Integration agenda not optional, Speaker Kidega
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Despite recurring funding complications among the challenges that dogged his two-year term in office the Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), Daniel Kidega, is confident of leaving a good legacy when the tenure of EALA ends in June.
During an interview with The New Times’ James Karuhanga, on the last day of EALA’s recent sitting in Kigali, Kidega talked about his frustrations with partner states that are stingy with funds, his worry that the East African Community’s integration agenda might suffer, and the issue of partner states that do not ratify important protocols that they negotiated and signed.
With only two months left on the third Assembly’s term, what legacy are you bequeathing East Africans?
The most important legacy that the third Assembly will leave behind is that the institution is mature enough to solve its problems and those of east Africans.
You must realise that now, as we speak, in the last two years since I took over leadership, we have got 10 petitions from stakeholders of the Community, from the population; traders, civil society, private citizens, the youth, women and others.
This is a vote of confidence in the institution of EALA that the population out there now appreciates the organ of the Community as a solution-giving organ to the people of East Africa. So, that’s the legacy; taking the Community to the people and them owning it other than keeping it in the chambers or in boardrooms.
At the very beginning of the session you listed a number of Bills, resolutions and reports passed as part of the achievements but let’s look at the Polythene Materials Control Bill, which proved to be controversial. Will it be passed in May during the third Assembly’s last sitting?
First of all, let me add to the things I have said about our legacy. In a record time of two years, we passed more than 25 Bills, over 80 reports and processed over six petitions. That volume of output is, by itself, a legacy of work of the Assembly.
Nonetheless, the Polythene Materials Control Bill was a challenge. Don’t you agree?
Now, specifically, on the Polythene Materials Control Bill, this is a very important Bill to this Community. All partner states are in one way or the other having some legal regime of relating the environment and use of toxic materials to our environment.
What we are trying to do is compound the scattered policies and different legal regimes in partner states at regional level so as to control the use of polythene material to save our environment.
But the business community seems not ready to let you have your way…
The business community has been a little bit difficult.
Aren’t they money makers whose interest may differ from yours?
Yes. That contradiction between the public interest and the private interest is a permanent feature of humanity. And for us what we are going to do is to make sure we get a careful balance. Contradictions are not, in themselves, bad.
They are good. They promote debate. The most important thing is the attitude and spirit in which the debate is conducted and the end point of the debate.
For us we are saying, yes, the business community, we are allowing you to do business, after all, our integration is private sector-led and people-centered, and we are going to give you a good environment to do business and transform your business into environmental friendly investments that can still make you get good business.
Isn’t the delay a concern?
The Bill has taken so long and for us it is not a mistake. Politics and public life is not something you solve overnight. We like to engage with all the different stakeholders on matters of the Assembly, build consensus and where consensus is not reached at least we pass a law based on the common good of the people.
But East Africans will also define your legacy based on on how you handle this Bill.
Yes. And how much have I attended to this call of making sure that we protect the environment? Climate change is a reality. It is the goal of our generation. With this Bill, I can give you the assurance of myself as the Speaker and the third Assembly that we will pass it come May. We have allowed the East African Business Council to look at it, incorporate their views and then we pass it.
Everywhere you have gone during the rotational sittings, you personally appealed to EAC leaders to fulfill their financial obligations to the Community but the problem just doesn’t go away. Do you think your appeal has been heard?
I will be very honest with you; that I am a bit disturbed, as the head of this organ. And having a helicopter view of the whole Community because of our oversight function, it is not only about EALA. The entire integration process has been disrupted. As I speak now, all the organs and institutions of the EAC are operating at almost minimum, basically on donor funds.
The monies supposed to come from partner states are not into play of what we are doing right now, with the exception of this partial sitting funding of EALA ,which is going on without sitting allowances.
So, it is true that I have my frustration with the partner states on their remittances based on their commitment to fund the budget but I’ll not relent. As Speaker, and as the Assembly, we shall continue pushing for this integration agenda by putting pressure on partner states to honor their commitments.
Why does it seem as if you are the only one seeing this, and talking about it?
I am not the only one. It’s only that the Assembly is the people’s voice. Other members and other leaders of the Community may be doing their bit. And maybe I should hasten to say that this is actually supposed to be the work of the Secretary-General; to mobilse resources for the integration agenda.
And I would like to appeal for his voice to come out clearer and louder to say that there is a crisis.
You haven’t heard his loud voice on the same?
That is what I am calling for. As the accounting officer of the Community, he should come out more clearly and pronounce himself to say there is a problem in the Community, right now.
What important activities of the Assembly have been affected by the funding problem?
I don’t want to comment on other organs but in the Assembly, committee activities are now running without being fully funded. I put in place a committee to do a study on genocide ideology and denial in the region and it is now stuck.
I have put in place two committees on regional affairs and conflict resolution and communication trade and investment, to look into the issue of border conflict between Rwanda and Burundi where trade is being obstructed and report back but now they cannot do that.
Even the activities of the Commission which is supposed to be meeting on Friday but I told them I cannot hold that meeting. I told them they should go home. There are several other activities.
I am worried about the future of the Assembly and the Community if something is not done by end this month. I am not being an alarmist but the trend is clear. I am leaving but I wish to leave a better image of how the Assembly functions, as well as the Community in general.
Concerning Burundi, five MPs did not honour the sitting even though one of them eventually arrived midway. According to your office, they claimed being concerned for their security in Rwanda. Is there really a security concern in Rwanda?
It is true that five members of the Assembly from Burundi wrote to me citing issues of personal security and I took the matter to the Commission and we discussed it. We came up with a clear position on the matter; that it is a matter of personal security and we communicated to the Republic of Rwanda to put in place adequate security for all members. That was put in place.
So, I expected them to come to Kigali for the session. Unfortunately they did not.
But one of them, Leonce Ndarubagiye, came last week and was part of the plenary and just the other day he sent me a communication that he wasn’t feeling well, and has gone for treatment in Nairobi.
The other four have not communicated properly and they don’t have a reason to be away. Our rules of procedure have mechanisms on how we deal with absenteeism.
How will you deal with them?
Our rule which stems from the Treaty says that if a member misses a sitting of the Assembly seven consecutive times without written permission of the Speaker, that member, if a motion is brought to the House, shall be referred to the Committee of Legal Rules and Privileges for discussion and disciplinary measures will be taken which include loss of seat.
How do you deal with the situation of EAC protocols that are negotiated, signed but never really ratified? A case in point being the Peace and Security Protocol signed in 2013. Only Rwanda and Uganda have ratified it. What is EALA’s take on such situations?
One of the biggest challenges that our Community faces today is the question of security and the welfare of our people. So, it is unfortunate that some Partner States have not yet ratified that protocol. But this is not to discourage our people, to say that protocols are not being ratified.
There are several other protocols that have been signed and ratified by all the partner states. So, we appeal to partner states that have not yet ratified the EAC Peace and Security Protocol to do so because peace and security is the major ingredient of all the things that we do if we want to work to liberate our people from poverty.
What about the issue of Bills not being assented to by countries?
The solution we got is that the EAC Heads of State Summit has already agreed to sign all Bills at ago in the Ordinary Summit meeting. So, in the next Summit meeting, an agenda is going to be put to deal with the Bills’ assent and I am very optimistic that the Heads of State in the next summit meeting will assent to most of the Bills that that they have not returned.
There are several Bills that some partner states have returned back to the Assembly with comments which we are going to relook based on those comments.
Do you have any special message to East Africans after your last sitting in Kigali?
To the East African people, first of all, thank you for giving me the chance to serve at this level. It has been such a privilege for me to work for the east African people, and to work with the people I work with.
My message is that the integration agenda is not optional. It is not a choice. It is a must. It is the only strategy to liberate our people from the bondage of poverty and all other forms of social evils. We must commit to it.