Foreign Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation

1. Introduction to the CTO

1.1 The CTO was established in 1901 as an association of telecom operators in the Commonwealth that evolved through several phases to become the premier ICT agency for the Commonwealth mandated to help members Bridge the Digital Divide under the new constitution adopted in 2002.

1.2 The CTO’s two-tier membership structure was created in 2002 specifically to facilitate the multi-stakeholder dialogue that is critical in the ICT sector. Under this scheme, in addition to Commonwealth countries, private sector and civil society organisations engaged in the use of ICTs, primarily for development purposes, join the CTO as Sector Member. Currently the CTO has around 40 Commonwealth countries as members with over 100 private sector and civil society organisations as Sector Member.

1.3 Over the years, this unique membership structure of the CTO has proven to be a useful stepping stone for non-Commonwealth countries to join the Commonwealth. For example in 2005 Rwanda joined the CTO as a Sector member and joined the Commonwealth itself in 2009. South Sudan joined the CTO as a Sector member when it was still a part of Sudan in 2007 and may become a fully-fledged member of the Commonwealth in the near future.

1.4 More information is available on the CTO Annual Report for 2010–11 which can be downloaded from the CTO website at A hard copy will be submitted separately.

2. Does the Commonwealth retain a purpose and value?

We believe that the Commonwealth does indeed retain an important purpose and value, as evidenced by the following:

2.1 The Commonwealth values—democracy, freedom, peace, the rule of law and opportunity for all – are more valid today than ever, as shown for example by recent events in North Africa and the Middle East. The results of denying people’s right to exercise their fundamental rights have become all too familiar.

2.2 It is encouraging to note that in the majority of Commonwealth countries recent debate has been about strengthening democratic institutions and citizen empowerment rather than merely the availability of these rights. The norms set by the Commonwealth and the implicit pressure exerted by the collective body of membership has had an effect in ensuring the advancement of people’s inalienable rights. For example according to the democracy ranking ( in 2010, 11 out of 18 African countries falling within the top 100 are Commonwealth countries.

2.3 The Commonwealth Secretariat’s current engagement with its members is built on two primary goals: Peace and Democracy, and Pro-Poor Growth and Sustainable Development. As the role economic growth plays on avoiding conflict is well documented, the entire focus of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s engagement aims to develop democracy, peace and prosperity.

2.4 In the Global ICT sector the Commonwealth has a strong position and exerts great influence due to the following:

2.4.1Taken together, the Commonwealth represents one of the largest ICT markets in the world (some 2.1 billion people).

2.4.2It is the home to emerging ICT powers such as India, Malaysia, South Africa, and Singapore, as well as major global ICT players such as the UK.

2.4.3It combines both developed and developing countries, which lends itself to facilitating the flow of capital, technology and expertise.

2.4.4Of its total population of 2.1 billion, over half are 25 or under. As youth are early adaptors in ICTs, there is tremendous potential for growth of ICTs in the Commonwealth.

2.4.5The shared language, institutions and legal structures, make inter-Commonwealth commerce, including that delivered through ICTs, comparatively easier.

2.4.6The Commonwealth provides a mechanism for reaching joint positions on key areas facing the world. For example in the ICT world, the Commonwealth ITU Group strives to harmonize the different positions of Commonwealth countries within the ITU system and to act as a pressure group. Its strength has been proven on several occasions including elections to the ITU Council.

2.4.7ICTs have the potential to strengthen and empower individuals and organisations, thus improving the opportunities for the civil society to engage actively in governance agendas. The Commonwealth’s role in promoting ICTs complement its core aims.

2.4.8The exponential growth of ICTs has also brought about challenges, some of which warrant Commonwealth-wide responses such as in Cybersecurity.

3. How has the Perth Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting impacted upon this purpose and value?

3.1 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2011 highlighted some of key global tensions that are reflected in Commonwealth countries such as human rights agendas and good governance. It provided a valuable opportunity for heads of government to discuss these agendas, share good practices, and seek to reach common agreements.

3.2 CHOGM was dominated by discussion of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) report, which was very wide ranging, and in our judgment may have sought to cover too much ground. It sets out a very broad agenda, but did not provide sufficient time for enough focused attention to be paid in the meeting to ways of resolving the key challenges facing the Commonwealth. Much work therefore remains to be done in delivering on the vision.

4. What is the future of the Commonwealth and what reforms are needed if the Commonwealth is to be successful?

4.1 As a “voluntary association” the Commonwealth’s future is dependent on its ability to be relevant to the context and address the main needs of the people. This applies not only to the overarching political goals but also to the specific needs and wants in different spheres including ICTs. While the Commonwealth Secretariat is tasked with and consequently responsible for making the Commonwealth relevant in the overarching goals, it is the responsibility of individual Commonwealth entities to make their work relevant and useful to the relevant stakeholders, so that the Commonwealth as an institution remains relevant to its stakeholders.

4.2 We recommend three main areas of reform:

4.2.1The Commonwealth system of governance is based on a range of individual Commonwealth agencies, with different thematic focuses, varying sizes and mandates, striving to deliver value and benefits to the peoples of the Commonwealth, which unfortunately has led to some overlap and duplication of activities. A critically needed reform is to have a clear demarcation of mandates, activities and engagement frameworks for the various Commonwealth agencies and to promote cooperation and coordination of activities between the individual Commonwealth agencies. The Commonwealth Secretariat, as the apex/supreme body is ideally placed to deliver the overall political agenda and to set the broad outlines of its developmental activities, which could then be delivered by individual agencies based on their core competencies. For example the ICT agenda for the Commonwealth is efficiently and effectively delivered by the CTO.

4.2.2The Commonwealth needs to put in place an effective mechanism for the accreditation of Commonwealth agencies that ensures that they subscribe to the Commonwealth’s values and commitment to deliver real and felt benefits to stakeholders. While leading to rationalization of the various Commonwealth agencies, this will also ensure a common standard in governance and management which is in harmony with Commonwealth values. An effective accreditation process will require periodic evaluations and a form of enforcement in case of infringement.

4.2.3The Commonwealth, led by the Secretariat, needs to embark on a focused exercise to strengthen the Commonwealth as a brand through promotion of Commonwealth values among states, organisations and individuals

5. How does membership of the Commonwealth help the UK achieve its diplomatic objectives?

5.1 The Commonwealth helps promote democracy, empowerment and inclusion. For example Commonwealth interventions have been partially credited with the elections held in Pakistan in 2008, which ended military rule.

5.2 The UK is the center of the Commonwealth and hosts a large number of Commonwealth bodies including the Commonwealth Secretariat, the CTO, Commonwealth Business Council and Commonwealth Broadcasting Association, through which it plays a large role in shaping the Commonwealth, its engagement with member countries and their people.

5.3 Peoples and governments of other Commonwealth countries often seem to value the Commonwealth more than do the people in the UK. The UK needs to improve its engagement with the Commonwealth. While UK civil society organisations maintain a reasonable scale of engagement with the Commonwealth, the participation of the industrial/private sectors needs to be improved.

5.4 If diplomatic objectives are seen as being to foster dialogue, shared values, and economic sustainability, then the Commonwealth presents a potent platform to promote the UK’s priorities and focus areas. The fact that it is an already existing grouping of countries and people makes the task of canvassing, promoting and finding consensus much easier.

5.5 The Commonwealth has taken and can take in the future common positions at international bodies, which with the weight of the Commonwealth behind it, could be more forceful than individually held views. For example the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat is mandated to engage with the G8 on behalf of the entire Commonwealth, which provides UK with two channels in to this powerful group.

5.6 In the ICT arena the CTO provides the UK with a strong channel for promoting its interests. The Commonwealth ITU Group acts as a lobbying group for Commonwealth Common positions within the ITU and has successfully promoted the candidature of Commonwealth candidates during ITU elections. The UK’s preferred method for improving Cybersecurity through promoting norms and behaviours could only succeed if it is adopted by a critical mass of countries and ICT stakeholders for which the Commonwealth/CTO provides the ideal platform.

6. What benefits does the UK’s membership of the Commonwealth bring in terms of trade, the promotion of human rights and the promotion of “soft power” and a positive image of the UK?

6.1 The Commonwealth with over 2.1 billion people bound by a common language, governance structures, legal system, and heritage, presents a platform for promoting values, relationships, trade and commerce. It is a potent channel to build consensus on human rights, democracy, governance, gender and other key issues.

6.2 Within the field of ICTs, the UK could leverage the Commonwealth through the CTO (and has to a certain degree already done) in the following areas:

6.2.1The Commonwealth offers a single window to the largest ICT market in the world. CTO is working with UK trade associations to promote the UK’s expertise & technologies in ICTs across the Commonwealth.

6.2.2In an industry where standardisation is a key, the UK’s engagement with the Commonwealth’s ICT sector through the CTO is critical. In the past CTO has provided UK with the diplomatic weight to promote and canvass for its positions within the ITU system, but this has to be a continuous process.

6.2.3The Commonwealth ITU Group has provided and will continue to provide a useful channel to influence the workings at ITU whose decisions have a serious impact on the UK.

6.2.4The UK’s preferred approach to Cybersecurity, setting norms and behaviours, can only succeed if a critical mass subscribes to these norms, for which the Commonwealth presents an existing base of 54 countries to build upon.

7. What direct benefits does the Commonwealth bring to citizens of the UK and of Commonwealth countries?

7.1 Membership in the Commonwealth is an explicit assurance of the member countries’ adherence to a set of norms and values encompassing democracy, transparency in governance, freedom of expression etc. These values implicitly translate into rights of the people. At the very least, membership of the Commonwealth, sets high aspirational standards in democratic ideals, which the people of the UK, over a period of time, assume to be a right.

7.2 The Commonwealth system has spawned a multitude of civil society organizations (as against Commonwealth agencies) who, with the support of the Commonwealth Foundation, help people of the Commonwealth in various ways, from promoting democracy to delivering basic human needs. The net effect of the collective of civil society organizations is to empower people across the Commonwealth.

7.3 As an institution the Commonwealth has always facilitated the flow of people, ideas and expertise, which has directly and indirectly benefitted the people of UK in various ways such as opening opportunities for UK experts and businesses. The CTO in particular has been active in promoting inter-Commonwealth trade and business in ICTs, and in hosting Professional Fellows from across the Commonwealth funded by the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission

7.4 The Commonwealth helps build shared understanding of global issues such as national debt. In addition to fostering a shared understanding and designing common responses, the Commonwealth provides practical responses. For example the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Debt Recording and Management System ( has helped around 54 Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries record and manage their debt.

8. What role and status should the British Overseas Territories, Crown Dependencies and self-governing jurisdictions have in relation to the Commonwealth?

8.1 Considered in the context of the foundation of the Commonwealth, that being shared history, language and institutions and its values, democracy, freedom, peace, the rule of law and opportunity for all, Overseas Territories, Dependencies etc (hereinafter “Territories”) should be as much a part of the Commonwealth as its current members. It is solely due to the fact that the Territories are not “sovereign nations” that the Territories are not fully fledged members of the Commonwealth.

8.2 However on a more practical note some of the Territories are larger in size and population and stronger economically than some of the members of the Commonwealth. For example, Bermuda, an Overseas Territory, with an estimated GDP of $4.5 Billion is ahead of 14 member countries of the Commonwealth.

8.3 The Commonwealth needs to improve its engagement with the Territories in view of their relevance to the Commonwealth, the contributions they can make to the Commonwealth and the assistance Commonwealth could extend to them.

8.4 CTO admits Territories as Sector members (eg Bermuda) which gives them an opportunity to engage with ICT stakeholders across the Commonwealth on an equal basis. CTO membership is one of the few channels open to them to engage with the Global ICT agenda.

8.5 The constellation of Commonwealth agencies and civil society organisations presents a practical framework for Territories to build their internal capacities and engage with the Global community to advocate their interests.

4 January 2012

Prepared 14th November 2012