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General News of Friday, 5 March 2004

Source: Peter Fabricius/Star

NEPAD: African leaders & Experts at loggerheads

African leaders and the experts running the Nepad African Peer Review Mechanism are at loggerheads.

They disagree over whether or not their reports on individual countries should be released to the public in their raw, unedited form.

The independent experts, appointed by the leaders, want the reports to be published as soon as they complete them, to preserve their credibility.

The political leaders want them published only after they themselves have seen them - and possibly changed them.

The experts constitute a seven-person Panel of Eminent Persons especially chosen for their expertise, integrity and independence of political pressure. The Panel includes Gra?a Machel and former SA Reserve Bank governor Chris Stals.

The Panel will hand its reports to the African Peer Review Forum, comprising the leaders of the African countries which have volunteered to be peer reviewed. So far 18 have. Stals said once the panel had assessed a country, it would be up to the leaders - the peers - to do the actual peer reviews by going to the leader of the state which had been reviewed and telling him what he was doing wrong.

The panel is about to launch its first peer reviews of Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya and Mauritius to establish whether or not they are sticking to agreed codes of good political, economic, corporate and social governance.

Stals said in a press briefing on Wednesday that the timing and the manner of the release of the panel's reports on individual countries was still "a little bit of a sensitive issue". He said there was no argument that the reports would be published eventually.

"But we feel that our reports should be published at the time when we are finished with them, in other words when we hand it over to the (African Peer Review) Forum. And it's very important that in no way can this political group change our reports before they publish it.

"If they don't agree with it, they can add their own addendum or memorandum to it but for the credibility of this panel and for its independence, our report will be a final report as far as we are concerned on the review mechanism, and we would like to see that report released at some stage." But the APR Forum heads of state disagreed, said Stals.

"It seems they feel it should only be released as a post event when they have done their peer review and talked to the country and taken certain decisions. Then they will release the report.

"We want it released at an earlier stage because we feel the transparency of the report will contribute to it effectiveness.

So we feel it should be released when we hand it over. The report would also have a bigger impact if released before the APR Forum vetted them.

"There will be more pressure from the media and the international community. If it's a good report and they agree with it they will say: 'Why don't you implement this?' So I think it increases the effectiveness of the report before the politicians get too much involved in it."

Stals said the issue had not yet been resolved. He said seven-person teams, each led by a member of the Panel of Eminent Persons, would soon visit the first four countries to be reviewed to fill in gaps and speak to a broad cross-section of the community to verify the answers in the questionnaire. Stals, who is heading the Ghana team, said the panel did not want to talk only to a few politicians and officials but businesses, trade unions and community representatives.

Second visits would be made later, and the panel's reports on the first four countries should be complete by the end of the year. - Independent Foreign Service