth high commissioners in London – who together form the organisation’s board of governors – met to discuss the results of the investigation by the external accountancy firm KPMG.
The Secretariat has insisted it was implementing recommendations made by external auditors.
Meanwhile, Dominica – where Baroness Scotland was born – has backed her to
continue as secretary-general for a second term. And, Commonwealth Heads of Government have extended the tenure of the Secretary-General for three months to, up to the time of the summit in Kigali.
The summit was due to be held under the theme: ‘Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming’.
A statement from the Secretariat said: “Leaders will discuss how the modern Commonwealth, with its network of more than 80 organisations, can connect and innovate to transform the whole family into societies underpinned by the values of democracy, multilateralism, sustainable development, the protection of the environment, and the empowerment of women and young people.
“Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said:
“I am proud to be the sixth Secretary-General and indeed the first woman to hold this role.
“The Commonwealth has proven itself as a vibrant and vital body that delivers on the aspirations of its 2.4 billion people, 60 per cent of whom are under the age of 30. The Commonwealth’s opportunity, hope and common sense are desperately needed. The world needs the multilateralism of the Commonwealth which provides a global voice, particularly for its small member states.”
“Secretary-General Scotland said she continues to be committed to the reform mandate. Earlier this week the Commonwealth posted audited statements for the 2018/19 financial year.
External auditors have given the organisation a clean bill of financial health for the 10th consecutive year.”