May 16, 2007

Is the African Peer Review Mechanism at Risk of Losing its Integrity?

Filed under: Theorising Practice_May 2007 — newritings @ 8:17 am

Towards a 10 year review, (2003 Presidency) correctly states that the APRM is a voluntary mechanism with the “ mandate to ensure that the policies and practices of participating states conform to the agreed political, economic and corporate governance values, codes and standards contained in the Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance” It is a system of self-assessment, constructive peer dialogue and persuasion as well as the sharing of experiences amongst members.” (2003: 67)

The African Peer Review Mechanism is one of the most comprehensive and ambitious projects that the African continent has ever embarked on, since the implementation of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). To date, the process has commanded a lot of interest and has been embraced in a very positive way by donors, strategic partners and those African states that have signed up to it. In the words of the UNDP Regional Director, at the May 2006 African Governance Forum in Kigali, Rwanda, “Indeed APRM has developed an expectation for Africa to tackle the governance problems, which stand as an obstacle for its development.”

Despite this vote of confidence in the APR process, there is a growing concern – amongst a number of research institutions, experts, civil society groups and governing council members that have participated in the process on the African Continent – that the APR process is at risk of losing its integrity. There appears to be a lack of common adherence to the guidelines for countries to prepare for and to participate in the APRM. There is growing evidence to suggest that countries implementing the APR are applying diverse interpretations and methodological approaches to the process. While this is to be expected in a continent that has different constitutional democracies, social, political and economic contexts, adherence to common standards of implementation is critical in maintaining the integrity of the APR process.

For example, guidelines state that “participating countries should establish a national Focal Point for the APRM – at a Ministerial level, or and equivalent person who reports directly to the Head of State or Government – which will be responsible for managing the national process.”

Instead of what as advised, in particular that the focal point be more like “of a diplomatic liaison with continental structures” this was interpreted by many countries as putting government firmly in the driving seat. What was envisaged was collective decision making by an inclusive council led by civil society organizations and with a clear civil society organizations being in the majority.

To what extent has this diversity of approach impacted on the outcome of the national processes?

In my view, this diversity, can affect the achievement of quality and standards in the reporting. For example in countries where the process is led by government focal points have been government, and where there is little democratic space (freedom of association, speech and movement) been limited in turn there is no freedom of expression, it is likely that citizens participation may not be as effective and thus affect the quality and outcomes of the report. An important aspect of the APRM process is the integral participation of citizens / civil society to participate in shaping the democracy by interalia, addressing the developmental challenges of the country and the continent to allow citizens to reflect on the governance issues that they feel need to be tackled for the development of their countries. This in turn directs countries to the areas in which they have to focus their Programme of Action. If this process is not implemented properly, countries run the risk of not tackling the true developmental and governance challenges facing the country.

Whilst the APRM process underwrites broad civil, the process also is supposed to ensure broad civil society participation. In theory, it is not quite clear but it is quite clear that what equal civil society representation on a National General Council exactly means? Does it not mean equal influence or control of the whole process including report writing? Most Civil society Organisations representatives have full-time day jobs and cannot keep pace with the demands of the process on a blow by blow basis, particularly if it is the process is being rushed to meet rushed and the time-lines and agendas are set by government. These are complex issues and talk to power relations and resources and commitment to implement the programme of action which requires centrally government buy-in and leadership. The intrinsic value of civil society to the body politic must not be overlooked however, and if clear rules are set and ample time and resources afforded to civil society organisations to consult among itself, the CSO contribution can be enhanced.

A clear pronouncement from the Country Review Team in this regard can assist in mediating the above risk.

Country Support Missions are required to set a common standard of quality in terms implementing the APRM process, in terms of structures, interpretation of the questionnaires, research methodology, public participation processes, writing and editing, to assist countries in their reviews. Judging by the diverse approaches implemented by countries the Country Support Missions have not been able to achieve adherence successfully. For example, Ghana and Kenya applied a systematic methodology in collecting their data to inform their reports, including household surveys; focused group discussions, expert surveys and desk research by credible institutions. These methods were in turn were complemented by validation of the data sets. On the other hand a country like South Africa, largely depended on desk-top research, public hearings and submissions made by various stakeholders in response to the questionnaires. Bearing this in mind, I would argue that the lack of a common approach in the research methodology compromises the quality of outcomes.

It is my belief that, to ensure adherence to the standards and guidelines, the APRM Country Review Teams need to be more consistent and vigilant in their approach of supporting countries. If attention is not given to addressing these challenges we may find that the APRM process will lose its integrity.-

* Zanele Twala is Director of the South African NGO Coalition, and a member of the South African APRM National Governing Council.


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