31 March 2014

East Africa: EALA Speaker Faces Impeachment

Impeachment proceedings against the Speaker of East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA), Margret Nantongo Zziwa appear to have gotten off a rocky start as divisions emerge among members of the regional parliament. Some members of the Assembly accuse the Speaker of incompetence in executing her duties and allowing external influence in decisions she makes.

The EAC treaty says the motion to censure the Speaker can only be tabled after at least four MPs from each member-country have igned the petition. Each country has nine representatives. Sources in Arusha say those seeking to oust the Speaker have secured the required signatures and the motion will be tabled before the House this week.

Earlier attempts to table the motion fell through after two members from Tanzania withdrew their signatures. "The petitioners have regrouped and collected additional signatures from Tanzania. The motion is expected to be tabled on Tuesday [tomorrow]," a source in Arusha said. Peter Mathuki Mutuku (Kenya) said the Assembly was ready to present the motion, adding that "there is nothing personal."

But Susan Nakawuki (Uganda) said those behind the motion are motivated by "personal interests." She accused her fellow legislators of failure to concentrate on legislative duties. Nakawuki said during their meeting in Kampala recently, some activities like netball games were organised, but some women were not selected to participate.

This, she said, caused a rift, with the blame heaped on the Speaker. "As EALA women team captain, I selected those who are energetic and left out the elderly. They were unhappy because there were allowances for participants in the games," Nakawuki said. Other accusations against Zziwa include failure to properly guide the EALA Commission that steers the assembly business.

Salary wrangles:

However, a source in EALA who preferred anonymity so as to speak freely, said some members are on the Speaker's neck because she refused to advocate for their salary increment. Currently, each member pockets $4,800 (about Rwf3.2 million) per month and members are demanding their salaries be more than doubled to $10,000.

The source said the Speaker often rubs the members the wrong way for not attending sessions, saying they just come to 'sing' for sitting allowances. "Everything here is about money. Some members just come for allowances and go back to their businesses," the source said. "The Speaker had proposed to give allowances to only those who attend sessions."

EALA members are entitled to $400 (about Rwf270,000) sitting allowance. There are six rotational plenary sessions in a year. During the plenary sessions there are usually few members who attend leaving the House with backlog of unfinished work. Fred Mukasa Mbidde (Uganda) has taken the matter to the EA Court of Justice seeking proper interpretation of the law.

Mbidde told The New Times that the EAC treaty is not clear on which partner state provides the next Speaker if Zziwa is censured. "The East African Court of Justice has to order a permanent injunction against any such censure motion based on wrong laws and rules and also to order the House to amend," he said.

Zziwa became the first woman to head the regional Assembly after controversial election in 2012, in which she beat Dora Byamukama who had been endorsed by the Ugandan government. The Speaker's seat is held on rotational basis by all member states.

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