Why Peters should put the PGF aside for a moment and tell us about NZ’s relationship with the Commonwealth

It’s not like Winston Peters to miss an opportunity to make the headlines.

Point of Order accordingly is bemused by a report in London’s Daily Mail about New Zealand deciding to hold on to 2.5 million pounds owing to the Commonwealth Secretariat.

This amounts to a saving to taxpayers of more than $5 million in NZ dollars – something we thought Peters would want to crow about.

But it isn’t mentioned in any of the dozen or so press statements from Peters’ office so far this year.

Hence we have cause to be sceptical.

For what it’s worth, a Daily Mail report yesterday was headed Baroness Scotland is hit by £2.5m cash snub as New Zealand pulls funds from her Commonwealth Office because it has ‘no confidence in how she’s running it’

The report tells us:

Embattled Commonwealth chief Baroness Scotland’s hopes of keeping her job suffered a blow yesterday after a snub by a member country.

New Zealand has pulled the plug on its annual £2.5million funding for the Commonwealth Secretariat because of ‘significant weaknesses in its approach to managing procurement’, a spokesman for its foreign ministry said last night.

The rebuff emerged after £160,000-a-year Commonwealth Secretary General Baroness Scotland was strongly criticised by internal auditors for granting a lucrative consultancy contract to a firm run by a Labour Party friend.

The organisation’s audit committee accused her of ‘circumventing’ usual competitive tendering rules by awarding a £250,000 commission to KYA Global. 

The company which was awarded the commission is owned by fellow Labour peer Lord Patel of Bradford, who served alongside Baroness Scotland as a minister in Gordon Brown’s government.

Lord Patel’s company was contracted to carry out a review of the secretariat. But the audit committee said the firm was ‘apparently insolvent’ at the time with debts of nearly £50,000.

The Daily Mail says:

New Zealand has stopped its £2.5million annual Commonwealth funding after Baroness Scotland was accused of ‘circumventing’ procurement rules to commission KYA Global, run by Lord Patel of Bradford. 

New Zealand, one of the secretariat’s biggest contributors, made the decision to block funding last month. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, 39, is the Commonwealth’s most high-profile female political leader.

An unnamed MFAT official is reported to have affirmed NZ’s withholding of money for the secretariat.

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman said it had stopped giving cash to the Commonwealth Secretariat because the auditors report had found ‘significant weaknesses in the Commonwealth Secretariat’s approach to managing procurement.’

It added: ‘New Zealand has put on hold its voluntary financial contribution to the Secretariat until we receive independent confirmation the recommendations from the audit report have been addressed by the Secretariat.’

Baroness Scotland, 64, has been branded ‘Baroness Brazen’ and ‘Baroness Shameless’ for her lavish spending, the newspaper reports.

She has been under fire since it was disclosed in 2016 that she spent £338,000 refurbishing her grace-and-favour apartment in Mayfair, central London.

It later emerged that £590,000 of the UK’s foreign aid budget had been spent on Marlborough House, the secretariat headquarters, in two years. She was also attacked for appointing political allies to key posts.

We are further told:

Baroness Scotland, who was born in the Dominican Republic, retains the backing of Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean, but faces the risk of being dumped before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda in June, which will be attended by Prince Charles.

The disclosures have left her hopes of winning a second four-year term in her post hanging by a thread. Her first term ends on March 31.

Britain occupies the rotating chairmanship of the Commonwealth, giving Boris Johnson a major say over who is secretary general.

Tory Party co-chairman James Cleverly, a close ally of the Prime Minister, and whose mother is from Sierra Leone, is said to be among Baroness Scotland’s powerful enemies in the Government.

Mr Cleverly is said to have been highly critical of her at meetings of Parliament’s all-party Commonwealth group.

Baroness Scotland was the subject of a report in The Times in November last year questioned another deal in which she was involved and raised the matter of cronyism.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal, the most senior Commonwealth official, has appointed an Italian foundation run by her friends to organise a prestigious programme tackling climate change.

The former Labour attorney-general announced a “memorandum of understanding” with the Cloudburst Foundation a year after she became head of the Commonwealth’s administration.

A source within the Commonwealth Secretariat said there were fears the selection of an organisation from outside of the Commonwealth — run by Lady Scotland’s friends — could now lead to renewed allegations of “cronyism”. The links have emerged after an internal report leaked in the summer recorded concerns about the secretariat’s governance structures which it said “lack clarity” and need to be “more transparent and accountable”.

We now await the statement from Peters which clarifies NZ’s position.

We are confident he abhors cronyism, lavish spending, hanky-panky with procurements and so on and therefore will be keeping an eye on Baroness Scotland.

But – among a raft of questions raised by these newspaper reports – what does the with-holding of our contribution to the secretariat mean for our membership of the Commonwealth?

One thought on “Why Peters should put the PGF aside for a moment and tell us about NZ’s relationship with the Commonwealth

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