Dysfunctional Eala: Will the Summit call the House to order?

A decision by regional Heads of State will help end the impasse in the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) where the Speaker, Margret Nantogo Zziwa, continues to lead despite two thirds of the 45 members in the Assembly wanting her out, insiders say.
Eala members leave Parliament after failed plenary business in Kigali two weeks ago. (John Mbanda)
Eala members leave Parliament after failed plenary business in Kigali two weeks ago. (John Mbanda)

A decision by regional Heads of State will help end the impasse in the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) where the Speaker, Margret Nantogo Zziwa, continues to lead despite two thirds of the 45 members in the Assembly wanting her out, insiders say.

A fortnight ago, the MPs concluded a two-week session in Kigali, but besides leaving more determined to remove Zziwa, no legislative work was virtually done, except in the committees.

A similar session is expected to start next week in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, and what happened in Kigali is likely to be replicated, or even worse, since the rift seems to be worsening.

To exit the impasse, Eala members say, there are essentially three feasible options, with the most viable one being that the “Summit takes a very hard decision.”

The Summit is composed of the EAC Heads of State and the bloc’s highest organ is due to meet later this year.

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Eala Speaker Margaret Zziwa.

The second option is that the Ugandan bloc (of Eala representatives) move to influence the Speaker (who is Ugandan) to back down. The other is if Tanzanian members  joined the anti-Speaker camp.

An idea to dissolve the House earlier pitched by MP Fred Mukasa Mbidde (Uganda) is seen as a nullity as such a course of action is not provided for in the Treaty establishing the five-nation East African Community (EAC).

MP Susan Nakawuki (Uganda) is among those convinced the way out now is intervention by the top organ of the EAC, the Summit.

She said: “The matter should be referred to the Summit. If our Heads of State called us to order we would get back in line. If a Head of State calls you to order and you do not abide, the next thing would be a sanction. I hope the Summit will prevail over the members or suggest a way forward.”

Nakawuki admits that east Africans are not getting value for their money and that the pretence that all is well should cease.

“Taxpayers’ money is being spent and there is no value for money in what we are doing at the moment. In the last one year, we have been bickering amongst ourselves when we could have done much,” Nakawuki said.

Had things worked out, reconciliation during an informal sitting with the Speaker where MPs would raise issues without accusations and quarrelling, would have been the best approach, Nakawuki said, adding that this did not happen.

Speaking to The New Times on Tuesday, MP Patricia Hajabakiga (Rwanda) said “members (MPs) are not ready to back off” and will continue pushing in the next sitting due in Nairobi.

Hajabakiga reckons that if by the time the Nairobi sitting ends – on November 28 – and MPs have not arrested the situation by themselves, then the EAC presidents’ ‘hard decision’ ought to prevail.

Hajabakiga said: “We know that they (EAC presidents) are concerned. As our leaders, we hope they will advise on the way forward. We know they cannot dissolve the Assembly because it is not provided for in the Treaty. Nor can they remove the Speaker.”

Hajabakiga thinks Eala’s future is also in the hands of Tanzanian colleagues who “denied (us) the quorum”, especially when it came to reviewing the House rules of procedures.

The process of reviewing Eala rules of procedures – to enhance democracy, transparency, accountability and effectiveness of the House – started way back during the second Assembly.

However, those who support Zziwa, Hajabakiga observed, have become paranoid and think that the review is meant to give way to impeaching the Speaker.

During the last second meeting of the third Assembly, in Kigali, although committee work was unimpeded, important plenary debates were marred by constant bickering as attempts to impeach the Speaker along with a move to discipline MP Shy-Rose Bhanji (Tanzania) for “gross misconduct” gained momentum.

The stalemate, it is feared, will continue in Nairobi unless the motion to discuss the disciplinary case against Bhanji is debated, for – as per house procedures – once an issue is on the order paper, nothing else can be done until that issue is concluded.

MPs accuse the Speaker of, among others, poor governance and leadership skills, abuse of office, and disrespect and intimidation of MPs and House staff.

Towards the end of the Kigali sitting, several members of the Eala commission and others resigned from Eala committees in protest.

Appeal for east Africans

MP Joseph Kiangoi Ombasa (Kenya) said Eala “has hit a snag” which must be properly understood by east Africans.

“The snag hampering our work, is the leadership of the Assembly. The Treaty provides for the election of the Speaker. The same Treaty provides for the removal of the Speaker, if certain conditions, including misconduct are met,” Ombasa said.

Contrary to the rules of natural justice and House rules that provide that if the Speaker is being removed, he or she stays away from their seat, Zziwa stayed put and “overruled our motions that were discussing her,” Ombasa said, noting that “there is no fairness in that.”

Zziwa who also chairs the principal Eala Commission which manages the affairs of the Assembly has continuously overruled a motion for a resolution to remove her from office.

According to Ombasa, “what’s next is important,” as most MPs resolved to pass a vote of no confidence on the Speaker.

“We’ve shown our dissatisfaction but we cannot act on perceptions. We must have something in writing that is captured in the Hansard, giving reasons. We’ll bring back the motion that is pending – which she has frustrated all along. We are united and intendto stand our ground because with her in that seat, no progress will be made.”

Article 53 of the Treaty states that the Speaker may be removed from office by a resolution supported by no less than two thirds majority of the elected members for inability to perform the functions of his or her office, whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or for misconduct.

Zziwa, Eala’s first female Speaker, last Friday told reporters in Kampala that she will not yield to critics’ pressure.

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