Members of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) on Monday, November 22, told reporters that a proposal mulled by regional finance ministers to reduce, from nine to five, the number of representatives each of the six-member countries has in the regional Parliament is not only ill-informed but is detrimental to the integration agenda. The New Times is reliably informed that a recent meeting of Sectoral Council on Finance and Economic Affairs proposed a recommendation to the EAC Summit that the number of lawmakers elected from each country be reduced from the current nine to five only. On Monday, the Council of Ministers started a session at the EAC Headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania. Comprising ministers from the partner states whose dockets are responsible for EAC Affairs and regional co-operation, the Council of Ministers is the central decision-making and governing organ of the six-member bloc. A document seen by The New Times indicates that the council on finance and economic affairs (ministers of finance and trade) also recommended to the Council of Ministers to direct that the number of sittings of EALA be reduced (from six) to four sittings per financial year, similar to those of benchmarked peer regional legislative assemblies. These measures are being suggested to reduce the cost of running the organ. In the document seen by The New Times, the Sectoral Council on Finance and Economic Affairs, among others, noted that unlike other regional parliamentary assemblies, the EALA’s mode of operation mirrors that of sovereign states with powers to make its own rules of procedure and to constitute committees. In terms of composition, they added, EALA has the highest number of members per country compared to the AU Pan-African Parliament, SADC Parliamentary Forum, ECOWAS Parliament, Network of Parliamentarians of Central Africa (REPAC) and Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union (AIPU). “EALA has the highest number of sittings among all the benchmarked peer regional Parliamentary Assemblies making it the most expensive to run,” reads part of the document adding that the legislature spends the largest share of the Partner States’ contribution at 35.35%. It is followed closely by the Secretariat at 35.16% and East African Court of Justice at 7.06%. Misinformed? Lawmakers vehemently rejected these proposals. Among others, MP Aden Omar Abdikadir from Kenya refuted the claim by the finance ministers that the regional Assembly spends the largest share of the Partner States contribution at 35.35%. Abdikadir said the ministers gave false figures which are “absolutely out of context.” He said: “The highest it has ever been is 16 percent...and it is now at 13 percent. So, why would someone want to misinform the Council of Ministers? I want to tell them (ministers of finance) that this Assembly is actually a model on the continent; SADC member countries were here on a fact-finding mission and we are helping them to see how they can set up an independent legislature like this one.” Abdikadir stressed that the proposal by the finance ministers is ill-advised, misplaced and not in sync with the reality of what is going on in EAC. “One needs to realize that the East African Community is the most successful growing regional integration bloc in the African continent. Infact, it’s what the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement is trying to emulate in order to bring to reality the issue of regional cooperation.” Instead of reducing lawmakers’ numbers, Abdikadir said, they should actually be increased so as to bring more efficiency in the work of the regional Parliament. MP Pierre-Celestin Rwigema, of Rwanda, said: “The problem we have right now has nothing to do with number of members from each partner state but it is related to the late or non-contribution by Partner states. This is the main problem and reason why the Community is not working effectively and efficiently. We are blocked because of lack of funds. “Once our partner states understand and commit to make EAC a priority, through their national budgets, then things will be okay. The answer is not cutting the numbers of MPs. That’s not the solution. They don’t need to make the Community understaffed for no reason.” Last week, Finance Ministers agreed on a hybrid model that requires each partner state to contribute, equally, 65% towards financing the regional bloc’s budget. They recommended that the EAC Council of Ministers, the policy making Organ of the Community, approves the model as the new financing mechanism for the six-member bloc. Lawmakers Rose Akol, of Uganda, and Jeremiah Woda from South Sudan also said the issue is a matter of the EAC Treaty. Woda, a member of the EALA Commission, the leading committee which manages the affairs of the Assembly, organises the business and programme of the House, and nominates members of other committees, told The New Times that reducing the number of sittings from six to four is “unacceptable” as it will negatively impact on the bloc’s integration agenda. EALA members are elected by their respective countries’ national assemblies for five-year terms. They are paid a monthly salary plus sitting allowances. According to the ministers of finance, the decision for the number of EALA members from each Partner State to be nine was made when partner states were only three – Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. “Now that the number of Member States has doubled and is likely to increase further, there is a need to reconsider the number of EALA members appointed from each Partner States.” Their ongoing Council meeting is expected to consider various issues concerning the bloc, especially the application of DR Congo and the stalled recruitment exercise at the EAC Secretariat.