8 June 2014

East Africa: EALA Speaker Failed Censure Could Divide House

The Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly Margaret Nantongo Zziwa breathed a sigh of relief after a censure motion against her failed last week.

The motion moved in March by MP Peter Mathuki (Kenya), during the last sitting in Arusha failed when Tanzanian legislators -Shy-Rose Bhanji, Adam Kimbisa and Maryam Ussi - suddenly withdrew their signatures, rendering it not valid for debate.

Before the three MPs withdrew their signatures, 38 out of the 45 in the House had signed.

The MPs accuse Zziwa of involving members of her family in the services of the assembly, hiring of staff without consultation, favouring some few EALA members through offering them overseas trips with hefty allowances, veiled threats to lawmakers and supporting a decision to stop EALA's rotational sittings in partner states.

The decision by Tanzanian MPs came as a relief but Zziwa still faces a challenge of managing the majority 38 lawmakers out of the House's total 45 who had voted to see her out, according to EALA insiders.

Some insiders propose that Speaker Zziwa should build alliances with the opposing MPs for the sake of smooth running of House business.

But some lawmakers such as MP Fred Mukasa Mbidde (Uganda), said failure of the motion signified the reaffirmation of the Speaker and that the House should consider looking at a new beginning.

"Questions of working for the cohesion within the House beyond the motion have already become the Speaker's urgent business and visits to Chapters shall be made during this recess with a view to normalising relations among members," Mbidde said.

After the collapse of the censure motion, the House reconvened the following day and passed the bloc's 2014/15 budget, before going into recess that runs up to August.

"Our members are majorly elderly leaders guided by reason and it will take a shorter period before normalcy is obtained," added Mbidde.

MP Straton Ndikuryayo (Rwanda), said MPs passed the EAC budget but supported the idea that the censure motion stays.

But Ndikuryayo told The New Times that the relationship between MPs and the Speaker will soon normalise.

"The next step was to refer the motion to the Legal Committee for investigations and the Speaker has full rights to come with defendants. For the next three years, I hope there will be no problem. In Parliament sometimes we start by disagreeing and then end with an agreement," Ndikuryayo said.

Dr Wilbert Kaahwa, the EAC chief legal adviser told the Assembly that it was too late for the Tanzanian trio to pull out since as a rule, their signatures were only needed during the initial process of filing the order.

He told the Assembly that the order had already been filed and the House is on the second stage of taking the document before the legal committee which is then going to investigate the charges against the Speaker before issuing its own recommendations.

But according to Mbidde, with the withdrawal of the three Tanzanian signatures, the motion failed to meet the mandatory requirement of four signatures from every partner state (Rule 9,2) of the House's Rules of Procedure.

Mbidde said the motion also collapsed on grounds that it was not tabled within the mandatory seven days as required by Rule 9(4) of the Rules of Procedure.

During debate on the 2014/15 budget estimates, last Thursday, EAC Secretary General Amb. Dr Richard Sezibera indicated that legal advice from his office was ignored by the Speaker. As noted, the EAC counsel constantly explained how EALA could have handled the motion but the Speaker opted to block it from being debated.

Dr Sezibera told the assembly that by refusing the motion to be debated according to EALA's Rules of Procedure, the House was setting a precedent which would have serious consequences on the bloc. He also warned against turning EALA into "a theatre of unnecessary conflicts."

Efforts to reach the EALA Speaker were futile by press time.

The EALA Speaker position runs for a single five-year term. Zziwa's mandate started in June 2012 and she has three more years to run the House business.

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