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Review of the concept of peer review mechanism

By John Amoda
THE problem in the Concept of Peer Review is the notion of Peer. Once who is a peer is understood, then the process of peer review can be evaluated.

Peer Review is the notion that governments, be they global, regional, national or local are peers of one another and their conduct can be reviewed by mechanism set up for such purpose.

From this notion is derived the policy, that the government which scores the highest in the virtues that are upheld as the ideal becomes the standard that governments which score less are to emulate. Three procedural issues in the above rendition of the concept of peer review are to be noted, namely:

*Who sets up the standard and the scale for measuring relative adherence to the standard? Who determines the score for full compliance, adequate compliance, and inadequate compliance by government?

*Who constitute the auditors of governments’ conduct?

*How are audit reports utilized by government? Are these reports enforceable by an agency? Are they recommendations to governments, recommendation that they are obliged to take notice of or that they are at liberty to reject in part or in their entirety?

All these three issues describe what is inherent in the concept of peer review and in the mechanism developed to effect it. These concerns are noted as a reaction to the Vanguard Comment of Tuesday, May 22, 2012 on Anambara’s Peer Review. The Vanguard notes the relevance of the procedure of peer review in the following remarks:

“The State Peer Review Mechanism, modeled after the African Peer Review Mechanism that rates countries against each other in terms of efficiencies in governance, is an important study in how government should work. Its application Africa wide, has not elicited the type of changes intended particularly in governments opening themselves up for scrutiny by the people. Yet, it remains an important step in African governments assessing each other and learning from each other. Countries with favourable peer reviews have better opportunities of attracting investors, since the review encompasses key components that address transparency in the administration of a country’s resources”.

From the above we can create a medical scenario. There is a plague ravaging a community and inflicting severe hardships on the people and for the mitigation of which a cure has been discovered, tested and offered to the leaders of the afflicted community. They test this cure and find it experimentally effective- but the leaders refuse to make the cure available. They treat the cure as mere suggestion and are prepared to live with the plague. Certain conclusions are unavoidable in the light of this imagined scenario.

The conduct of the leaders suggest that (i): The cure of the plague comes with collateral costs that the leaders are unwilling to accept; (ii) that the plague can be eliminated by different but less costly and invasive process; (iii) that time will take care of the plague and that the Malthusian implications of such a choice is morally acceptable. Thinking in this way, the leaders downgrade the importance of the cure. Vanguard in its comments suggest that the above rendition of governments to Peer Review is plausible. This is so because external incentives to encourage governments to adopt and support the use of the peer review process have proved insufficient and ineffective. Vanguard provides the testimony of the Mo Foundation.

“The Mo Foundation, which sponsors the review in Africa and awards an annual leadership prize to past African leaders, whose administrations laid foundations that sustain the ideals of the review, has gone for two years without finding a leader to reward. It says a lot about the quality of African leadership, though some argue that the Mo standards are too high.

Either way, the extension to Nigerian states has met the same setback that Mo faces. State governments were meant to submit their administration to a review by other states for a comparison of their performance along agreed indices. With the great achievements of governors all over the country, they are unwilling to submit themselves to peer review and benefit from it. What are they hiding?”

This question jumps the gun. Why? Because of the assumptions that lead to the asking of this question needs to be examined. The assumption that the Mo indices applied in the mechanism address the issues of politics and the course of conflicts generated by political differences is not sustainable.

The political process has three aspects- the input aspects address the raw politics of demands, interests of groups, parties, economic players, domestic and foreign- some demands will “knock” the political engine; some demands are opposed to other demands; some demands are made by proprietors of the political process; other demands are made by parties seeking the reform of the process; and yet some other demands are for the scrapping of the entire process and for creating a new process to replace that which they condemn. Mo indices do not address the politics of demands of support of the process and hostilities to the process.

The Mo indices deal with the governance process, the policy and implementation process. It simplifies the monitoring process by banishing “demand-politics” from its scheme, it is simply the auditing process of reducing politics into administration.

The result is a neatness of process which has no resemblance to the actualities and practice of politics of which administration is a partisan aspect, and never a technocratic non-political instrumentalist system or subsystem of party politics. The political players know that they cannot get passing grade if their politics of power, reward and punishment are submitted to review in toto.

They all know that to survive to build a system that can be standardized and replicated, they have sometimes suspended the rules of the game and often resorted to the rules of the jungle, where lions feed on the weak; they all know that when they do not resort to lawless non-constitutional strategies, playing by rules that empower their enemies is unwise- so they do refuse to subscribe to the politics of the rule of law, when all participants of winner-takes-all politics. Claude Ake describes African politics colonial and post-colonial in these words:

“The nationalist movement was essentially a coalition of disparate groups united by their common grievances against colonial oppression. It was typically a network of nationalities, ethnic groups, religious organizations, syncretistic movements, secondary organizational and professional interest groups.

But even though they cooperate against the colonial regime, their relationship was never free from tension and conflict… To recapitulate, at independence the form and function of the state in Africa did not change much for most countries in Africa.

State power remained essentially the same; immense, arbitrary, often violent, always threatening. Except for a few countries such as Botswana, politics remained a zero-sum game, power was sought by all means and maintained by all means.

Colonial rule left most of Africa a legacy of intense and lawless political competition amidst an ideological void and a rising tide of disenchantment with the expectation of a better life” (Claude Ake, Democracy and Development in Africa, Spectrum Books Ltd, Ibadan; First Published by The Brookings Institution 1996; Reprinted in Nigeria 2001 Pp. 4, 6).

Claude’s words describing the anti-colonial coalition politics of independence describe the current reality of African politics six decades later. Where power is sought by all means and maintained by all means, each governing party and their opponents know they all have hidden in their governance closets skeletons which shame them. They cannot survive  in the political process without out-dirtying the dirtiest.

Anambra who risked evaluation by the State Peer Review and was effusely praised by Donald Duke, Chairman of the National Committee of the State Peer Review Mechanism and by Professor Oladipupo Ademolekun had its cupboard full of skeletons.

“Anambra remains the only state that has never conducted local government elections in the past 13 years. Obi inherited the system and has shown no inclinations, after six years in office, to stop administering the local government through illegal contraptions called caretaker committees.

Section 7 of the Constitution states, “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly the Government of every State shall ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils”.

Each of the other 35 states have their own area of lawless unconstitutionalism. Yet Anambra had excellent score under the Peer Review Government Audit.

The question to be asked is not why the Peer Review is not popular but how the Mechanism can be reconstructed to address the politics of demand and support- the raw politics of societies where power is still sought for by all means and maintained by all means.



Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.