Foreign Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from Professor Richard Crook


1. This Submission by Professor Richard Crook:

Highlights Public Sector Development as an area of significant potential for the Commonwealth.

Identifies specific comparative advantages for the Commonwealth in undertaking Public Sector Development work.

Makes recommendations on areas where the Commonwealth should focus its efforts.


2. Professor Richard Crook was formerly Emeka Anyaoku Professor of Commonwealth Studies and the Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (University of London). He is a political scientist with special interests in Commonwealth institutions and Commonwealth countries, notably regarding socio-legal studies, public service reform, decentralisation, the role of transnational non-governmental public actors in policy making, and access to justice and land rights particularly in West Africa and South Asia. He is currently a Professorial Fellow in the Governance Team at the Institute of Development Studies.


3. Many Commonwealth countries face challenges in their public sectors including limited resources, a lack of trained officials in key areas, corruption, weak policy environments and a lack of knowledge and technology to provide effective public services. Institutional and resource constraints severely limit members’ capacity to sustain development, reduce poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

4. For leading and influencing the governance agenda and specifically public sector issues in developing countries, the Commonwealth occupies an unparalleled position, which in the main has been underexploited.

5. The common heritage in public administration and public law enjoyed by all Commonwealth Members is perhaps more important than other attributes such as “democracy”.

6. This provides a strong foundation for co-operation and South-South learning.

7. The Commonwealth also provides a unique international forum for North-South relations, in which leadership is provided not by one of the former colonial powers or the USA, but by the largest emerging powers such as India (which hosts key Commonwealth institutions) and where there is equality of respect. Individual “old Commonwealth” developed countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand also play key roles in engaging with development issues in their sub-regions (eg public procurement in the Pacific island states and the Caribbean).

8. Public Sector Development is crucial in the Commonwealth for delivering both democracy and development. The public services underpin democratic legitimacy, effective public authority and responsive public administration, factors that together promote sustainable development, political stability and economic growth.

9. Governance deficiencies are often primarily political and so public sector reform can rarely be resolved through technical assistance alone. Recognising that the Commonwealth Secretariat has limited financial resources but considerable political influence and access, it is best placed to make a significant difference to development outcomes by supporting “best fit” reforms through facilitating the “political will” to build an effective public sector.

10. I believe the comparative advantages of the Commonwealth Secretariat in working on international development to include:

(i)Trusted partnership with its membership as the Commonwealth has no vested personal or organisational interests—it is important to note that our development work is paid for by a mutual fund that all recipients contribute to, so there is genuine country “ownership”; the UK no longer acts as a former “imperial master”

(ii)Convening power as other agencies may not be so trusted;

(iii)Ability to foster communities of practice and South-South learning, by making the most effective use of networks for brokering exchange of ideas and practice between member countries; indeed the most important aspect of the Commonwealth and the feature that gives it continued vitality, is its rich network of civil society and professional associations (all using the English language), which is arguably as significant as the formal or official government to government relationships (eg the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association).

(iv)Helping small and vulnerable member states that are neglected by others;

(v)Rapid response in a manner that large aid agencies—both bilateral donors and the international financial institutions—often cannot provide; and

(vi)Seed-funding good ideas, which can then be taken up by major funders.

11. On the basis of these comparative advantages, it is therefore recommended that the Commonwealth Secretariat focus its efforts on:

12. Of all the areas of development activity therefore, given these comparative advantages and as a political membership organisation, the commonalities in public administration suggest it should be one of the foremost arenas for practical action in the Commonwealth.

23 January 2012

Prepared 14th November 2012