Monday, September 15, 2014

Holding Institutions Accountable

Please see my OpEd that was published in today's New Times:

World Health Organisation and UNICEF accountability – we are not yet there

"I am very proud to serve for a country that has prioritized the health and wealth of its children. This is evidenced by activities, laws, policies, strategies and plans implemented by various sectors. This is normal because our people are our riches. And among them – the most precious are our children because they are our future and we always fight to improve their health and well-being.
On a personal note, as a pediatrician, I am deeply motivated to improve the lives of children. Any effort to reduce unnecessary suffering and harm to a country’s future generation is laudable because – like so many Rwandans – I believe that the value of a country is how it treats the most vulnerable among its people. And our children are the most vulnerable of our citizens.
This is why that I, along with so many others, was shocked to see news of a report that was released by the United Nation’s Children Fund (UNICEF) titled “Hidden in Plain Sight: A Statistical Analysis of Violence against Women and Children”, which included findings – that if true – would make Rwanda one of the most violent countries in the world vis-à-vis its treatment of children.
When looking more closely at the story behind the implausible numbers, however, it was astonishing to see how many flaws existed in this report. Even the report authors made disclaimer after disclaimer about how limited their methods were. They reported projections of data – as opposed to real data – and failed to explain what informed these projections. Not surprisingly, their findings are so far from the truth.
For instance, the Rwanda Demographic Health Survey – which is an internationally recognized data source to document the status of the health and well-being of our people and is done in partnership with those who published and promoted this report (WHO, UNICEF), shows a very different picture relative to the recent flawed report. Additionally, the real data on child homicides recorded by the Rwanda police suggests that the UNICEF report estimated a child homicide rate that was over 10 times as high as reality in Rwanda. (see table below)
Observations on the data related to Rwanda profile:

Table: Observations on the data related to Rwanda profile.
Flawed data – such as these – cannot simply be apologized for in a “technological appendix” or the “limitations” of a study (which never would make news headlines). Instead, they have real consequences. They can easily damage the reputation of development plans of a country. They can easily redirect time and policymaking efforts to “problems” that don’t actually exist.
This report teaches us to reflect upon a few key things:
First, efforts to hold international institutions accountable are blocked and they still allow themselves total impunity to publish defamatory reports without any consequences to themselves.
Second, this puts into question the commitment of these institutions to human rights. One of the major principles of human rights is a participatory process. By extension – as countries are made up of human beings – the people of these countries should be given the right to participate or review the report. Reports – right or wrong – on country performance should never be disseminated without being shared with the country to inform them of the findings so that eventually, they can show evidence of the false allegations or use the information – if accurate – to generate positive change.
In conclusion, I just want to recall the imihigo contract that we have just signed across sectors and level of responsibilities as a country to guarantee accountability of each leader at all levels. It is something that the UN may consider adopting to help guarantee better use of their organization’s influence and the other useful work that they undertake everyday in partnership with member states.
The Author is the Rwanda Minister of Health."
Published in the New Times - 15 September 2014 - Link: