The Commonwealth consists of 51 countries in a voluntary association which span six continents across the globe ranging in population size from the world’s largest democracy, India, with over one billion people, to the tiny Pacific island state of Kiribati of just 11,000 citizens. We welcome you all.
In the 2009 Report of the Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, notes that the Commonwealth has a population of two billion people and accounts for “a fifth of the world’s trade, a quarter of its countries, and a third of its population.”
Given its members’ common heritage of language, law and systems of governance (such as Parliament, constitutional ideals and civil service), the Commonwealth has built on this foundation to advocate ideals of democracy, good governance and respect for human rights.
Development and democracy are the twin pillars of the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth has a 60-year-old history of which it can be justifiably proud, in which it has championed democratic ideals at the highest level, while working in a practical way at the ground level to help improve the lot of vulnerable groups in society such as youth and women.
While the Commonwealth is a family of nations in a voluntary association, it is also a very serious organisation, which has in the past taken a hard line against apartheid, electoral fraud and military coups against democratically-elected governments. Its importance to improving conditions with a given country, and in facilitating coordinated global action on a given issue, is not to be underestimated.
Further, even before the official Opening Ceremony takes place tomorrow, we hope it will become apparent to all concerned, including Trinidad and Tobago nationals, how inclusive and participatory the Commonwealth seeks to be.
We laud the many pre-CHOGM activities occurring now that involve other non-governmental groups such as the Commonwealth People’s Forum and the Commonwealth Business Forum, plus Saturday’s youth festival, which will be attended by Her Majesty.
While there has been much debate about the cost of hosting CHOGM and its predecessor, the Fifth Summit of the Americas last April, we say that a decision has been made to host the two events and we would simply like to wish well to all involved.
Simply in terms of the common history of its member states and the spread of their geography, the Commonwealth holds great promise to help us all realise our common humanity as a basis for high standards of internal governance and of coordinated action on urgent international issues.
Of the latter we hope Port-of-Spain can truly help build bridges of trust, understanding and cooperation between Commonwealth members, as these states prepare to join the rest of the world in the fortnight in Copenhagen, Denmark, for the United Nations climate change talks. In this regard we also welcome French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Danish Prime Minister Larsen Lokke Rasmussen and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
So again, we warmly welcome all CHOGM delegates to Trinidad and Tobago which we trust you will find a hospitable environment in which to hold your very important talks on Commonwealth matters and on issues affecting the wider world.