WHAT IS THE COMMONWEALTH ?

The Commonwealth is a voluntary organization of sovereign states consulting and cooperating in the common interest of their peoples and in the promotion of international understanding and world peace. (Preamble to the Declaration of Commowealth Principles). In 1997 the commonwealth consisted of 54 member countries with a shared committment to certain fundamental principles as set out in the Declaration of Commonwealth Principles and the Harare Commonwealth Declaration, the Commonwealth's second general statement of beliefs.

THE COMMONWEALTH MEMBER COUNTRIES

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According to the Commonwealth Yearbook 1998, the Commonwealth member states numbered 54. Commonwealth member countries are culturally, politically and economically diverse. In addition, member countries are located in almost every continent. Amonst the most industrialized members are Britain, canada, Australia. On the other hand, some of the poorest countries in terms of per capita GNP are Tanzania, Bangladesh. Commonwealth members are also politically diverse:

 
Parliamentary Monarchies Republics National Monarchies
Antigua, Australia, The Bahamas, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenadines, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Salomon Is., Tuvalu Bangladesh, Botswana, Cameroon, Cyprus, Mauritius, The Gambia, Ghana, Guyana, India, Kenya, Kiribati, Malawi, Maldives, Malta, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Nigeria, Pakistan, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Trinidad & Tobago, Uganda, Vanuatu, Zambia, Zimbabwe Brunei Darussalam, Lesotho, Malaysia, Swaziland, Tonga
Through all this diversity, Commonwealth countries share a common historic link. This has left them with similar legal systems and a common English language. Some countries, which would have been eligible for membership because of the previous status as a British colony, chose not to apply for e.g. the Republic of Ireland. Samoa & Maldives joined some years later after gaining independence.

Three countries rejoined the Commonwealth. South Africa withdrew in 1961 and was readmitted in 1994 after a democratic election. Pakistan left in 1972, and returned after the democratic elections in 1989. Fiji's membership lapsed in 1987 and was welcomed back in 1997 after embarking a constitutional reform from a military coup, which was contrary to Commonwealth principles.

Nigeria was suspended in November 1995.

Membership is not restricted to former British colonies as witnessed by the admittance of Cameroon and Mozambique. However, only independent states can become member.

History of the Commonwealth

The Commonwealth resulted from the de-colonizing process of British imperial role in the 17th century. Canada was first to obtain self-government (in the 1840's). Dominion status, which allowed for self-government and extensive independence in foreign affairs, changed the relationship between colony and imperial power. It was assumed that the association's principal bond would be that all members would have the British monarch as Head of State but this was not the case. India was the first Commonwealth member to challenge this assumption, it was agreed that India would remain a member but accepting the monarch as the head of the Commonwealth states. This was adopted by other members e.g. Brunei Darassalan.

The Queen is Head of State in 17 fully independent Commonwealth countries. This role carries no formal function but is symbolic.

Law in Commonwealth countries

The common law, one of the major legal systems, has been inherited by many countries worldwide in particular Commonwealth countries. In keeping with the recognition of Common Law as a major contributor to the legal system, foreign countries encourage their people to study law in Britain. In more recent years UK's framework of Company Law has been seen as out-dated. Major reviews of Company Law have occurred in some member countries e.g. South Africa, Australia and most recently Hong Kong.

Commonwealth countries are increasingly developing their own model of Company Law tailored to local circumstances. Generally, most Commonwealth countries have a legal system based on English Common Law, however countries like Canada, Cameroon, Mauritius, Malta and Seychelles derived their legal system from the Code Napoleon with some mixtures of both systems. While other countries, such as South Africa, Botswana, Guyana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Zimbabwe practice a mixture of law based on Roman Dutch Law and British Common Law. In addition, there are some exceptional cases: some members practice Islamic Law (Brunei Darussalam, Maldives and Pakistan). Commercial Law British law is frequently selected by most member states to govern relationships of foreign contracting parties principally because of historical links where countries like The Bahamas and Barbados recognize the Privy Council as final court of appeal.

Accounting

Because of the historical link the Commonwealth countries share common accounting principles and practices. However, there are some differences: some countries tend to lean toward US GAAP, such as Australia, whereas others seem to lean to UK standards. Minor differences exist in the following areas: Asset revaluation, Accounting for Goodwill, etc. See further Australia, South Africa and UK.