Commonwealth director sacked over 'bullying'

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Indy Politics

A senior official at the Commonwealth of Nations has been removed from his post following allegations that he oversaw a culture of bullying at one of its key institutions.

Mark Collins, the director of the Commonwealth Foundation, has been sacked, pending negotiations about his severance package, after a unanimous decision by board members from the 54-country group, a source who attended the meeting said yesterday.

Mr Collins has been named in at least two internal complaints alleging bullying against non-white staff, The Independent revealed last year. The foundation now faces two potentially expensive and damaging employment tribunal cases concerning his conduct.

The meeting on Thursday at the Commonwealth's headquarters in London heard the results of two separate investigations into his handling of the foundation, both of which recommended his removal. "The solution was to remove him sooner rather than later," said a source present at the meeting.

The foundation, a grant-making body funded by Commonwealth taxpayers, decided to cut its losses on Mr Collins ahead of a decisive month for the troubled division of the post-colonial club. On 3 March, a tribunal hearing will begin in which former employee Anisha Rajapakse will contend that she was wrongfully dismissed for blowing the whistle on racially-motivated and sexist bullying at the foundation.

One week later London will host the Commonwealth Week, a series of events themed around: "women as agents of change in the Commonwealth", which will include a multi-faith celebration at Westminster Abbey, attended by the Queen. An independent committee including the former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind is also due to deliver its report on the future of the foundation, with some sources predicting it will call for the closure of the body.

Concerns about further embarrassment to the Commonwealth have so far prevented official confirmation of Mr Collins's sacking. It is understood lawyers for both sides are discussing a "separation agreement" expected to include confidentiality clauses to prevent further revelations. However, emails seen by The Independent indicate the real reason for his removal.

In a communication with one of the High Commissioners, the chairman of the foundation's board, Simone de Comarmond, wrote: "The longer the director remains in post ... the more likely he is to continue with his style of management with the potential of further grievances and tribunals being lodged against him."

Mr Collins has refused to discuss the complaints made against him, but has previously rejected claims of bullying.

Formal grievances lodged against the sacked director, however, cite: "Subtle racism ... demonstrated by the number of ethnic minority staff who have... had contracts terminated or reduced". They also allege "systematic and continuous aggression and harassment" and a "culture of undermining, victimisation, discrimination and outright hostility".

The first sign of trouble inside the foundation came in 2009 when it withdrew funding for HIV/Aids prevention work, provoking protests from non-governmental organisations. The pandemic is seen as a "Commonwealth emergency" as its members states are home to 60 per cent of HIV victims.

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