In recent weeks there have been local and international media reports of an alleged scandal at the African Peer Review Mechanism reportedly involving some topnotch officials of that august body.
The African Peer Review Mechanism was set up by the African Union as a voluntary governance self-monitoring system within the framework of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). Originating from and 'owned' by African countries, it provides an opportunity for civil society participation and public dialogue on governance issues.
The review process includes country self-assessments based on a questionnaire, expert review teams, and on-site visits by expert review teams who consult with government, private sector and civil society representatives.
The media reports, among many things alleged that Mr. Assefa Shifa was not qualified to transact business for the APRM Secretariat and he was "illegally" reappointed to head the APRM with the acquiescence of some senior officials of the organization including Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, who was head of the Panel of Eminent Persons, Amara M. Konneh, also chairman of the Committee of Focal Points and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
The reports also furthered that in 2012 a Forensic Review of the Subsistence and Travel showed misdeeds for which there has been no follow up; Dr. Sawyer extended Assefa Shifa's contract and the Trust Fund pays Shifa's "wages".
Professor Akere Muna Muna calls for forensic audit of Trust Fund; Shifa was kept in his position, despite his incompetence and financial misdeeds; Mar Dieye of UNDP tried to remove him but Konneh and Sirleaf opposed, tried to get Dieye to withdraw his recall of Shifa; Mar Dieye declined; Sirleaf authorized Konneh to keep Shifa on.
But contrary to these allegations, Dr. Sawyer in an exclusive interview with this paper said the reports are unfounded and baseless and only intended to undermine his reputation and credibility. He said he was taken aback by the fact that the journalists who published all the negative accounts did not make any efforts to get his side of the story before publication.
"The allegations are cooked up and a product of smear campaign by individuals who intent is to ultimately undermine the APRM" he said.
"I have had no financial dealings with the APRM other than payments of fees, travel costs and reimbursements on related expense so for anyone to suggest any form of financial impropriety, that person is out for mischief".
'The only time, I have had to seek clarifications on dealings with finances, was when I requested clarification from the Secretariat regarding two transfers made to my account by the Finance Department. It turned out that one transfer was my subsistence allowance for the January 2014 APRM Panel meeting and the Summit which took place in Addis Ababa and the other was an end of tenure honorarium"
The email is public record but also the APRM policy on travel is clear: it provides direct round trip air tickets (not cash) for travel to meetings from the Panel member's location at the moment to the destination of the assignment and back to the location of departure. I had at no time requested any deviation from this policy.
This can be easily verified from the travel office of the APRM and from the travel agency used by the APRM. Fourth, it is the APRM's policy to provide to every out-going Chairperson an honorarium of $9,000. Every Chairperson has received this amount including my predecessor and successor. It is absurd for anyone to believe that I would request the APRM to pay my medical bills."
Dr Sawyer intimated that if there was any wrongdoing, the Chairperson of the Focal Points would have raised the issue of the management of the Trust Fund with UNDP and request previous audit reports.
"As the APRM is regularly audited, all the claims and assertions contained in the various media reports can be verified and established from third party sources", he said.
On the issue of Forensic Review of the Subsistence and Travel showed misdeeds for which there has been no follow up, inside sources said it was ordered in 2011 by Dr. Sawyer's predecessor to look into the management of the Secretariat by his predecessor.
A credible source said "the report was concluded in 2012 and considered by the Panel. The Panel's decision relating to the report can be found in the Minutes of the Panel meeting. The fact is, the issues identified in the Forensic Review were the same as issues identified in the regular audit of that period.
The Forensic Audit caused one million Rand ($100,000) and threw no new light on the management of the Secretariat under Babes's predecessor. Dr. Sawyer took over from Babes.
The Forensic Review was for the period before his (Sawyer) mandate not during the mandate. The point of sensation which Muna and others relish is about Professor Babes predecessor's alleged travel to South Africa from Lagos via London.
Audits are discussed with the Focal Points who in turn bring them to the attention of the Heads of State. During 2012 and 2013 meetings with Focal Points, audit reports were discussed with them. Mr. Shifa or his successor can throw more light on this point."
As a way of verifying this information, pundits believe the leadership of the APRM should call upon the Secretariat to release all audit reports and direct the Committee of Focal Points to review anew all audit reports and come up with recommendations for strengthening the management of the Secretariat.
The source further informed the New Dawn, that it was the panel in charge of the Secretariat and new Operational Rules and Procedures were negotiated in 2011.
These rules according to our highly placed source, established the Committee of Focal Points as the authority to manage the Secretariat, Not the Panel as was alleged.
"The Panel's role was limited to preparing its budget and controlling the Country Review process which is the core business of the APRM. Some members of the Panel, including Muna have not been happy with the new Operational Procedures.
While the new Operational Rules and Procedures were being negotiated in 2011, the Panel under my predecessor Professor Babes took two actions: first, to elevate Mr. Shifa to the position of CEO that is from the position of Officer-in-Charge and to create a new position of Deputy CEO- a position for which there was not former equivalent on the organizational chart.
A Cameroonian who was a coordinator was promoted to that position. The second action taken by the Panel under my predecessor, Professor Babes was to order a Forensic Review of the management of the Secretariat. That report is referred to below in Muna's accusations.
It is also important to inform you that annual audits have been done by KPMG, Deloitte or other international auditing firms and reports have been reviewed by both the Panel and Focal Points and are available," our authoritative source said.
On the allegation of the Forensic Audit, the source who spoke to this paper on condition of anonymity intoned that the audit in question was ordered in 2011 by my predecessor to look into the management of the Secretariat by his predecessor. The report was concluded in 2012 and considered by the Panel.
The Panel's decision relating to the report can be found in the Minutes of the Panel meeting. The fact is, the issues identified in the Forensic Review were the same as issues identified in the regular audit of that period. The Forensic Audit caused one million Rand ($100,000) and threw no new light on the management of the Secretariat under Babes's predecessor.
The source continued "Dr. Sawyer took over from Prof. Mohammed Seghir Babes. The Forensic Review was for the period before Dr. Sawyer's mandate not during his mandate.
"The point of sensation which Muna and others relish is about Professor Babes predecessor's alleged travel to South Africa from Lagos via London.
Audits are discussed with the Focal Points who in turn bring them to the attention of the Heads of State. During 2012 and 2013 meetings with Focal Points, audit reports were discussed with them," our authoritative source maintained.
Throwing light on the allegation of the prolongation of Mr. Shifa's stay at the APRM, our source explained that after discussion with Chairperson of Focal Point and with authorization Shifa's contract which was to terminate at the end of September 2013 was extended so as to allow for the institutional memory over the period of migration to the AU which at that time was expected to be completed by January 2014.
Shifa was the only senior management officer who had been with the APRM secretariat over the years and could assist with this transition. Regarding the Trust Fund, it is managed entirely by UNDP.
All that is known is that budgets are funded from the Trust Fund and that means all salaries, not only the salary of the CEO but all salaries are paid from the Trust Fund. The Fund is audited as per UNDP management rules by auditing firms commissioned by UNDP not by the Panel.
In spite of the crab mentality at level of the APRM, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said "the APRM has deepened a democratic political culture among African Governments.
It has fostered more principled leadership and constructive national dialogue. And the peer review process has opened up greater space for citizens to participate in the decisions affecting them.
I pay tribute to the 17 countries that have completed their self-assessment and peer review. This process strengthened national accountability. In some cases, the APRM has revealed underlying causes of conflict -- with recommendations to address them".
The UN boss added that "the APRM has identified a number of areas where African countries need to improve. It showed the need to better manage natural resources, stop corruption, end xenophobia, address youth unemployment and take action against organized crime and terrorism.
Above all, the APRM points to the critical need to halt unconstitutional changes in government - and, when they happen, to respond robustly in defense of principle.
Now is the time to deepen and broaden this valuable peer review process so that more countries can benefit. The goal, of course, is for all countries in Africa to face this scrutiny, by themselves and by others. This is what African people expect of their leaders."