South Africa’s ‘hard look at itself’

14 July 2006

South Africa has submitted its country assessment report to the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) country review team.

Led by Professor Adebayo Adedeji of Nigeria, the 25-member team arrived in South Africa on Sunday for consultations with the country’s APRM governing council, government, parliamentarians, political parties, business, trade unions and civil society organisations.

Helping Africa help itself
A voluntary self-monitoring tool adopted by the African Union in 2003, the APRM aims to promote the adoption of laws, policies and practices that lead to political stability, economic growth, sustainable development and the economic integration of Africa.

Countries are expected to conduct self-assessments in line with APRM guidelines, with South Africa one of 24 countries that have submitted to the scrutiny. First to be reviewed were Rwanda and Ghana, which released their self-assessment reports in June.

Once the reports are complete, countries are expected to produce a programme of action to address shortcomings revealed in the self-assessment process, and report on progress every three to five years.

According to Public Service Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, the chairperson of SA’s ARPM council, the goal of the APRM is “to help Africans help themselves. To show ourselves and the world that we are not part of those whose mindset assumes that we need external assistance in order to grow.”

Achievements, challenges
Handing SA’s self-assessment report to the review team in Pretoria on Thursday, Fraser-Moleketi said the achievements of a free South Africa should be measured against the legacy of apartheid.

This legacy, Fraser-Moleketi said, included institutionalised and systematic racial discrimination, immense material deprivation for the vast majority of South Africans, racialised and feminised poverty, and hugely unequal division of land.

“The report notes the emergence of an enabling political and economic environment conducive to improving social cohesion and economic growth, transformation and empowerment,” Fraser-Moleketi said.

The report also draws attention to the important role of the developmental state, the country’s Constitution, and the value of having a people’s contract that unites citizens and civil society with the government and its elected representatives.

“Poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment are still the three primary challenges facing our country,” Fraser-Moleketi said.

“Improving access to rights and using them properly is a major area of agreement that needs to be taken forward in practical ways so that justice is really taken to the people.”

She cited limited skills, capacity and resources available to the state – especially at provincial and local levels – as inhibiting the functioning and responsiveness of state institutions and programmes.

“Our self-assessment process has highlighted much to be proud of,” the minister said. “We must take care to celebrate our economic achievements, our commitment to social democracy as shown in our development policies, our Constitution and our political stability.”

President Thabo Mbeki, who witnessed the handing over of the report, said South Africa had been “hard on itself,” as the majority wanted to see a better country in all respects.

“Some progress has been made to change the country for the better,” Mbeki told the review team. “However … we look forward to the report and to what our peers will say about us, and what we need to do to improve ourselves.”

Contributions from ordinary people
Essential to the ARPM self-assessment process is the involvement of NGOs and other civil society bodies, which help ensure accurate and unbiased reporting.

Fraser-Moleketi expressed her gratitude for the contributions made by civil society and people at grassroots level, and complimented the country’s community development workers for their efforts in gathering submissions from ordinary South Africans.

“Almost 65% of submissions in the draft report on socio-economic development come from the civil society and those ordinary people who were approached by community development workers,” Fraser-Moleketi said.

The final report was a product of a string of consultative seminars held over the past year between the government, technical support agencies and community development workers who were responsible for gathering the information.

The technical support agencies included the Institute for Democracy in SA, the SA Institute of International Affairs, the African Institute for Corporate Citizenship, and the Institute for Economic Research on Innovation.

SA’s APRM council also appointed about 20 organisations to help with research and participate in the seminars.

Good governance and prosperity
The ARPM’s 80-page self-assessment questionnaires are designed to test countries’ willingness to democratise institutions and fight poverty, corruption and underdevelopment.

Former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano said in 2004 that the document had helped his country to identify loopholes and “a lot of deficiencies in our own policies”.

Former South African Reserve Bank governor Chris Stals, an APRM member responsible for country reviews, commented at the time: “We have not even been to Mozambique and have not had specific discussions with them, and already they tell us that we are helping them to implement the right policies.

“That, I think, is the kind of results we would like to achieve with all the African countries participating in this.”

Mechanism ‘not rigid’
The peer review questionnaire is not rigid, Stals said, and each country is assessed according to its own capacity to deliver, since almost all are “at different stages of development”.

“We will give them some guidance on what we think is good and what would lead them to the right direction”, Stals explained.

Though the Peer Review Mechanism is not punitive in character, it is feared that its reports could be unpopular with some African leaders, with critics questioning the political independence of the APRM teams.

“Our loyalty … is not to an individual country or region”, Stals said. “We will conduct an objective, independent assessment of policies that countries follow in the implementation of the ideals of Nepad [the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the socio-economic blueprint of the African Union].”

Stals argued it was in African countries’ own interest to volunteer to be scrutinised. Failure to do so, he said, would most likely influence or deny them investment by other organisations.

“I can assure you that the private sector and businesses, not only in Africa but especially in the rest of the world, are going to look at these reports very, very carefully when they take decisions on where they are going to invest in Africa”, he said.

Each African signatory to the African Peer Review Mechanism is required to deposit US$100 000 into the ARPM panel’s coffers; additional funding for the peer review process comes from the international donor community, including G8 countries.

SouthAfrica.info reporter and BuaNews

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