Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Report Proposes Administrative Reforms for ASEAN Institutions

ASEAN last year embarked on a review of its internal operations, conducted by a High Level Task Force (HLTF). The HLTF submitted its report to the ASEAN Coordinating Council before the second ASEAN Summit held in Naypyidaw in November last year.  The report’s findings, which have been reported by Travel Impact Newswire here, indicate that ASEAN understands the need to reform its institutional operations.  In this post, I summarize those proposals which could impact how the ASEAN institutions operate:
  • The Committee of Permanent Representatives (CPR) should be given more authority, on an as needed basis, to negotiate agreements among the ASEAN member states.   NB: this proposal would help reduce the 1200 meetings conducted annually in various locations in ASEAN in and outside Jakarta. 
  • Member states should add greater capability to handle issues in all three pillars of ASEAN in their delegations accredited to ASEAN and in their national ASEAN secretariats. NB: currently the delegations and national secretariats are staffed primarily by foreign affairs ministries, limiting their ability to deal with economic and socio-cultural pillar issues; increasing substantive responsibilities hopefully will also reduce the CPR’s current focus on administrative issues.
  • ASEAN member states and the ASEAN Secretariat should establish videoconferencing facilities and increase the use of videoconferencing.  In-person meetings should be held more often in Jakarta.  NB: again, these proposals are aimed at cutting back on the number of meetings.  
  • Member states’ contributions to ASEAN should continue to be made on an equal contribution basis, but they would be encouraged to make additional contributions on a voluntary basis for specific projects. NB: this was proposed by Malaysian prime minister Najib last year.  The question is whether ASEAN members would actually make such additional contributions, as they might expect additional influence commensurate to the additional contributions, and/or other member states might not want to create the potential for even the perception of additional influence.
  • Increase the staff numbers of the ASEAN Secretariat by 54%, with additional resources for the Legal Services and Agreements Division and the Information, Communication and Technology Division.  A Human Rights Division would be formed. NB: again, these are good developments, although ASEAN should also consider more formal ways to improve human resources, such as creating a training institute or cooperating with existing training centers, as well as allowing for temporary attachments by government officials from all member states, as happens in the EU.
  • ASEAN would establish a system to identify, tag and manage documents. NB: this is another positive development; a system to publish relevant documents publicly and regularly would be even more welcome, as would an electronic authentication system for communications that would eliminate the use of personal G-mail and Yahoo-mail for intra-ASEAN communications.
These proposals may seem prosaic, but their implementation would be a necessary step in the strengthening of the ASEAN institutions. If anything, they are perhaps not ambitious enough. Given the enormity of the responsibilities involved, strengthening the authority of the ASEAN institutions and/or improving dispute resolution would have been welcome. However, such recommendations were probably outside the scope of the HTLF. 

In any event, I hope that ASEAN’s leaders can approve these initial reform measures, and follow up with additional measures in the future.