Response To Proposed Joint Session of the ECOSOCC Standing and Credential Committee Meeting

Published on 13th October 2020

Dear Members of ECOSOCC General Assembly and African citizens:

Greetings: 

We hope this communication finds you well and in good spirit. This information is prepared by Members of the Economic, Social, and Cultural Council of the African Union (AU ECOSOCC) who are committed to urgent reforms in the organ. The email address is used for the purpose. It facilitates communication to Members based on the ECOSOCC Statute and Rules of Procedure. It is focused on Reforms.

With dedication to the ideals of the founding principles of the AU, mindful of our solemn oath to serve in the best of our abilities, and conscious of the unique duty of the organ to represent African citizens, we are compelled in this era of reform to do so by eliminating violations of the Statute and Rules of Procedure of AU ECOSOCC, which have hindered and disastrously weakened the General Assembly as the oversight and apex body of the organ. 

If AU staffs, who are not elected by, and accountable to, African citizens, are allowed to violate the Rules, preside over ECOSOCC meetings, and determine activities for African citizens in their various Member States and those living outside their Member States in the Diaspora to contribute to developments, there would have been no practical or rational reason to establish AU ECOSOCC in the Constitutive Act. It would be an Africa driven by AU staff. The Union would be an impossibility. Staff in a bureaucracy do not galvanize the civil society that is activist-oriented with influencers. The functions are normally in conflict.

AU ECOSOCC was purposely and uniquely constituted as the only citizen-oriented organ that is supposed to be present in all Member States to galvanize the African citizenry to drive developments. The organ's significant role and expected interactions with their fellow African citizens and engagement of African Leaders are clearly explained in the Strategic Implementation of the Ten-Year Strategic Implementation Plan of Agenda 2063.
We urge all to focus on the contents of the communication with an objective mind and the pertinent Rules. 

It is our legitimate duty to inform the General Assembly. We cannot continue to engage in unaccountable manners based on the suggestions, instincts, opinions, or directives of the Secretariat. 

Dear Members of the General Assembly, based on the Rules, you should decide before we can act on behalf of the organ and our fellow citizens on whose behalf we endeavor to serve by articulating what our position is and why. It is accountability. 

Africa, as the rest of the world, is grabbling with the coronavirus pandemic and institutions have adapted to the "new normal," by conducting its meetings in a virtual format, a practice demonstrated by the World Bank, AU, and the United Nations among other examples. 

In its collective insight and decision, at the AU EXECUTIVE COUNCIL Thirty-Seventh Ordinary Session, through Videoconference in October 2020, decided that all AU meetings in 2021 should be virtual. The Decision reads: DIRECTS the AUC and all AU Organs to make use of virtual meetings instead of physical meetings, with a view to make savings on travel costs. We welcome the AU Executive Council Decision. There is no need for further legal interpretations on what a zoom or webinar meeting, or videoconference, looks like.

The Executive Council NOTES the challenges associated with conducting virtual elections and DECIDES: a. to postpone the elections to the 38th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council in February 2021. Elections to the Economic, Social, Cultural Council of the AU (AU ECOSOCC) has been based on the violations of the AU ECOSOCC Statute. 

In terms of election, the Standing Committee or Credential Committee does not have the statutory right to discuss elections, modalities, or to elect Officers. Attempts to overlook the violations with determined efforts to sanitize, legalize, and normalize lawlessness are unfortunate abuse of the ECOSOCC Statute and Rules. It is not a time to look for means to justify violations by instigating an unusual meeting between Standing Committee and Credential Committee. In this era of reform, it is time to uphold the Rule that grants the General Assembly to role of electing its Officers. 

As you may be aware, AU is implementing the AU Institutional Reforms that were recommended by the AU Reform Team led by H.E. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, who is also the AU Leader of African Union Development Agency-NEPAD (AUDA-NEPAD). The resources from all organs are submitted to the supervising Heads of State. Resources from AU ECOSOCC are no exception. However, Members of the General Assembly are generally clueless on who submitted information on behalf of the organ.

Six months after the findings in the AU Institutional Reform were published in July 2017, the AU Permanent Representatives Committee rightly questioned the relevance of AU ECOSOCC and noted the dysfunction due to non-productivity. The stalemate has not improved in measurable ways. The Rule for elections continued to be violated; ECOSOCC Members have no idea who proposed its budget and programs, how monies are spent, how programs are evaluated, and who evaluates them without conflict of interests. 

In the current climate of lawlessness in ECOSOCC, regardless of its potential, no organ in the AU Institutional family of organs can be operate in a functional manner when its Statute and Rules of Procedure are violated with impunity, its roles are contradicted and undermined with layers of unaccountability, and perpetrators consider themselves immune from the consequences of violations.

African citizens have expressed distrust and and their perception of AU is one of limited relevance. These findings were documented in the AU Institutional Reform Report. It is, therefore, no mystery that in AU Institutional Reform, the need to Connect the AU to African citizens is one of the Six Focus Areas of Reforms and it cannot be taken for granted. Connecting the AU to its citizens naturally places AU ECOSOCC at the heart of meeting the goals of reforms because the organ is designed to be nearest to the grassroots and disenfranchised communities. 

On October 7, 2020, a letter titled "Proposed Joint Session of the Standing and Credential Committee" was written by the ECOSOCC Secretariat and sent to Members of the Standing and Credential Committees and copied CIDO staffs, Mr. Lagizaber Bekele in the Office of the Legal Counsel, a project officer Ms Carol Jilombo who has worked AU Commission of Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture;  and another project officer, Mr. Kokou Sename Djagadou, who has worked in the AU Commission of Human Resource. 

While the contents of the letter appear to simply remind people of their functions, the habit and history of ECOSOCC Secretariat instigating events with undermining effects on the General Assembly reflect patterns of interferences in the oversight duties of the General Assembly, functions of the Standing Committee the Credential Committee by violating the ECOSOCC Statute and Rules of Procedure. 

Directives and impositions from the Secretariat promote and foster the history of abnormal relationship between the organ and its Secretariat, which is a complete betrayal of African citizens whose aspirations we are supposed to channel in the AU.

Fellow Members of the General Assembly, compliance with Rule 15 is vital to move ECOSOCC forward.

Rule 15
Agenda of Ordinary Sessions
1.   The General Assembly shall adopt its agenda at the opening of each session.
2.   The provisional agenda of an ordinary session shall be drawn up by the Secretariat in consultation with the Standing Committee and may include: 
a)   Items which the General Assembly decided, at a previous session, to place on its agenda;
b)   Items proposed by a Member of ECOSOCC;
c)   Items proposed by a Member State of the Union;
d)   Items proposed by any other organ of the Union. 

In accordance with Rule 15, the Secretariat cannot draw up or determine an agenda without consultation. The agenda items cannot be the ideas of the Secretariat, it must necessarily come from the identified parties in 2. a, b, c, and d. 2 and a matter of record. For example, if the Commission wants ECOSOCC to discuss an issue, a formal submission is best practice. If the Legal Counsel wants to interpretation laws, the basis should be on established Rules as best practice.

Provisional agenda means arranged or existing for the present, and possibly to be changed later. So the Secretariat is not supposed to prepare the final agenda for ECOSOCC Meetings. The General Assembly must decide and adopt the agenda.

In spite of the clarity of Rule 15, ECOSOCC Secretariat, in total violation, have convened meetings, dates, where, distributed and agendas, unilaterally invited people to ECOSOCC meetings. It is unclear ECOSOCC funds are used to pay people that the ECOSOCC or CIDO invited. Only an audit can tell. 

Rule 13 grants the General Assembly the authority to: 
b)     set up ad hoc working groups as it may deem necessary and define their composition and mandates
c)     perform such other functions for the furtherance of ECOSOCC activities in conformity with the Statutes of ECOSOCC and these Rules.

Within these provisions, the General Assembly can create ad hoc working groups to oversee reforms and finalize agendas for Meetings, including Extraordinary Sessions. 

Best practice for ad hoc groups exist such as President Paul Kagame Reform Team; the Eminent African persons who recently created the job profile for Commission elections, the historic decision adopted by Heads of State and Government (HOSG) in a “Retreat on Financing of the Union” during the 27th African Union Summit held in Kigali, Rwanda in July 2016 Donald Kaberuka presented comprehensive proposals on financing the Union including the Peace Fund. These best practices tap into the resources of African citizens to implement solutions. ECOSOCC can also do so with the civil society.

We are not opposed to the presence of the staff copied in the Secretariat letter. The courtesy of explaining the presence of staff and their roles in ECOSOCC meetings is a best practice because project managers cannot manage projects that not even the Standing Committee Members know about and the General Assembly is clueless on who proposed the supposed projects and costs.

It is highly unusual what unelected staff and project officers would be doing in ECOSOCC Credential Committee Meetings. Virtual meetings require technology, not legal interpretations. Mr. Lagizaber Bayene Bekele's need to be present in ECOSOCC Standing Committee and Credential Meetings has to be clear, on whose invitation or request, or on what item agenda. This is best practice.

It is unclear what Mr. Ahmed El-Basheer and Mr. Jalel Chelba of CIDO would be doing in ECOSOCC Standing Committee and Credential Committee Meetings. If their notification by Mr. William Crew, the Principal Coordinator of Secretariat staff, is for CIDO to take note of his suggestions to Standing Committee and Credential Committee Members or how well he is performing, it has nothing to do with function of the General Assembly.

With grave concern and need to uphold the Articles in Statute of AU ECOSOCC and its Rules of Procedure, we believe there must be correction of the ongoing violations of the Statute and Rules of AU ECOSOCC that have severely undermined the mandate of the General Assembly, Standing Committee, and compromised the function of the Credential Committee. Staying voiceless and helpless is no longer an option to improve the current dysfunction and undermining of the General Assembly.

The letter from the AU Secretariat cited Rule 24 
Duties of the Presiding Officer, which should be stated in full for proper perspective. 
1.        The Presiding Officer shall: 
a)   convene the sessions of the General Assembly and the Standing Committee;
b)   open and close the sessions;
c)   submit for approval the records of the General Assembly or Standing Committee;
d)   guide the proceedings of the General Assembly or Standing Committee;
e)   submit to a vote, where required, matters under discussion and announce the results of the vote taken; and
f)    rule on points of order.
2.  The Presiding Officer shall ensure order and decorum of the proceedings of the General Assembly.
3.  In between the sessions of the General Assembly or Standing Committee, the Presiding Officer, shall represent ECOSOCC in conformity with the Statutes and these Rules of Procedure.
4. The Presiding Officer shall liaise and consult with the Commission and other organs of the Union on issues concerning the effective functioning of ECOSOCC.
5. In the absence of the Presiding Officer, the Deputy Presiding Officer designated by the Presiding Officer shall act as the Presiding Officer.

The legitimacy of Rule 24 is linked to Rule 28.
Rule 28 states: The Standing Committee
1. The General Assembly shall elect the Standing Committee which shall be composed of eighteen (18) members as follows:
a)   The Presiding Officer;
b)   The five (5) Deputy Chairpersons;
c)   The chairpersons of ten (10) Sectoral Cluster Committees
d)   Two (2) representatives of the Commission.

When Rule 28 is violated, it automatically triggers question on the legitimacy of actions specified in the functions of the Presiding Officer in Rule 24. This trigger is because the authority of Rule 24 is derived from Rule 28. A violation of a Rule cannot cannot be legitimized through the citation of another Rule. 

There is no precedent of any other AU organ violating the process by which officer holders come to office through an electoral processes. 

In fact, the guiding precedent indicates that no short cut, expedient rationalization, or legal counsel interpretation has ever been used to override established Rules. 

For comparable examples, in the Commission elections in 2012 and 2016/17, the Rules were not suspended, violated, overridden, subjected to legal interpretations, or extraneous, irrelevant reasoning that undermine the Rules. Neither were financial reasons used to undermine the Rule or promote organization chaos in any organ. The Rules were upheld, including suspension of the elections rather than use defective mechanisms to justify outcomes. AU ECOSOCC should not be the organ where assisted violation and lawless are rationalized and normalized. The practice is breeding ground for dysfunction.

Nothing in Rule 24 grants the Presiding Officer the right to convene a General Assembly or Standing Committee Meeting without submitting for approval the records to the General Assembly or Standing Committee as respectively required. 

Since 2017, the ECOSOCC Secretariat has habitually convened AU ECOSOCC General Assembly and Standing Committee Meetings, picked the dates and where with absolute disregard of the Rules of Procedures, and brought in the Office of the Legal Counsel to overlook, rationalize and normalize activities and decisions. A faulty process cannot legitimize outcomes. 

The letter written by the Secretariat cited Rule 35: Functions of the Credentials Committee: The Credentials Committee shall be responsible for examining the credentials of Members of ECOSOCC and of their representatives. 

As a matter of urgent reform, Rule 35 cannot be effective and reliable when Article 5 of the AU ECOSOCC Statute is violated by the ECOSOCC Secretariat. The Secretariat created its own application process outside the prescribed modalities adopted by the AU Executive Council. Creating an application process outside the Statute is lawlessness that opens room for patronage systems by the Secretariat that is not accountable to citizens in Member States or recognized by Member States as appropriate modalities. The self- defined Secretariat process, in fact, creates conflicts in Member States' civil society.

In citing Rule 35, Rule 36 of Procedure for the Credentials Committee must be taken into account: The rules of procedure for the Credentials Committee shall be adopted by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Credentials Committee. 

There is no Rule of Procedure that the Credential Committee recommended and was adopted, which authorizes the head of the Credential Committee to conduct processes and pass judgements without documenting specified violations or deficiencies, and providing such evidence to the General Assembly as the oversight and apex body of the organ.

Blindsiding the General Assembly by acting outside the Rules of Procedures,  and taking for granted that the General Assembly will simply accept the outcomes, is not an advisable, legitimate, and responsible recourse to address any issue. 

The emergency priority is to revert to the Statute in order to correct the defective and de facto practice by engaging our Member States and Regional Authorities in compliance with Article 5. Article 5 grants the authority to decide election modalities to respective National, Regional, and Continental authorities. A joint meeting between the Standing Committee and Credential Committee, which is the proposal from ECOSOCC Secretariat, will only perpetuate anti-reform and continuation of violation.

The General Assembly may assign specific and facilitating duties, as need be, to the ECOSOCC Secretariat for the smooth functioning of the organ. However, no Statute or Rule grants powers to the ECOSOCC Secretariat to function as the General Assembly, Standing Committee, consultant to the head of the Credential Committee, or to issue official announcement on behalf of the organ or Members when such communiqué is the prerogative of the General Assembly, the Standing Committee, Bureau, Cluster Chairs, or Members communicating as representatives.

There is urgent need to correct the obvious pervasive conflict of interests; impractical, and abnormal relationship between the organ and its Secretariat. Correction of the violations will eliminate the unhealthy climate of fear, confusion, chaos among Members. 

A reformed organ will remove obstruction to Members' initiatives, innovations and outreach to African citizens, engagement with African leaders and replicating best practice by the Heads of State who assemble able citizens to assist in enhancing the functions of the AU. The healthy reform and reset of the organ will eliminate public misconceptions and conditions that enable misleading reports to other organs, and build trust between AU and its citizens.

We call on Members to collaborate constructively to protect the mandate of the General Assembly. We appeal to other organs, the Office of the Legal Council, the African citizen, to support the organ by upholding the Rule of Procedure 13: The General Assembly, which states:

1.   The General Assembly shall be the highest decision and policy making body of ECOSOCC.
2.   The General Assembly shall be composed of all the Members of ECOSOCC as provided for in Rule 5 (Membership).
3.   The functions of the General Assembly shall be as follows:

a)     elect members of the Standing Committee and oversee its work;
b)    prepare and submit advisory opinions and reports as appropriate;
c)     submit proposals on the budget and activities of ECOSOCC;
d)   approve and amend the Code of Ethics and Conduct for CSOs affiliated to or working with the Union;
e)     review the activities of ECOSOCC and propose appropriate actions and recommendations;
f)      recommend amendments to the established Sectoral Cluster Committees as it may deem necessary;
g)     adopt the rules of procedure of the Standing Committee and the Credentials Committee;
h)     declare the cessation of membership if a Member has been found to have been acting in a manner contrary to the objectives and functions of ECOSOCC suspend a Member;
i)      set up ad hoc working groups as it may deem necessary and define their composition and mandates
j)      perform such other functions for the furtherance of ECOSOCC activities in conformity with the Statutes of ECOSOCC and these Rules.

An objective assessment will indicate that historical and unchecked violations of ECOSOCC Statute and its Rules of Procedures are the original sources of the organ's dysfunction. Taking marching orders from the Secretariat is a vivid depiction of the abnormal relationship between the Secretariat and a severely undermined organ. The abnormality should be corrected as a matter of urgency for the organ to move forward.

To do our job, we need to need to have an honest conversation with African citizens whom we are expected to represent at the AU in order to channel their aspirations and galvanize actions for Africa's self-reliant development.
We need urgent reforms by empowering the General Assembly to undertake its oversight responsibility; not more costly bureaucracy that is unaccountable to the citizens.

It is to the best interests of the AU, all organs, the African citizenry, and external partners to have confidence that Rules matter across the Board in the AU and justice is not selective or preferential.

The Reform Group


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