Members of the Lower House yesterday kicked off the second Ordinary Session of the year with the approval of the Bill relating to free movement of labour and services within the COMESA member states.
Although the House has been holding extraordinary sessions to clear draft laws, in her opening speech of the Ordinary Session, Speaker Donatile Mukabalisa called on legislators to be prepared for an uphill task awaiting them and whose focus will be more on legislation and government oversight.
For example, she said the Deputies, like the Senators, should prepare to revise the organic law governing their functions, scrutinise the National Budget law, voting of the members of the parliamentary committees, preparations for Liberation Day, among others.
Top of the agenda yesterday was the discussion on the Bill approving ratification of the protocol on the free movement of persons, labour, services and right of establishment and residence within the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) member countries.
Having ratified the protocol in 2009, although the genesis of the bloc dates way before that, Rwanda is among the four countries along 19 others in that bloc to have signed Article 4 and 6 of the Treaty requiring member states to remove obstacles to the free movement of persons, labour and services, right of establishment for investors and right of residence within the common market.
However, many other countries have been dragging their feet to ratify agreements relating the provisions.
Relevance of Bill
Explaining the relevance of the Bill relating to that agreement, Venantie Tugireyezu, the minister in the Office of the President, said approval of the legislation will spur trade and investments among COMESA countries through guaranteeing a genuine common market whereby citizens of the member states can move freely within the common market; take up employment offers, among others.
"The ratification of this protocol is important in boosting the development of policies aiming at building a knowledge based economy, including those directed at enhancing investments, free movement of labour and skills attraction to fill the gap in the Rwandan labour market," Tugireyezu told the lawmakers.
The minister added that ratification of the agreement will encourage other member states that are hesitant in taking a progressive step to ratify the protocol.
Should the Bill be signed into law, Rwanda, as member of the trading bloc, will fully enjoy integration benefits, including ease of business sector, improvement of investment climate, knowledge transfer, security cooperation, infrastructure development, resource transfer and Diaspora management.
Reacting on the Bill, lawmakers expressed concerns on plausible reasons that have led to the delay of ratification of the agreement and asked the minister to shed more light on what losses Rwanda might have endured in the absence of the law.
According to MP Gabriel Semasaka, Rwanda might not have declined to sign the bill at the onset level, if indeed the envisaged benefits were in order.
"What took us so long to adopt this treaty, there is also a need to know the way forward from this, especially on countries that are still dragging their feet, are we hopeful that the rest of the countries will follow suit?" Semasaka posed.
"The delays in these kind of agreements, unlike other strong economic trade blocs we see in Europe and in the Americas, lead us to question whether we can assess the outcomes, since we either ignore the plans of action or there are no action plans at all," added MP Jean Marie Vianney Gatabazi.
Responding to the raised queries, Minister Tugireyezu said although countries might find it relevant and profitable to form economic blocs, many have been fronting their reservations, which leave no room for pressure or gradual accountability.
"The reasons for some of these countries to drag their feet on ratifying these treaties vary from one country to another... same as priorities. We are restrained on the fact that we can't put pressure on others although there is a common protocol and road map we have all signed, and this calls for more advocacy at all stages," the minister said.