/ 10 June 2011

Little commitment to fixing dysfunctional secretariat

The SADC secretariat is widely understood to be ineffectual and disorganised and the way SADC members relate to this condition is as good a measure as any of the collective commitment to regional integration.

The South African government’s relationship with the secretariat is especially important, since, as University of Cape Town academic John Akokpari says, “when South Africa doesn’t take any initiative in the SADC, everything collapses”.

According to Wits professor Anthoni van Nieuwkerk, South Africa’s commitment to SADC has dwindled over the years. “It started big time in the mid-’90s on the back of liberation euphoria, became mind-bendingly technical a few years later because SADC had to be reshaped and then it started to become more routine and South Africa almost exited from the SADC as far as representation at headquarters is concerned.”

South Africa’s contribution to SADC’s fiscus is, at $6268-million for the 2011-12 financial year, among the highest in the region. Yet there are no South Africans employed at management level and no permanent South African staff. “The highest-ranking South African is a secondment, who basically fulfils the role of quartermaster.

There’s something wrong with that,” says Van Nieuwkerk. Department of International Relations (Dirco) deputy director general Santo Kudjoe, the South African representative to SADC, says that when it comes to important decisions “all member countries are equal with an equal, vote in meetings, similar to the African Union and the United Nations”. This is misleading, though, because South Africa cares very much what happens at the UN and dedicates serious human resources to ensuring that its mission can work within that organisation to reform it.

Mere reform might not be enough to save SADC, though, if the mood of secretariat employees is anything to go by. Over a period of two weeks the Mail & Guardian called the directorates of the secretariat and rounded up more than 50 complaints lodged by seven different individuals, including allegations of everything from poor management to corruption.

“They must do a proper investigation into the work being performed and the commensurate packages,” said a source. “Then fire all of us and recruit from scratch because we are all polluted to a certain extent.”

The M&G tried repeatedly to elicit a response to these allegations, but none was forthcoming.

Kudjoe admitted that South Africa, with other member states, had “dealt with the issue of excessive travelling by officials at the secretariat and there was a summit decision to limit it”.

“If there are other allegations of financial abuse or irregularities, we are not aware of them, but South Africa will not be pleased if these allegations are found to be true,” he said.

Dirco did not respond to allegations that former director general Ayanda Ntsaluba has been told about corruption in the SADC secretariat in 2009.

Sean Christie is the Open Society Foundation’s fellow on foreign policy reporting