01 / 1999
René SEGBENOU is Head of INADES-FORMATION (Institut Africain pour le Dévelopement Economique et Social - African institute for economic and social development), an NGO which has operated for over 30 years to assist and develop rural development and is established in ten (10)African countries. As Head of this organisation, he is the Chairman of ADEPA (Association Ouest Africaine pour le Dévelopement de la Pêche Artisanale - West-African association for the development of small-scale fishing industries), the group of NGOs that have managed the PPAO (Programme Régional Valorisation des captures de la Pêche Artisanale en Afrique de l’Ouest - Regional Programme for the Exploitation of Non-industrial Fishing Catches in West Africa)since 1994.
"In the beginning, we had some illusions because we thought that a Partnership was quite possible. We believed in it because of the person we were talking to: Mrs Cornelia NAUEN. You could feel that she was open to mutual communication and understanding, to a dialogue and, indeed, it did take place. We also felt that we could have a common purpose, common objectives and work together to achieve these objectives, to make this vision come true. That is what Partnership is all about. But as the programme unfolded and EU administrative procedures were implemented, we realised that this Partnership was going to be a difficult process. In fact, the problems are located at an institutional level. One must recognise that it is difficult for structures like the EU and a group of NGOs such as ours to establish a partnership. The EU is a big machine, it has set up and developed a bureaucracy which in practice stifles any initiative coming from people who honestly wish to exchange and set up a genuine partnership. These people are eventually paralysed and compelled to comply with formal procedures rather than follow the spirit of partnership.
And when this occurs, the weaker side of the partnership does not have the feeling that it is respected.
Such is our case. As an NGO, we feel that we are not respected in the framework of this machine. We want to speak to the EU, but in fact we realise that we are only talking to one person: we have no way of reaching a level within the institution where the word partnership would have a meaning.
It’s all fine to work with an EU official, but if the person does not have the power to change things, whatever you say, whatever exchange you wish to carry out remains stuck at that official’s level.
A partnership involves mutual respect, mutual trust, transparency, which implies that each side has access to the same information; and that was not possible in our case.
The EU machine is not transparent for us, whereas we are transparent for them.
Thus there is certainly an information problem, on both sides. I recognise that, personally as Chairman of ADEPA, I did not dedicate much energy to developing a more intensive degree of communication with the EU authorities. Due to my many responsibilities, I did not have the time to develop all the necessary contacts required to obtain the information we needed.
But I often had the feeling that the Technical Secretariat could definitely play a greater part at that level.
True enough there was an information problem and also we did not always have access to the relevant data. For example, as concerns the processing of financial files, we hand them over to the official who knows the administrative machinery and its nuts and bolts; we never have access to the system and do not understand how it works because of its hyper-complexity and it opacity.
Another example: when the issue of extending the PPAO was raised, I told the Person entitled to order payment that I hoped that this time ADEPA would not be required to present a bank guarantee as was the case with the first contract. He answered no and that he did not understand why we had been required to produce a bank guarantee and that it was not compulsory. So you see, we were informed of our rights five years later.
Another instance concerning our ADEPA contract which is, in principle, a service-providing contract. In such cases, supporting invoices are not required, the only thing that counts is whether the ordered work has been completed. At this level, I thought that the balance remaining on our account belonged to ADEPA; however when we asked the question, the answer was negative, we had to prove all our payments and return whatever money was left to the EU. As service-providers, that was not our understanding of the contract and we did not consider that the procedure was normal.
If we could have a clear, unambiguous idea of the procedures, it would help in many matters.
In the future, we wish to be given the possibility of contacting the decision-making authorities. But we also have the impression that the new approach embodied in the PPAO is not well-accepted and is not understood even in the EU itself. Indeed the Programme should have been properly taken into account by Brussels and the Delegations. This has not been the case to this day."
Interview given on January 28, 1999 at the Head Office of INADES - FORMATION, by Attikpa Tetegan, Lucie. Contact INADES FORMATION08 BP 8 Abidjan 08 ; Tel: (225)44 31 28/29/30 Fax: (225)44 06 41; E-mail: email@example.com.
[[Written for the public debate "Actors and processes of the cooperation", which could feed the next Lome Convention (European Union/ACP countries relations). This debate, animated by the FPH, has been started by the Cooperation and Development Commission of the European Parliament and is supported by the European Commission.]