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A Pan-African parliament at war with itself

The Pan-African Parliament is, yet again, thrust in bad light over leadership wrangles and financial strains that have become a routine punctuation on its work.

This week, the perennial crisis is threatening the upcoming 2nd Ordinary Session due in October in Kampala, the capital of Uganda.

And the source of the problem is a power struggle between the Parliament’s 2nd Vice President Ashebir Gayo from Ethiopia and President Chief Fortune Charumbira of Zimbabwe. Since August, Ashebir declared himself Acting Vice-President as Charumbira flew back home to face an electorate where he serves as a senator.

The Pan-African Parliament has, since 2014, acted as a platform for discussions on the challenges that African Union members face.

But its members, rather than being elected directly by the people, are designated by their home legislatures, meaning that they are first domestic legislators. The AU says it plans for this parliament to be voted in directly in future by respective universal suffrage, giving it teeth to pass laws. For now, it is just a consultative, advisory and budgetary oversight body of the AU.

Yet that hasn’t restricted its internal wars.

On August 23, Ashebir landed in Johannesburg, the day Zimbabwe was holding its ‘harmonised’ national elections. He stormed the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) and declared himself the acting President. There was a problem, however. President Charumbira had appointed 3rd vice President Lucia Mendes Dos Passos of Cape Verde as the acting president as he proceeded on leave of absence for the Zimbabwe elections. 

Vice Presidents, by tradition here, are appointed Acting Presidents by the substantive President, usually based on ranking and rotation as provided for in Articles 12(4) and 12(7) of the PAP Protocol, and Rule 19 of Pan-African Parliament Rules of Procedure.

Her appointment was pegged on the fact that both 1st and 2nd Vice Presidents have acted before in the President’s absence. And the issue of rotational acting, having been discussed and resolved in a Bureau meeting convened on May 10, 2023, had settled on Dos Passos who had indicated her availability for rotation from mid-August.

Passos dismissed reports in circulation alleging the firing of Chief Charumbira on claims of misappropriating $1.2 million. She termed them as fake.

“HE Chief Charumbira is still the President of the Pan African Parliament, and only the Plenary decides otherwise. A power hungry, self-appointed Acting President does not have the power nor authority to dismiss anyone at PAP, let alone the President,” Lucia Dos Passos

She says allegations of embezzling $1.2 million are malicious vendetta of vilification and character assassination. “No such motion has been brought before the plenary and no such charges have been preferred against Chief Charumbira because the whole charade is nothing more than an elaborate smear campaign.”

A PAP member may be removed for misconduct under Article 8(2) of the PAP Rules of Procedure. But they specify that a motion has to be decided by secret ballot and supported by at least two-thirds of the members present and voting.

“The Pan African Parliament (PAP) is currently in a leadership crisis caused by dark forces from the West,” argued Ugandan commentator David Matsanga, a regular analyst of the African Union organs.

The African Parliamentary Press Network-APPN waded into the stormy waters expressing its concern on the goings-on at the continental legislature. It says the seemingly deliberate financial starvation has left the institution incapacitated in discharging its mandate.

“The latest fallout is the cancellation of the statutory August Committee meeting of the Parliament and the possible cancellation of the Second Ordinary Session slated for October in Uganda,” said APPN.

At the 42nd Executive Council meeting of the African Union held in February at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the Committee of Permanent Representatives (composed of AU member states ambassadors to the continental bloc) were to reconsider the 2023 budget of the PAP to allow it meet it operational needs and effectively discharge its mandate. The Executive Council is composed of line ministers from member states and it is the second highest decisive organ of the AU.

Mohamed Muntaka, the chairperson of the committee on Monetary and Financial Affairs, said out of the proposed budget of $25.1 million tabled to the African Union Commission, only $11.9 million was approved.

“APPN is, therefore, calling upon on AUC to do the needful by ensuring that adequate resources are given to the PAP to be able to fully discharge its mandate by serving the people of Africa”

With regard to the power struggle linked to the 2nd Vice President Gayo, the network is calling for strict compliance of rules of procedure.

“It is well known fact that Parliaments all over the world are masters of their own rules. The onus to change, amend, or step down this rule is the sole prerogative of the Parliament itself and no other body institution. Additionally, the power to revise rules lies with plenary and not in any individual member of Parliament.”

The Pan-African Parliament, which sits in Midrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, was set up to ensure full participation in the economic development and integration of the continent.

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