Commonwealth Secretary-General Arnold Smith, addressing the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Port of Spain on 16 October, told lawmakers that blocs such as the Commonwealth and Organization of American States could contribute to a “responsible and just world society”.
Smith, who was the first Commonwealth Secretary-General having been appointed in 1965, said: “It is in the common interest to strengthen, and where appropriate to enlarge, groupings for regional co-operation - they represent one basis for achieving greater intimacy and co-operation on a manageable scale.”
Giving his backing to emerging regional groupings such the East African Community, Organisation of African Unity [later to become the African Union], Organization of American States and European Community [to become the European Union], Mr Smith said he was a “strong believer” in the value of regional co-operation outside of the Commonwealth.
“Just as Commonwealth African members are also members of the Organisation of African Unity, so several Commonwealth countries in this hemisphere are also members of the Organization of American States,” he said.
“It is important not to conceive of Commonwealth co-operation and regional co-operation as in any sense alternatives. Both can have important contributions to make to a responsible and just world society. It is healthy that countries should not feel they can belong to only one group or grouping.”
The Secretary-General was speaking days before attending the signing of the Charter of the Caribbean Regional Development Bank in Jamaica.
Five years earlier, at their London summit of 1964, Commonwealth Heads of Government had agreed to establish the Commonwealth Secretariat as a central “clearing house” for the Commonwealth, to be led by the Secretary-General.
Setting out its terms of reference in an ‘Agreed Memorandum’ in 1965, the leaders stated that the Secretariat would “assist member governments, at their request, in advancing and obtaining support for development projects and technical assistance in a variety of fields on a multilateral Commonwealth basis”.
In the intervening years the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation was established, allowing member countries to draw on funds to recruit experts from around the Commonwealth to assist developing countries.
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, brings together parliamentarians from across the Commonwealth’s member countries. The first conference was held in 1948 in the United Kingdom.