The Permanent Representatives Committee (PRC) is a body of Permanent Representatives and other Plenipotentiaries of Member States accredited to the African Union. It is established under Article 21 of the Constitutive Act. Its powers and functions are defined under Rule 4 of its Rules of Procedure. The Organ’s powers and functions fall within four areas: (a) to act as a liaison between Member States and the Commission; (b) to exercise oversight over the Commission; (c) to facilitate and support the Executive Council in executing its powers and functions; and, (d) to participate in the preparation of the Union’s programme of activities. According to Rule 26 of the Rules of Procedure of the PRC, “decisions of the PRC shall be recommendations until adopted by the Executive Council”.
The PRC is supposed to meet at least once a month to discuss recommendations for adoption by the Executive Council. In practice, this has not been observed due to the pressure of other meetings. The PRC’s Rules of Procedure allow it to establish any sub-committee and to collect information from any source including CSOs, if desired. Currently, the PRC has seven standing sub-committees. They are; Advisory Sub-Committee on Administrative, Budgetary and Financial Matters; Sub-Committee on Programmes and Conferences; Sub-Committee on Refugees; Sub-Committee on Contributions; the Sub-Committee on Structural Reforms and the Policy Sub-committee on the Special Emergency Assistance Fund for Drought and Famine in Africa; Sub- Committee on the Review of the Scale of Assessment. In addition, at the time of auditing the Organ had four ad hoc Sub Committees. They are: the Sub-Committee on Headquarters and Host Agreements; the Sub-Committee on NEPAD; the Sub-Committee Economic and Trade Matters; and, the Sub-Committee on Multilateral Cooperation (The Cairo Plan of Action of the Africa/Europe Summit, multilateral negotiations, TICAD, AGOA, Commission for Africa etc).
Clearly, the standing Sub-committees seem to be largely focused on Organisational oversight matters, as opposed to the substance of the agenda of the Union. This gap between substantive and oversight is partly addressed by the ad hoc Committees, but even they seem to be preoccupied more with issues at hand than strategic concerns of the Union. The Panel is of the view that the Committee system of the PRC should focus on substantive issues.
Moreover, the PRC Sub-Committees often experience a lack of quorum when meetings are convened. While this can be attributed to the relatively small size of most missions and their limited expertise to handle the broad range of technical issues addressed by the AU it, inevitably, has had a negative impact on the implementation of the work programme and management of human and financial resources.
The capacity of the PRC is very important if the Organ is to carry out its mandate, and effectively and efficiently service the Executive Council. However, it is imperative that the Permanent Representatives and Plenipotentiaries are and remain in charge of the PRC and handle substantive issues, which are of utmost importance to the Union. Ad hoc Committees may have a role from time to time, but they should not proliferate or become permanently institutionalised. In the same vein, African governments should strengthen the size, calibre and competencies of their mission staff. The challenge that faces the African Union in the years ahead, demands a very experienced and professionally qualified African diplomatic corps equivalent to the corps at the UN.
The re-composition of the Council of Ministers, as proposed, will require technical capacity to deal with sectoral issues. Member States should therefore endeavour to include in their delegations such technical officers as are professionally appropriate to these Council of Ministers meetings to facilitate the taking of informed positions.
The Panel recommends that:
The powers and functions of the PRC as listed in Rule 4 of its Rules of Procedure be reviewed in such a manner that its oversight functions will be carried out by the Advisory Sub-Committee on Administrative, Budgetary and Financial Matters whose members should preferably come from the Ministries of Finance;
Experienced Ambassadors from Member States should be posted to head their missions. Permanent Representatives should assume full control and personal responsibility for AU matters rather than delegate official responsibilities to subordinates. Whenever meetings of the PRC are convened, Permanent representatives should attend personally;
African permanent missions to the AU should be staffed with competent personnel to handle issues of strategic importance to the union, such as finance, trade, the environment and economic development among others;
The current Sub-Committee system should be streamlined to focus on substantive and strategic issues. Ad hoc Committees should only be set up where absolutely essential, with clear terms of reference and time frames;
The Commission should issue a calendar of meetings to the PRC for the following year, three months before the end of each year. Both the Commission and the PRC should adhere to that calendar, unless there are unforeseen circumstances; and,
The PRC should ensure that its Sub Committees meet regularly in order to support the work of the PRC, interaction with the AU Commission and preparation of the work of the Council.