Eala MPs assemble in Kigali amid row with Speaker

East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) members opposed to the leadership style of the Speaker should abandon their plot to boycott the next sitting in Kigali and instead resolve their wrangle through available mechanisms, analysts say.
Speaker Margaret Zziwa presides over a session of Eala in Kigali last year. Some members are not happy with her leadership. (File)
Speaker Margaret Zziwa presides over a session of Eala in Kigali last year. Some members are not happy with her leadership. (File)

East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) members opposed to the leadership style of the Speaker should abandon their plot to boycott the next sitting in Kigali and instead resolve their wrangle through available mechanisms, analysts say.

The new sitting of the regional Parliament’s plenary sessions starts tomorrow.

Some Eala legislators are embroiled in a long-running misunderstanding with the Speaker, Margaret Nantongo Zziwa, whom they accuse of abuse of office, nepotism, favouritism, and intimidation.

They have since threatened to boycott the Kigali session and restart the failed censure process against her or seek legal interpretation from the East African Court of Justice.

Zziwa recently said members will only be rendering themselves irresponsible before the public if they boycott the session.

Some analysts agree with her view on the threats to boycott the session.

“I fully sympathise with the overwhelming majority of EALA legislators who are clearly dissatisfied and seriously upset with how their Speaker is running the business of the Assembly…I nevertheless fail to understand how boycotting the Kigali session is going to resolve anything other than making them look as if they are the troublemakers,” said Mwene Kalinda, a political commentator.

He added: “One is left incredulous as to how, despite an overwhelming majority of a legislature explicitly expressing lack of confidence in their speaker, that individual can nevertheless continue in that position.”

“What this tells us, ordinary East Africans, is that Eala is dysfunctional, with internal rules of procedure that are not fit for the purpose. And if they cannot deal with their own internal house contretemps, how can they be depended upon to fix the many issues that confront us,” he wrote.

Eala MP Abdul Karim Harelimana (Rwanda) said recently that lawmakers planned to boycott the session in Kigali, accusing Zziwa of individualistic attitude to the House business causing delays and postponement of meetings. They also fault Zziwa of attempting to allocate herself unjustified funds

Zziwa rejects the accusations, saying some lawmakers were being irresponsible.

“The program has been drafted for the Kigali session. What is likely to happen is that they will pick their fight tickets to Kigali and when they get there, they will sign for their facilitation and then dodge the session. This is what some of them usually do,” she said in Kampala recently.

Zziwa said that legislators baying for her blood don’t want accountability. She said that the House business commission, that she chairs, has previously agreed on split payment of per diem to the lawmakers – so that MPs are paid half the money at the start of the sessions and the end.

“This regulation hasn’t worked because members of the commission, who should have defended it, backtracked. So, MPs are paid all the money, because as financial planning is made, it is envisaged that they will all attend the sessions,” Zziwa said. 

On average Eala MPs get $6,000 for each session that usually last two weeks.

Those against Zziwa say she derives her anger from fact that her per diem is a little lower than that of lawmakers. This newspaper has seen letters written by Zziwa requesting the chairperson of the council of ministers to revise her payments upwards.

But MP Celestin Kabahizi (Rwanda) faults the Speaker for not taking action against legislators who don’t attend sessions. “It is her duty to invoke internal rules and write to legislators over such conduct - otherwise I don’t really understand why one should miss sessions, especially if they are not sick or have had a delayed fight,” he said.

On accusations that she overstays on foreign trips, visiting her children on Eala money, Zziwa said: “I cannot misuse money because all the rates for journeys are well stipulated. Secondly, it doesn’t mean that when I became Speaker I ceased being a mother.”

Dr Kallu Kalumiya, Zziwa’s lead counsel, says the censure motion against Zziwa can only resurface if legislators collect signatures afresh, saying it will an uphill task.

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