African members of the Commonwealth are demanding a change of status of the body’s parliamentary association so their nationals can get jobs in their as well as get diplomatic immunity.
At a meeting of the Experts Committee on the future of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi argues says the association as it is today does not serve its members because it is registered in the UK as a charity organisation.
“There are constitutional and legal challenges for member States appropriating financial resources from their governments to fund a foreign entity,” he argues in a paper titled, African Region Position Paper on The Change of Status of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, presented to Committee on Sunday, in London, UK.
Mr Muturi is the representative of the African region on the committee of the CPA tasked to look at the proposed changes to the Constitution of the body that brings together legislatures of Britain and its former colonies around the world.
The CPA, initially known as the Empire Parliamentary Association which brought together the UK and its five dominions in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and then apartheid South Africa, was formed in 1911 as a platform for exchange of ideas between the UKL and its dominions.
In 1948, it changed to the CPA, as more of erstwhile British colonies got independence. It was registered as a Charity organisation by the UK Charity Commission on October 22, 1971. According to a note on its website, it “connects, develops, promotes and supports parliamentarians and their staff to identify benchmarks of good governance and the implementation of the enduring values of the Commonwealth.”
On Sunday, Mr Muturi argued the association is inflexible because it can only operate within the charity laws of the United Kingdom, yet member states contribute annual fees to run its secretariat based on London.
“Africa supports the formation of a new non-charitable organisation. This could be achieved by either dissolving the current CPA or simply forming a new organisation that will use the resources of the current one,” he challenged.
Africa’s suggestion had been proposed before, in 1992 when the General Assembly of the CPA met in the Bahamas capital of Nassau. At the time, members suggested for the association to be transformed into an international organisation.
That proposal was, however, not implemented. Africa’s beef is that the CPA is today composed of 180 member parliaments from commonwealth countries, all contributing an annual budget of about Sh1.2 billion. But nationals outside the UK can only be employed in its secretariat if the local skills are insufficient to do the job.
Foreigners employed in the secretariat do not enjoy diplomatic immunity, as their counterparts employed by other Commonwealth bodies.
The CPA, which is split into nine regions across the world, is comparing itself to its Francophone equivalent, L’Assemblée Parlementaire de la Francophonie (APF). Though regulated by French
domestic law, its staff enjoy diplomatic privileges and immunities and it is registered as a company rather than a charity.
Part of the problem, Mr Muturi argued, is that previous proposals to change the Constitution of the CPA were stonewalled by the UK’s internal bureaucracy.
In 2012, a meeting of the association in Sri Lanka agreed to form a committee to review the constitution.
A year later, South Africa proposed to amend article 37(2) of the Constitution which currently bars any amendments that seeks to change the status of the Association from a charity organisation.
The UK initially opposed the idea of change of status.
A legal opinion by Bates Wells Braithwaite, the association’s legal advisor, warns a change of status would violate UK laws since the organisation’s property are meant to achieve its charity objectives.
“As I have advised, the charity law principles are that when an organisation is established as a charity, that makes it a by definition public benefit organisation and its purposes and assets are then permanently dedicated to its public benefit charitable objects,” the advisors said in a note.
The Commonwealth has nine other organs, which are either charity organisations, considered as international organisations or registered as charter companies in the UK.
The Commonwealth Secretariat, for instance enjoys permanent observer status at the UN and its staff enjoy diplomatic immunity.