Society Must Drive SA Peer Review

Image: Flickr, Chris Eason
Image: Flickr, Chris Eason

SA has started its own African Peer Review Mechanism process with a call for submissions from individuals, institutions and groups on any of four areas of the review: democracy and political governance; economic governance and management; corporate governance; and socioeconomic development.

Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi said in Pretoria last week that government would hold a national consultative conference next week to “realise the principles of consultation and broad-based participation”, which would be followed by about 90 provincial consultative conferences and community level workshops.

In order to develop the country’s self-assessment report and build consensus on the accompanying programme of action, government was seeking to engage as many stakeholders as possible as part of a broad consultative process.

Civil society groups met yesterday to discuss concerns about the limited opportunity for submissions to the process. The plan leaves only a month and a half to absorb what thousands of people say and then write an assessment of all aspects of governance.

SA’s review process will be a waste of time unless we do it right. The process presents us with a unique opportunity to get beyond brickbat-throwing and, instead, engage in civically minded self-reflection that galvanises consensus on a programme of action to improve SA’s governance. Genuine consultation will take at least six months, and there should be ample meetings to discuss the draft document, not merely one meeting.

Civil society groups have one week to prepare for the consultative conference, and then government will prepare a draft report and programme of action, which will be discussed at a second national conference in late November. The review team from the review secretariat is due in the country in March or April next year.

This compressed schedule raises the question of how committed government is to a truly broad-based consultative process. Will SA’s review process be another deal conducted at executive level along the lines of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development?

SA, and civil society in particular, can learn from experiences of the first peer review countries. Ghana appointed four think-tanks to write the four sections of the self-assessment report and allowed civil society to manage the process without government interference. Kenya allowed civil society to elect representatives to the peer review governing council.

In Mauritius, the government’s consultation process with civil society was weak and the first draft report had little of substance in it. The government is having to re-engage with civil society to produce a more substantial report. The Rwandan government appointed its own people to write the self-assessment report. There was little civil society input.

In SA, despite government’s apparent commitment to consultation, the process is closer to the Rwandan approach than the Ghanaian one.

The peer review secretariat advises that “the process is designed to be open and participatory. Countries are encouraged to engage all key stakeholders to facilitate exchange of information and national dialogue on good governance and socio-economic development programmes, thereby increasing the transparency of the decision-making processes, and building trust in the pursuit of national development goals.”

Civil society should demand greater opportunity to make detailed and considered input into the process. Government should not assume that it is best placed to assess its own performance on the basis of its own 10 year review. For the best interests of SA as a whole, civil society should do all in its power to assert itself in this process.