SPEECHES

Opening Remarks by the Minister of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), Minister Collins Chabane, at the occasion of the Regional Workshop on "Popularising the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) through the Media in Southern Africa, Wednesday 30 July 2014, Holiday Inn Rosebank, The Zone, Oxford Road, Johannesburg

Date: 30 Jul 2014

Programme Director

Members of the National Governing Council (NGC) present,

Representatives of media organizations and other stakeholders of the APRM from the SADC region,

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to address you at this workshop. This training workshop comes at a very important time for the African Peer Review Mechanism programme. It is clear that the African Peer Review Mechanism has made tremendous strides in the past ten years by not only opening the necessary political space for citizens to engage with government and shape their own future but in the profound and comprehensive Afro-centric manner in which the mechanism has depicted the picture of member states' political, economic and social landscape.

The African Union recently concluded its 23rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly which took place from the 20th to the 27th of June 2014 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. At this Summit the AU assembly formally endorsed the integration of the APRM into the processes and structures of the African Union. This ground breaking decision opens up the potential for much closer operational and institutional interface between the APRM and other structures of the African Union.

There is great potential for mutual benefit - based on the possibility of much closer cooperation between the African Peer Review Forum and the AU Assembly for example. Furthermore, there is a window of opportunity for collaboration and cooperation between the African Peer Review Panel and the Pan African Parliament, the APR Forum and the African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC), and a closer relationship between the APR Forum and all Regional Economic Communities (RECs).

It is hoped that - as the modalities of integration are worked out as this close proximity to the institutional structures of the Union will bring benefits to the APRM programme.

Notwithstanding remarkable and noticeable progress made by the APRM mechanism since its establishment, one of the criticisms levelled against the programme is its apparent failure to mitigate some of the political, social, and economic challenges it identifies during the review phase before they spiral out of control.

Programme Director

The decision to integrate the APRM into the African Union this year follows on another momentous year for the African continent. In 2013 we witnessed the African Union celebrate its Golden Jubilee under the theme 'Pan Africanism and the African Renaissance'. At the same time last year, we saw the continent celebrate the 10th anniversary of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM).

There is no doubt in my mind that there is consensus amongst governance practitioners and other stakeholders across our vast continent that the fact that today the APRM has increased its number of participating countries to 34 members, with 17 having gone through the peer review process, is testimony to the importance of the mechanism in contributing towards efforts aimed at laying the foundations for peace, stability, socio-economic development and regional integration throughout our continent.

This implies that the mechanism has at its core the role of ensuring that our people take ownership of their future and ensure that Africa's tomorrow will be better than today.

Indeed a cursory look at the recent history of the continent proves steady but remarkable resilience and progress. Against a hostile and retrogressive global economic and financial crisis, Africa's growth and development indicators appear promising.

According to the International Monetary Fund robust medium term growth rates of 5 percent for Sub-Saharan Africa indicate a continent gradually moving towards a better future after decades of slow growth. In addition The Economist identifies Sub-Saharan Africa as the second fastest growing region in the period 2000 to 2012. The Economist magazine reports that:

"Africa has a real chance to follow in the footsteps of Asia. Over the past decade, six of the world's 10 fastest-growing countries were African. In eight of the past 10 years, Africa has grown faster than East Asia, including Japan."

Notwithstanding our remarkable journey towards sustainable socio-economic development and good governance the African continent continues to face its developmental challenges.

Some of the concerns that have been raised by various stakeholders participating in the APRM in recent times include the need to:

  • Fast-track the implementation of the APRM programme in countries that have acceded to the mechanism and continue to encourage its implementation in those countries where the process has been initiated
  • Peer learning and sharing of best practice on cross-cutting issues beyond the country review process;
  • Systematic mainstreaming and synergising of APRM National Programme of Action into country's long term and medium term plans;
  • Strengthening of partnerships between the APRM and its strategic partners, the Regional Economic Communities, and other AU organs;
  • Without compromising on principle of autonomy, independence, and African ownership, increase global visibility of the APRM through strengthening of partnerships and technical cooperation with international organisations active in areas of mutual interest; and
  • The need for a robust communications strategy to reinvigorate, popularise and raise public awareness about the APRM.

Clearly, there is a need for continuous vigilance in ensuring that we maximize the gains of the past ten years and strengthen the APRM mechanism. South Africa remains committed to this noble goal. This is reflected in the huge resources that the country has invested in hosting the continental APRM Secretariat in Midrand as well as the pivotal role South Africa has played in leading initiatives aimed at restructuring and reforming the APRM continental Secretariat.

South Africa is currently chairing the Ad Hoc Working Group on recruitment which has been mandated by the APR Forum and the Committee on Focal Points to finalize the organisational restructuring at the APRM's continental Secretariat.

Ladies and Gentleman

Judging from some of the challenges facing the APRM mechanism, it is clear that the success of the APRM and its continued relevance to improve the lives of the people of Africa remains our collective responsibility. It is a responsibility of government, civil society and indeed sectors such as the media.

As we are all aware, South Africa is currently celebrating twenty years (20) years of its democracy. Our country boasts a robust and free media whose existence has been made possible by the provisions of our constitution.

However, just as government is an equal partner in the APRM - that must not escape scrutiny and be subjected to constructive criticism where such is warranted, especially from our media, this should be done so by a self-conscious, transparent, ethical and self-critical media. Allow me to quote one of today's most prominent media personalities John Pilger who in his analysis of media practitioners says:

"It is not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers without understanding the hidden agendas of the message and the myths that surround it."

Pilger implores those in the media to ensure, that in the conduct of their duty to act as the 'fourth estate' in our democracy they must do so in a manner that recognizes that they themselves are a product of the social, cultural, and historic evolution of their societies.

This realization imposes a heavy burden on those charged with the responsibility to inform, educate, and act as guardians of our democracy. This is a burden of ethical responsibility and social consciousness.

As we continue to partner with the media in the renaissance of the African continent we need to do so in a robust, critical, but ethical and fair manner that recognizes the reality that the media has a duty to both inform and create space for open discussion and implementation of ideas whose sole purpose is the improvement of the human condition. The APRM mechanism provides such space and opportunity for the media.

This space should be explored while bearing in mind the grim conviction of some, like Pilger, who have been led to conclude that:

"Many journalists now are no more than channelers and echoers of what George Orwell called the 'official truth'. They simply cipher and transmit lies. It really grieves me that so many of my fellow journalists can be so manipulated that they become really what the French describe as 'functionaries', functionaries, not journalists."

This worrying picture painted by John Pilger by no means apply to all journalist but it does serve to illustrate the point that some media practitioners become embedded in some dubious 'truths' and assumptions that deliberately ignores the fact that the industry itself is embedded in social and economic realities that are in turn influenced by power, ownership and dominant narratives about what constitute the 'truth' and the best way forward for any given society.

Programme Director

The call for caution in the conduct of the media should not be construed to mean that we are calling for self-censorship. Rather we are calling for a self-conscious media mindful of its role as a positive contributor to the development of the African continent rather than one that mimics dominant narratives and stereotypes about our continent, often embedded in ideas far removed from our reality

In the spirit of a home grown Africa owned mechanism of peer review and learning, we require a media partner that though not compromising its independence and criticism of what is wrong, does so bearing in mind that it is a participant in the struggle to reshape both the image and history of our continent as well as in defining its future.

Ladies and Gentleman

South Africa submitted its third APRM Progress Report to the APR Forum in January 2014. In response to President Zuma's presentation to our report, the APRM lead panellist for South Africa, His Excellency Professor Amos Sawyer, hailed the country for the remarkable progress it has made in the past twenty years in ensuring that our democracy consolidates public participation, and that we double our efforts in fighting corruption, improve infrastructure, protect consumers, and spearheading the roll out of Anti-retroviral treatment and preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases such as TB.

Notwithstanding the gains identified by the APR Forum, our government has acknowledged some of the challenges we still face in our efforts at improving the quality of life for our people as we fight the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

Although some debate the correlation between the APRM and progress made by our country, we are of the view that such progress should be viewed strictly within the context of those issues that were identified by the APRM Country Review Report and captured against the National Programme of Action.

If this honest exercise is undertaken, it becomes clear that beyond opening up political space and ensuring that our citizens and civil society engages government it ultimately creates space for them to determine their own future. One example of how the APRM has improved governance and strengthened our democracy can be deduced from our government's repeal of floor crossing legislation, an issue that was raised by the APRM Country Review report in 2007.

As further testimony to our commitment to the ideals of good governance, our country is expected to undergo its Second Generation Review process that will culminate in the production of the second APRM Country Review Report and a Programme of Action. South Africa will be joining other APRM pioneering countries such as Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria in undertaking this process. This is proof of our commitment to good governance as a corner stone of democracy.

It is envisaged that a decision indicating our country's readiness to undertake this process will be made soon. It is important to note the timeliness of this process. The second review will occur at a time where South Africa has adopted the National Development Plan that will guide our country's march towards the consolidation of our democracy and the realisation of a better life for all our people.

Just as the National Development Plan is a collective vision for the kind of South Africa we want in 2030, its success depends on the participation of the citizens of our country including sectors such as civil society and the media.

We therefore, call upon our media to ensure that, once the pronouncement is made on the second review, they come on board and work with us towards a successful review process.

Colleagues

As we move our country towards the realisation of the objectives and goals of the NDP, let's do so collectively with the acknowledgement and conviction of Naom Chomsky when he said:

"Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, it's unlikely you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume that there's no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, there are opportunities to change things, there's a chance you may contribute to making a better world. The choice is yours."

Programme Director

Allow me to convey our appreciation to the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) for availing resources to jointly host this workshop on the APRM and the Media. Let me assure you that institutions like yours remain our partners in the APRM as stipulated in the Base Documents of the mechanism. We intend deepening our collaboration and cooperation to ensure that we each play our role in ensuring a better life for all our people through the improvement of governance in our country.

Lastly, let me welcome our colleagues from the SADC region and further afield, and say welcome to South Africa. Your presence here today is further testimony of the realization by all sectors of our African continent that together we can do more to improve the lives of our people and ensure that we move our continent forward.

We would like to extend our solidarity with the people of Liberia who are the current chair of the APR Forum in their fight against Ebola. We extend our solidarity with the people of Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, Libya and the Central African Republic on the continued slaughter of innocent citizens.

To my SADC colleagues I propose that we need to look into the possibility of creating space and forums of engagement on the APRM, especially on mutual cross-cutting issues that have been identified by the mechanism with the purpose of finding mutually reinforcing solutions and encouraging peer learning so that we live and practice the letter and spirit of the APRM and improve on our common destiny in the region.

After my first engagement with the APRM forum I have come to the conclusion that we need to share our experience in order to ensure that we move our continent forward. I am hopeful of the establishment of Monitoring and Evaluation mechanism that will provide regular feedback on the reviews completed in order for countries to learn from best practice models found on our continent. I am confident that this will be to the benefit of the APRM and the future of our continent.

I THANK YOU


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