Article 20 of the Constitutive Act states that the African Union Commission is the Secretariat of the Union and shall be composed of a Chairperson, his or her Deputy or Deputies, Commissioners and necessary staff. The Assembly shall determine its structure, functions and regulations.
The powers of the Commission derive also from its Statutes adopted by the Assembly in Durban (2002) as amended in Addis Ababa (2007). The Commission is mandated, among other functions, in Article 3(2) to:
Represent the Union and defend its interests under the guidance of, and as mandated by, the Assembly and the Executive Council;
Initiate proposals for consideration by other Organs;
Implement the decisions taken by other Organs;
Coordinate and monitor the implementation of the decisions of the Union in close collaboration with the PRC and report regularly to the Executive Council;
Work out draft common positions of the Union and coordinate the actions of Member States in international negotiations; and,
Prepare the Union’s Programme and budget for approval by policy Organs.
It is the Panel’s view that the Statutes vest clear powers, authority and functions in the Commission to act not only as a Secretariat of the Union, but also to provide leadership and representation of the African Union and to monitor and implement decisions taken by the policy Organs of the Union. The Panel, however, finds that key stakeholders within the Commission, the Permanent Representatives Committee, and external partners, have different perceptions of the roles and responsibilities of the Commission. It is imperative to clear this misunderstanding once and for all.
Article 7 of the Statutes of the Commission states the functions and responsibilities of the political leadership of the Commission as follows:
The functions and responsibilities of the Chairperson shall be:
Chief Executive Officer;
Legal representative of the Union; and,
Accounting Officer of the Commission.
Further, in Article 8, the functions of the Chairperson shall be to, inter alia:
a) Appoint the staff of the Commission in accordance with the provisions of Article 18 of this Statute;
b) Assume overall responsibility for the administration and finances of the Commission; and,
In Article 9, the Deputy Chairperson shall in the discharge of his or her responsibilities, be accountable to the Chairperson. He/She shall have, inter alia, the following functions;
Assist the Chairperson in the exercise of his/her functions;
Exercise the functions delegated to him/her by the Chairperson of the Commission; and
Shall be in charge of the administration and finances of the Commission.
Article 11 states that the Commissioners shall be responsible for the implementation of all decisions, policies and programmes in respect of the portfolios for which they have been elected, and be accountable to the Chairperson.
The process for electing the leadership of the Commission derives from the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly adopted in July 2002. It states that the Assembly shall elect a Chairperson and a Deputy Chairperson of commensurate leadership qualities and a good track record in government, parliament, international organisations or other relevant sectors of society and eight Commissioners drawn equally from the five regions of the Union and chosen on the basis of gender parity for a four-year tenure which may be renewable only once.
Execution of Statutory Functions and Audit Findings
The Chairperson, the Deputy and the eight Commissioners were simultaneously elected to specific portfolios by the Assembly of June 2003. They assumed office from the end of September onwards. However, four years on, their relationship can best be described as dysfunctional with overlapping portfolios, unclear authority and responsibility lines and expectations, due to inadequate comprehension on their part.
In the light of the above-cited Articles regarding the Chairperson’s functions and responsibilities, the Panel finds no basis for both the perception and practice that the Deputy Chairperson has sole responsibility for the administration and finances of the Commission. In the performance of his/her duties, the Deputy Chairperson is ultimately answerable to the Chairperson who is the Accounting Officer of the Commission. Similarly, the Panel finds no basis that the Commissioners, by virtue of their election by the Assembly, have no direct accountability to the Chairperson in his capacity as the Chief Executive Officer.
Nevertheless, as these misperceptions and practices have driven inter-personal and professional relationships, the Panel has sought to understand what might have given rise to them. Three factors might have contributed to this state of affairs. They are:
The lack of operational clarity as to the lines of authority. Despite the provisions of Article 7 of the Statutes of the Commission that make it absolutely clear that the Chairperson is the Chief Executive Officer, the election with designated portfolios of the Commissioners by the Assembly has led to the belief that they have a complete mandate to manage their portfolios and that at best, their relationship with the Chairperson is one of primus inter pares;
Most of the Commissioners are serving in an international organisation for the first time. There is little evidence that they were inducted. Consequently, an opportunity was lost to develop an informed and collegiate culture among the Commissioners; and,
The simultaneous election of the Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson and the eight Commissioners further compounded the situation.
On the whole, the underlying factors are the fundamental lack of a full comprehension of the power, the function, the authority and the responsibilities of the principal actors. The determination of portfolios a priori by the Assembly has not helped the situation. In future, the Assembly should consider staggering the election of the Commission to allow for the election of the Chairperson and the Deputy Chairperson first, and subsequently, the election of the Commissioners.
This problem needs to be addressed urgently. Failure to do so would be detrimental and costly. The Commission is the Organ which, in the final analysis, will make the difference to the credibility, effectiveness and efficiency of the Union in its quest for political and economic integration.
Changes are urgently required to professionalise and strengthen the collegiate culture of the Commission. It is clear that a set of core capabilities would strengthen the nomination and election of Commissioners. Most importantly, the demonstrated experience of applicants having served at inter-governmental levels is critical.
The portfolios are currently unwieldy and illogical as they represent baskets of different items. Further, the current allotment bears no relationship to the experience of some of the incumbents. As the Chief Executive Officer, the Chairperson is best placed to rationalise the portfolios in consultation with the Chairperson of the Assembly and thereafter assign them among the Commissioners. Whenever necessary, the Chairperson can redeploy the Commissioners.
The Panel is painfully cognisant of the need to designate the positions of the Chairperson and the Deputy Chairperson as continental roles, irrespective of their regions of origin. It would be an important step towards developing a culture of Pan-Africanism within the Union Commission itself. It is imperative that the holders must have a clear vision of pan-Africanism and a personal mission as well as a total commitment in leading the acceleration and fast-tracking of political and economic integration.