Pan-African Parliament wants AU to talk to it
09 October 2012, Business Day (South Africa)
Pan African Parliament seeks legislative powers
by Nick Kotch,
AFTER eight years languishing in impotent obscurity, Africa's parliament appealed to continental leaders on Monday to start taking it seriously by giving it the powers to do the real work of legislation and oversight that it was created to do.
The Pan-African Parliament (PAP), one of the new continental institutions created during Thabo Mbeki's presidency, has failed to prove its relevance since it first sat in 2004.
Admitting as much, the 235-seat assembly's speaker, Bethel Amadi of Nigeria, said reforms were ready to be adopted at the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa next January.
Mr Amadi spoke on Monday at the opening of the PAP's new session as the president-elect of the African Union Commission, former home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, prepares to leave for her new life in the Ethiopian capital.
"The PAP (as constituted at present) has advisory and consultative functions and yet it is neither consulted nor is its advice sought in the process of decision-making by the AU," Mr Amadi said.
He said its resolutions were never even discussed by presidents and prime ministers at the twice-yearly AU summits.
The PAP has an annual budget of about $9m and its members - five each from 47 countries - are paid their salaries and allowances by their home governments.
Mr Amadi urged the current AU chairman, President Thomas Boni Yayi of Benin, to persuade his peers to adopt a draft amended protocol on the PAP in its entirety. The reforms, giving the parliament limited legislative and oversight powers, have already been adopted by African ministers of justice.
But the changes were a casualty of the fierce leadership row at the last AU summit in July, which ended with Ms Dlamini-Zuma's victory over Gabon's Jean Ping, and a decision was deferred until January.
President Boni Yaya, keynote speaker on Monday at the PAP building in Midrand, said he backed the reforms.
African nations had to cede some sovereignty to pan-African institutions to ensure the war against poverty and for economic development was won. Africa should be inspired by other supra-national parliaments such as Europe's, he said.
"I urge you to formulate proposals towards a progressive evolution of your institution from its current consultative role to a legislative one in areas that are mutually agreed with the AU's executive council and its conference of heads of state and of government," he told parliamentarians.
The PAP and other fledgling African institutions such as the African Peer Review Mechanism and the New Partnership for Africa's Development are struggling to convince sceptics that they are making any real progress after their first decade in existence.
"The AU is only as strong as its component parts," said South African analyst and governance specialist Matlotleng Matlou.
"You have presidents who go back to 1979, like Angola, to 1980, like Zimbabwe, and to 1982, like Cameroon - and you are going to talk about democracy?" he said.
"There are so many plans that the AU has tabled. But when will they be implemented? And now the African parliament wants to add more."
Doubts about the strength of parliamentary democracy in many African countries have also undermined public support for the new institutions.
But the PAP's speaker is pressing on with his campaign for change.
"Africa is a resource-rich continent. We need to begin to hold our leaders to account," Mr Amadi said. "We need to ensure that those resources are used transparently in the service of our citizens."