Cablegate: Peer Review Making Little Progress

DE RUEHSA #0983/01 1300855
R 090855Z MAY 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


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1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Ross Herbert met with PolOffs to discuss
his new book, "The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM):
Lessons from the Pioneers," which examines APRM's pitfalls
and yet to be unleashed potential, nearly six years after its
formal adoption. The APRM's intent of fostering good
governance by encouraging governments to be self-critical,
giving civil society a voice in policymaking, and inviting
outside criticism has been groundbreaking. However, the
program has been plagued by political interference and by
lack of capacity, financing, and political will in both
participating countries and the APRM Secretariat. Despite
the flaws, the APRM has the potential to play a positive role
in improving governance in Africa by facilitating a healthy
national dialogue between government, civil society, and
business on the key challenges facing a country. The fact
that APRM is African-created and African-led only enhances
its credibility on the continent. The key issue remains
whether governments that have signed up but not yet completed
the exercise view APRM as a public relations tool or as a
genuine process of national dialogue, consultation, and
planning. END SUMMARY.


2. (SBU) PolOffs met with Ross Herbert, Head of the
Governance and APRM Programme at the South African Institute
of Foreign Affairs to discuss his new book, "The African Peer
Review Mechanism (APRM): Lessons from the Pioneers," which
examines APRM's pitfalls and yet to be unleashed potential
nearly six years after its formal adoption. (NOTE: Thus far,
29 countries have formally joined the APRM -- more than half
of the AU's 53 member states -- but only six have completed
the exercise: Mauritius, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Algeria, and
South Africa. The "pioneers" are the first five countries to
have completed the process: Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Mauritius,
and South Africa. END NOTE) Herbert believes the program
overall is "a positive force" for four reasons. First, it is
unprecedented for incumbent governments to throw themselves
open to outside scrutiny. Second, it should condition heads
of state to hesitate before acting if they know they will not
be able to get away with poor governance. Third, it allows
civil society and foreign experts to write definitive
critiques of national governments' performances and for civil
society and business leaders (at least in theory) to
contribute to the policy making process. Last, it has the
potential to rebuild trust in politics and inject fresh
thinking into national problem solving. Thus far, Herbert
said country review team reports by outside experts have been
constructive, and clearly not intended to embarass any

3. (SBU) Herbert feels the APRM will eventually be successful
if the African Union (AU) can credit even one or two
improvements in governance in each participating country.
Ghana, one of APRM's pioneers, is a good example, he said,
pointing out that Ghana did not become defensive about civil
society's criticisms, and actually made concrete changes
based on the APRM report like reducing the size of its

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4. (SBU) In official documents, the APRM process sounds
deceptively straightforward: establish and organize relevant
institutions, make a plan for research, write a
self-assessment report, and define remedial actions for
governance gaps in a Program of Action. However, Herbert
said the process is far more complex and time consuming than
governments first imagine. Herbert contrasted the APRM
process with OECD peer reviews, which focus narrowly on one
subject. The APRM, on the other hand, examines almost every
state activity under four broad themes: democracy and
political governance, economic governance and management,
corporate governance, and socio-economic development.

5. (SBU) Moreover, Herbert said APRM rules are unclear and
little attention has been paid to training or advising

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participating countries on the process. The APRM's
Self-Assessment Questionnaire, which guides the reviews, has
25 objectives, 58 questions, and 183 indicators. Herbert
said many of these questions require in-depth research that
has never been done and queries that are not easy to answer.
For smaller countries, like Lesotho, the burden is even
greater, he said, because the workload is the same, but civil
society organizations and governments have even less manpower
and funding. In fact, as ground-breaking as the involvement
of civil society is in policy making, most civil society
organizations on the continent lack the ability to engage in
policymaking, according to Herbert. Even hiring academic or
think-tank institutions to carry out some of the research has
been problematic in several countries due to government
delays. For example, Herbert's employer, the South African
Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), was asked to
contribute to South Africa's peer review process, but was
given a one-year contract which was signed more than 11
months after the starting date and delivered after the
contract's expiration.

6. (SBU) As a result, he says the process, which was
originally envisioned as taking six to nine months, took the
pioneers on average 36 months, with most countries "flailing
for at least a year or two, then hastily undertaking most of
the work at the tail end of the process." Herbert complained
that these self-imposed tight deadlines only drive the
process toward "superficiality." In the end, APRM reports
are relegated to "some mid-level bureaucrat whose only
interest is in finishing a report," Herbert said. (NOTE:
Because the APRM process is entirely voluntary, the APRM
Secretariat cannot impose deadlines. However, after a
certain amount of time has elapsed with no progress, the APRM
Secretariat can diplomatically pressure countries to move
along. END NOTE) Herbert believes that pressure is growing
to accelerate the pace. However, Herbert pointed out the
paradox that the credibility of the entire process is likely
to suffer if the pace does not pick up, but getting the job
done quickly will also prevent the process from being
rigorous and broadly consultative.


7. (SBU) With only six countries completing the process in
six years, Ross believes APRM suffers from a lack of
commitment from both participating countries and the AU.
Some governments, he believes, like Cameroon and Ethiopia,
have signed up "disingenuously" as a form of public
posturing, while others "only want the PR value of a
consultative mechanism." Many governments also fear that
civil society will be overly negative. For some countries,
like Namibia and Botswana especially, there is no advantage
to participating. "They already think they have a good
reputation for good governance and participating in something
like this could potentially tarnish it," he argued.

8. (SBU) Even AU commitment appears to be lacking at times,
Herbert said. APRM issues are always discussed at the end of
AU summits or postponed, he said. Some APRM review teams
have gone out unprepared, as was the case in Algeria, when
the APRM review team had to come back another time because
they had not read the country's self-assessment report before
Qthey had not read the country's self-assessment report before
deploying, which was incomplete.

9. (SBU) The APRM Secretariat also seems to be suffering from
poor governance, according to Herbert. The current Panel of
Eminent Persons is a mixed bag, according to Herbert, but
will undergo a complete turnover by the end of the year.
"The problem with all bureaucracies is that eventually a
culture of self-preservation kicks in," he argued. The APRM
Secretariat has become a "gravy train" for some, with some
members "only on the look-out for their next per-diem,"
Herbert said.


10. (SBU) Herbert argued that the APRM process cannot be done
in a political vacuum because it touches on issues like
democratic and political systems, corruption, service

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delivery, respect for human rights and systemic gaps that
contribute to poor governance. For the defensive-minded,
like Rwanda and South Africa, the very existence of such
discussions will lead to efforts to suppress information and
stifle debate, according to Herbert. In fact, Herbert said
that Rwanda was open to suggestion on economic management
issues, but not on political intimidation. Also, Kenya's
self-assessment was strong, but line ministers refused to
implement any suggestions, taking criticism personally. This
resulted in a program of action that was extremely vague,
citing things like "improve justice system." Incumbent
governments also worry about what a negative report might
have on donor aid, investment flows, and their success in
future elections.

11. (SBU) Herbert was especially critical of South Africa's
APRM process, saying "South Africa was especially prideful,
with an attitude like, we don't need this." The SAG, like
the Rwandan government, insisted on significant control over
the process, arguing they needed it if they were to take
ownership, but then proceeded to drown out the voice of civil
society, according to Herbert. He said the SAG invited 15
NGOs to participate in the process; the NGOs met once and
then never again. He also said that some think-tanks,
including SAIIA, had some productive discussions with
mid-level officials working on APRM, but that their
suggestions were edited out of the final report. "The South
African government refused to admit any fault they aren't
already working on," he complained. Herbert also questioned
the timing of the SAG's research on government performance,
saying the administration of the questionnaire immediately
before municipal elections was a "quasi-campaign activity"
designed to make voters believe the ANC was canvasing voters
to find out what they really cared about. Herbert knows the
questionnaires were never examined; SAIIA pestered the SAG
for months to see the questionnaires and finally found sealed
boxes from two provinces (Free State and Northern Cape) in an
abandoned office.


12. (SBU) Ultimately, APRM suffers from what Herbert
described as "lack of bite," meaning the APRM process fails
to link findings with results or consequences. In most
cases, program of actions simply list ongoing reform efforts,
such as "anti-corruption unit established on this date,"
without ever explaining how APRM findings would be addressed
within existing efforts, which have obviously not worked yet.
Herbert described many programs of action as "crap, with
descriptors like fight corruption, but no modalities." "Of
course, the consequence of vagueness means that everyone can
claim success!" Herbert argued.


13. (SBU) Herbert admits that the APRM process has not been a
floodgate for donor funding as some expected. Many
investors and development partners who were eagerly awaiting
APRM reports have begun looking elsewhere for government
assessments. However, Herbert still believes that the APRM
process could be a critical entry point for the World Bank,
IMF, or other donor/lending agencies since the ARPM process
identifies priorities and the programs of action should
establish a track record which donors can cite. However,
Qestablish a track record which donors can cite. However,
Herbert reminded Poloffs that many African countries are
hesitant to be "bear-hugged" by donors right now, giving the
example of the AU turning down the EU's offer of USD 2
million because "it did not want to be accountable."


14. (SBU) As we noted in reftel, the African Peer Review
Mechanism remains the most significant and innovative
development of the NEPAD initiative to date. While
admittedly flawed, APRM still has the potential to play a
positive role in improving governance in Africa through
facilitating a healthy national dialogue between government,

PRETORIA 00000983 004.2 OF 004

civil society, and business on the key challenges facing a
country. The fact that APRM is African-created and
African-led enhances its credibility, allowing criticisms to
be aired that might be dismissed as "neo-colonial" if they
originated from North America, Europe, or the IFIs. The key
issue appears to be whether governments view APRM as a "check
the box" exercise or a genuine process of national dialogue,
consultation, and planning. While it is too soon to judge
whether the peer review process will have any long-term
impact on improved governance in Africa, we believe APRM is
an important emerging institution worth following and

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