Business Day (Johannesburg)

28 May 2009

Africa: Continent's White Elephant

editorial

Johannesburg — TODAY is election day - but don't feel bad if you failed to register to vote, can't identify any of the candidates, or weren't even aware that a poll was taking place so soon after the national and provincial elections.

Few South Africans - or indeed many other Africans - know or care much about the Pan African Parliament (PAP), the African Union (AU) offshoot that is electing new office bearers today for the first time since its launch five years ago. That is because PAP (not to be confused with the porridge that is much of the continent's staple diet) has neither any tangible impact on their lives, nor a public profile to speak of.

Apart from the occasional domestic news report highlighting SA's disproportionately high contribution to PAP's multimillion-rand annual expenses, the body may as well not exist as far as the average South African is concerned.

One of the reasons for this is that PAP's 265 representatives are nominated by the legislatures of the 53 AU states rather than being directly elected, and can therefore hardly be considered accountable to the people they supposedly represent. Today's election is an in-house affair that will do little more than shuffle the cards at the top of the deck, and even that almost certainly wouldn't have happened without AU intervention.

Another reason PAP is irrelevant is that it is a legislature without legislative powers.

These were supposed to kick in after five years (that's nowish), but like the pesky election requirement there has been little sign of urgency in the PAP leadership to do much other than arrange interminable workshops and oversee the distribution of funds and perks.

That is a shame because, although the legislative function was always a pipe dream, PAP's stated aim of exercising oversight over AU activities and offering advice to member states on how they can comply with the organisation's lofty ideals, might have contributed to the upliftment of the continent had it been given enough clout.

As things stand, PAP is a white elephant - much like its SA-funded R770m compound in Midrand is destined to be.

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