Tracking Development Cooperation Contributions to ASEAN Integration and Community Building: Options for the ASEAN Secretariat.

AuthorMagno, Armiliza C.

One of the key milestones in ASEAN's journey towards integration and community building was the entry into force of the ASEAN Charter in 2008. (2) In providing a legal and institutional framework for ASEAN, the Charter marked the organization's commitment to step up efforts towards "a more formalized means of integration" (3) and led to the establishment of the ASEAN Community in 2015. To further deepen the integration and community building process, on 22 November 2015, ASEAN unveiled its ASEAN Community Vision 2025, a new roadmap that comprises blueprints for the three ASEAN Community Pillars--the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC), the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC)--and includes the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) Work Plan III and the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) 2025. (4)

The responsibility for bringing the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 to fruition primarily lies with the national governments of the ten ASEAN Member States (AMSs). At the same time, the AMSs recognize the value of working with ASEAN's external partners to achieve the organization's vision, (5) which includes collaborating in the domain of development cooperation. Development cooperation in ASEAN--which comes either as multi-year programmes or shorter, one-off projects funded by the organization's external partners--operates at various levels and involves many actors. At the regional level, the ASEAN Secretariat (ASEC) assists the AMSs and facilitates these development cooperation initiatives, while also serving as implementers in a few of these programmes and projects.

This article argues that, for an organization tasked with regional integration, ASEAN requires a robust monitoring and evaluation (M&E) regime to appraise the impact of regional development cooperation initiatives on its progress towards the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. While ASEAN has made significant strides in enhancing its monitoring capacities, it is currently lacking in the ability to accurately measure and assess the contributions made by regional development cooperation to the attainment of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. In other words, the organization is not able to properly evaluate the role of such initiatives in the ASEAN integration and community building process.

The purpose of this article is to answer the questions of why and how ASEAN should enhance the M&E systems of its regional development cooperation initiatives. The first section discusses how ASEAN's governance framework has evolved to meet its regional integration agenda, including the changes to the Secretariat's mandate, institutional structures and accountability mechanisms. The second section examines development cooperation in ASEAN and the important role that monitoring plays in ensuring that such initiatives are in congruence with the notion of ASEAN Centrality. The third section analyses ASEAN's current M&E systems in greater depth, especially how these mechanisms track the organization's progress towards the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. That discussion sets the context for the fourth section, which addresses how ASEAN's monitoring and evaluation capacity over development cooperation is hampered by weaknesses in defining the parameters of success, linking implementation monitoring to results monitoring and engendering institutional learning opportunities. It then offers six concrete steps that ASEC could adopt to address these shortcomings, primarily involving improvements to the collection, classification and dissemination of data.

Regional Integration and the Governance Framework of ASEAN

Before discussing how ASEAN can enhance its M&E regime over development cooperation, it is important to first understand the current ASEAN governance framework. As demonstrated below, the gradual emergence of ASEAN's integration and community building agenda means that the organization has to enhance its institutional design and accountability mechanisms in order to meet those objectives. This experience reflects Carlos Closa's insight pertaining to regional integration models, that "the larger the number of objectives, and the more ambitious in relation to the current status quo, the more robust the institutional commitments need to be if the organization is to succeed in attaining them". (6)

ASEAN Integration and Community Building Objectives

ASEAN's raison d'etre has undergone continual reframing over the years. The Cold War and the growing threat of China and communism heavily shaped the regional political landscape in the decade when ASEAN was established. In order to "confront" these conditions of uncertainty and insecurity, the then-five founding members--Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand--decided to form ASEAN on 8 August 1967. It was thus not an outright aspiration for integration and community building that prompted the five founding members to band together. However, over the years, and with the end of the Cold War in 1991, the AMSs started to find more common ground for cooperation beyond the political and security realms. In particular, they saw the benefits of greater economic cooperation, especially with an expanded membership of ten. (7) In 1997, the AMSs set out the ASEAN Vision 2020, (8) which was further pursued through the Bali Concord II of 2003. In the latter, the AMSs declared that "an ASEAN Community shall be established comprising three pillars, namely political and security cooperation, economic cooperation, and socio-cultural cooperation". (9)

In 2007, the organization reached an important milestone through the creation of the ASEAN Charter. The Charter marked a significant departure from the way ASEAN had previously conducted its affairs--what was once characterized by flexible and informal engagements became a more formal one bounded by rules. The Charter articulated ASEAN's purposes by consolidating the organization's aspirations as contained in its various declarations, agreements, conventions, concords, treaties and other ASEAN instruments. These would later be expounded with clear targets through the three ASEAN Community Blueprints. (10) In 2015, as agreed by the AMSs, the ASEAN Community was established, (11) while a new set of blueprints for the APSC, AEC, and ASCC were issued. Collectively, these documents are known as the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. Complementing the three ASEAN Community Blueprints are two other work plans: the IAI Work Plan III (12) and MPAC 2025. (13)

Together, the ASEAN Charter and the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 encapsulate the future trajectory of the organization. In particular, the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 outlines the characteristics that the three ASEAN Community Pillars should embody and includes a set of action lines on how to achieve them. In effect, these blueprints have set the parameters through which the progress of the ASEAN integration and community building process will be measured. As seen in Table 1, these parameters are comprehensive and interrelated. Moreover, while not explicitly stated, the idea of development resonates across the three ASEAN Community Blueprints, with development cooperation implied in the APSC Blueprint as one of the means to achieve it. (15)

ASEAN Governance Framework for Integration and Community Building

ASEAN's commitment to the integration and community building agenda necessitated certain institutional refinements to its organizational structure and accountability mechanisms. These include the creation of new ASEAN organs and enhancements of existing ones, as well as updating the mandates of these units in accordance with the ASEAN Community Vision 2025.

In terms of its organizational structure and decision-making, ASEAN fits the description of inter-governmentalism, in which the "national executives take all relevant decisions in the integration scheme, whilst any supra-state institution and/or agency created will be devoid of any decision-making power". (16) As a result, an intergovernmental structure "may not be sufficient for building more complex systems beyond the State". Thus, these types of organizations "often and increasingly establish other bodies, or create new offices within their organisations". (17) Figure 1 enumerates the ASEAN organs that support the integration and community building process while illustrating their relationships with each other.

The ASEAN Secretariat is a crucial component of the ASEAN integration and community building governance framework. Established in February 1976 by the foreign ministers of the member states, it comprises four departments, all reporting to the ASEAN Secretary-General: the APSC Department, the AEC Department, the ASCC Department and the Community and Corporate Affairs (CCA) Department. (19) The functions of the Secretariat, as mandated by the ASEAN Charter, (20) include facilitating and monitoring the progress in implementing the various ASEAN agreements and decisions.

As Omri Sender observes:

secretariats remain the prominent mechanism and instrument by which international organisations seek to realise their objectives. It has become clear that, in trying to understand the potential and constraints of institutionalised international cooperation, the role of secretariats must not be overlooked. (21) As a crucial node in ASEAN's governance arrangement, ASEC has to navigate around the demands and expectations brought about by the organization's integration and community building agenda. While this article does not intend to resolve whether ASEC should function as a facilitative secretariat or a policy-shaping one, (22) it does examine how the Secretariat's monitoring role can be fully harnessed to "lock" member states' commitment to the integration and community building process. (23)

On its part, after endorsing recommendations of the High-Level Task Force on Strengthening the ASEAN Secretariat and Reviewing the ASEAN Organs...

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