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Improving governance critical to peer review success

[Lesotho] WFP's food-for-work dam construction in Tsoeneng. WFP
Lesotho could do with some investment to help create more jobs
Lesotho becomes the latest African country to begin a peer review process, an African Union (AU) initiative aimed at improving governance and accoutability. Seven Southern African countries are among the 25 that have signed up for assessment under the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), a voluntary exercise intended to help countries identify their shortcomings and devise homegrown reforms. Lesotho begins its formal review procedure next month. "Lesotho has indicated that it is willing [to undergo a review] to improve governance, which will boost investor confidence [and create jobs]," noted Ayesha Kajee, a researcher with the South African Institute for International Affairs. The AU inaugurated the process at its 2002 summit in Durban, South Africa, in an attempt to find local solutions to the problems of poverty, corruption and weak government institutions. The review, overseen by the APRM Panel of Eminent Persons, helps countries develop a plan of action with set timeframes in four critical areas of governance: political, social, corporate and economic. Ghana, which signed up in 2003 - the first to country to do so - is the only one that has completed the process, but its final report and plan of action has not yet been made public. With nothing to show so far, critics of the APRM feel that it will not result in any real benefits and have been quick to dismiss it as lip service by African leaders to reassure western donors. They point out there is no provision for censuring countries that fail to honour their commitments. Hassen Lorgat, media and communications manager of the South African National NGO Coalition, commented, "While there is that element - that the process intends to appease western governments and the donor community - it is not the overriding agenda of the process." He has been participating in South Africa's review and feels that the process has been transparent and inclusive, after a few initial hiccups; with concerns about the tight timetable, perceived government dominance of the process, and a lack of information about how the South African review would be managed. "The fact that this process is voluntary, rather than imposed by donors ... [so that] countries feel compelled to follow [it], has brought about a sense of ownership, and one lives in hope that the action plan will be implemented - but that remains to be seen," he added. NGOs in Lesotho also appeared optimistic. "We see it [the review] as a platform to have a frank exchange with the government on issues of concern to us, such as the independence of agencies set up to fight corruption, and [independence] of the judiciary," said Seabata Motsamai, executive director of the Lesotho NGO Council. Lesotho, where about half the population lives below the poverty line, is one of the poorest countries in the world. The country is struggling with a high unemployment rate as a result of retrenchments in neighbouring South Africa's gold mines, and the closure of local textile plants, unable to compete with high-volume Asian producers in the lucrative US market.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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