Commonwealth Secretariat denies it’s suppressing audit
Commonwealth Secretary General Baroness Patricia Scotland at the Meeting of Foreign Ministers in Kigali, Rwanda on Thursday.

KIGALI, Rwanda — The Commonwealth Secretariat has dismissed media reports that its leadership is suppressing an independent review of its finances, completed and submitted weeks ago, which is critical of its operations.

News of the audit surfaced days ago with questions surrounding whether it was being buried because of fears that it could torpedo Baroness Patricia Scotland’s bid to hold on to the post of Commonwealth secretary general.

There have also been reports of a rift between the board of the leadership of the over the decision not to release the audit.

But in a release late Thursday evening a Commonwealth spokesperson said the report is a draft of one which was commissioned to review the long-term funding of the secretariat, and to look at a range of options and mechanisms to ensure its long-term sustainability.

“The draft report is not an audit or investigation into the current finances of the Commonwealth Secretariat. It is disappointing that it has been reported in an inaccurate way,” said the Commonwealth spokesperson who was not named.

“The Commonwealth Secretariat received the draft final report late and had strong technical and factual concerns with the report — which we have raised with Ernst and Young.

“Ernst and Young are currently engaging constructively with the Commonwealth Secretariat on this as we work to ensure that the draft report fulfils the terms of our contract,” added the unnamed spokesperson.

The statement added: “The secretariat would be failing in its duty if it did not draw attention to the factual errors contained in the report. Once the draft report has been finalised, it will be presented to the board.

“It is extremely frustrating that the board chair’s letter has [been] leaked to the media and mischaracterised in this way.”

There have been concerns about the long-term sustainability of the Commonwealth Secretariat since early 2020 when the British Government announced that it had suspended its voluntary funding of the administrative body of the 54-member state grouping.

At that time the British Government told Scotland that its annual £4.7-million voluntary contribution would be withheld until her secretariat improved its financial procedures.

The decision came after 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 reportedly said that procurement rules had been waived by the secretariat on no fewer than 50 occasions over three years.

Scotland has denied any wrongdoing and has argued that any concerns of the auditors would be addressed.

But that did not prevent New Zealand and Australia, two of the other big donors to the Commonwealth Secretariat, from suspending their discretionary funding to the body until its financial systems are tightened and tested by external auditors.

It is believed that concerns about the financial systems at the secretariat were among the issues which caused some countries to urge Jamaica to offer a candidate to challenge Scotland at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting now on in Kigali.

The heads of government are expected to make a decision following the official opening ceremony at the Kigali Convention Centre today, with a late afternoon or early Saturday announcement of their choice.

Arthur Hall

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