The silence of the East African legislative assembly (EALA) in resolving regional issues has led many to question its ability to deliver on its mandates.
In 1999 when the EALA was formed with the cardinal mandate of legislation, representation and oversight over East Africans affairs, many were optimistic of the possibility of finding East African solutions for East African problems.
20 years later with membership expanded from the original Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania to include Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan, EALA has remained more of a sleeping giant. Now DR Congo may join the regional bloc later next year.
Each member state has 9 nine lawmakers in EALA. Each EALA member is entitled to a Daily Subsistence Allowance (DSA) of $400 and a Sitting Allowance of $160 – meaning they each have to get $560, according to the Parliament’s rules. Also, each lawmaker gets over $6,000 (Rwf 5.8m) monthly salary.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, during which time the lawmakers were working from home, they have been demanding for sitting allowances amounting to over $2m.
The five year mandate of the outgoing Parliament is ending this month. National parliaments have to begin process of filling up the house again.
Rwanda is represented by EALA Speaker of EALA Martin Ngoga, former prime minister who went to exile and wooed back with good job Pierre Celestin Rwigema, Kalinda Francois Xavier, Barimuyabo Jean Claude, Bahati Alex, Uwumukiza Francoise, Rutazana Francine, Ndangiza Fatuma, and Gasinzigwa Oda.
Rwanda now has to prepare to send new representatives. It is usually a quiet process that goes on behind the scenes and candidates endorsed by the Rwandan Parliament unnoticed by the public.
Ugandan opposition leader, Dr Kizza Besigye told Ugandan media that EALA has failed to deliver because its conception was built on a faulty foundation.
While this is not the first time East Africa has tried to build a community of nations, Besigye said the1960-1970s union of East African nations was stronger than what we have now .
“We had the same currency East African shilling we didn’t have to exchange money, we had East airways, airlines, harbours,” Besigye said.
But for people like Sheila Kawamara who served in the inaugural EALA parliament, the regional Parliament’s performance should be judged by what it’s mandated to do: a purely legislative role, which they have executed.
“It has worked. We have free movement, policies on tax and common market…you cannot say that EALA has not worked,” Kawamara said.
But for a regional parliament tasked with an oversight role does EALA’s silence mean they have failed to preside over regional issues?
Kawamara said some issues are very diplomatic, beyond EALA’s mandate but she conceded that the legislative body can do more.
Besigye said political will coupled with standardisation and representation, EALA could be fruitful.
With such a low perception from the bloc, it’s wonder that when EAC Council of Ministers endorsed plan to reduce size of EALA, there was no voice coming out in their support – except themselves of course.
For the current budget of $91.7m, the East African Legislative Assembly is getting US$15,465,345.
In Rwanda, it is difficult to find anyone one on the streets who can identify any EALA member, or preferably explain what it does.