Should the IRCC re-invent itself?
From its creation in 2001, the core focus of the Inter-Regional Coordinating Committee (IRCC) has been to support, facilitate and coordinate the access to European Union (EU) funding of Eastern and Southern Africa – Indian Ocean (ESA-IO) Regional Economic Communities (RECs). These support programmes underpin several regional integration and cooperation endeavours. Avoiding duplication and building economies of scale along aid effectiveness principles is at the core of the IRCC’s mandate.
Box 1: A short introduction to the IRCC
The Inter-Regional Coordinating Committee (IRCC) is a one of a kind dialogue and coordination platform in the Eastern and Southern Africa – Indian Ocean (ESA-IO) region regrouping, as members, four regional organizations (ROs), namely COMESA, EAC, IGAD and IOC, and the European Union, and, as observers, the African Union Commission, SADC, and the ACP Secretariat. It emanates, since 2001, from a particular application of Article 7 of Annex IV of the EU – ACP Cotonou Partnership Agreement which states that 'in the case the membership of several relevant regional organisations overlaps, the Regional Indicative Programme should correspond to the combined membership of these organizations'.
The managed resources are significant: over the 9th and 10th European Development Fund (EDF) the combined total initial envelopes for the ESA-IO region has been nearing the EUR 1 billion. Through this IRCC has been able to ensure that grant resources from the EU are mobilised, programmed, identified and formulated in a coordinated way and on behalf of the participating RECs (COMESA, EAC, IGAD and IOC). This has seen joint implementation of programmes covering the 4 RECS, taking advantage of economies of scale and avoiding duplication. The scope of such support has been limited by the fact that only one partner, the European Union, has been involved and as such not much coordination has been done with other partners and other funding financial institutions.
Widening the IRCC’s mandate: beyond EU development funding
A wider mandate was construed in the September 2009 “Lusaka Declaration” (1) from the high level meeting of the ESA-IO ROs, their Member States, represented at Ministerial level, and high officials of the European Commission. At the time, concerns were expressed that speedier funding delivery was critical to implement projects on time and produce benefits early. Delays in aid disbursements for investment projects (e.g. regional infrastructure) led to escalation of costs and significant opportunity costs. It was apparently more prudent to go for commercial loans in financing such projects.
The broadened IRCC caucus of ESA-IO ROs and their Member States, which met in Nairobi in August 2012, noted the new openings under the EU’s Agenda for Change in terms of innovative financing mechanisms. Following this meeting, the ESA-IO ROs and their Member States are exploring the interest of other public and private partners to cooperate within the framework of the IRCC; the ultimate goal being to favour intra-platform leveraging and blending of the EU grant funding while subscribing further to the post-Busan principles on Global Partnerships for Development. It is hoped that this type of financing will become the norm rather than the exception for the future of EU support to regional integration in this part of the world.
After more than a decade of being exclusively funded from EU resources, the new IRCC platform, if so endorsed by its membership, will need to draw across its new diverse memberships for its sustainability. Success relies on a common conviction of the collective gains arising from dialogue and a common operational framework across several Regional Organizations (ROs), and in a platform regrouping all interested cooperating partners.
The future IRCC
Building on ten years of lessons learnt, with more partners and newer ways of financing regional assets and services, there is hope of accelerating the pace of economic integration in the region. For this to happen future resources will have to be channelled towards building and strengthening intra-regional markets, productive capacities, and infrastructure. At macro level these will be the Key Performance indicators for the IRCC, but how can these objectives be achieved and financed?
Several approaches are possible inside the wider bloc. Traditional grants-based programmes can support newer, more ambitious high potential goals and attract further public and private funding. The setting up of new vehicles, preferably regionally-owned, is also worth considering. The new platform should also underscore and coordinate approaches by groups of countries on specific themes or sectors and by intra-platform configurations of various entities, mixing regional organisations, countries, development finance institutions, private sector, etc.
A higher level and intensity of coordination, coherence and complementarity assurance will be needed. Ultimately this should work towards cementing the building blocks of the African Union, and, perhaps, reinstate some confidence in achieving the objectives of the Abuja Treaty - creating one single African market. This should be the global objective for IRCC in whatever new skin the IRCC finds itself in for the future.
The IRCC should re-invent itself to take into account the changing global environment and lessons learnt during the past ten years. Constraints to regional integration in Africa have largely been related to supply side handicaps (e.g. poor infrastructure and weak productive and marketing facilities). Addressing these constraints would require an IRCC that is designed and institutionalised to be able to coordinate and mobilise a combination of domestic or regional resources, big and traditional donors such as the EU and the emerging players Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS). This also implies an IRCC framework that is able to coordinate a number of funding instruments with an added advantage of allowing for blending of grants and interest bearing instruments (loans and other risk capital). This will imply the ability to closely work with other specialised funding agencies such as national, regional and international financial institutions. The re-invented IRCC should be able to facilitate backward and forward linkages between the Africa Union and the RECs in order to realise the vision of a bigger Africa Union Customs Union in line with the provision of the Abuja treaty.
Mr. Vikramdityasing Bissoonauthsing is Coordinator and Head of Secretariat of the Inter-Regional Coordinating Committee (IRCC). Dr. Khutula Sibanda is Technical Advisor to COMESA on relations with the EU and the IRCC.
Disclaimer: The author/s are writing in their individual capacities. The views expressed in this paper are theirs and are not at all linked to the views of the RECs and EU.
This article was published in Great Insights Volume 1, Issue 9 (November 2012)