PAP Staff and the need to engage in self-introspection - AFRICAN PARLIAMENTARY NEWS



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Monday, September 26, 2022

PAP Staff and the need to engage in self-introspection

Opinion by Olu. Ibekwe

The strategic workshop for the members of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) which took place 22 – 24 August 2022 at the seat of the Parliament in Midrand, South Africa was, as noted by PAP President H. E. Hon. Chief Fortune Charumbira in his keynote speech, the “first official engagement since the elective session in June which marked the official resumption of the Pan African Parliament and our much-anticipated return to full functionality”.

With the theme Reviving, Renewing, Repositioning and Reinvigorating the Pan African Parliament” the workshop provided an opportunity for the parliamentarians to embark on the difficult process of honest self-introspection. As H. E. Chief Charumbira noted, “A people without a knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” quoting Marcus Moziah Garvey.

The Bureau deserves commendation for organizing such a very successful workshop as its first engagement after the election. But all things being equal, may I with all due respect, suggest that the management staff of the Secretariat of the Parliament should also undergo such a time of reorientation and self-introspection. This is because there is need to brutally interrogate the roles played by some of them in instigating and/or prolonging the crisis that resulted in the avoidable suspension of parliamentary activities for almost one year.

As we know, parliamentary activities at the PAP were abruptly halted in March 2020 following the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant national lockdowns and travel bans which lasted until the end of 2020.  

The attempt to reopen the Parliament and hold elections during the May 2021 session failed because of disagreements over the application of the principle of geographic rotation in the election of the President of the Parliament. Fortunately, those disagreements eventually led to a free, fair and credible Bureau election and the entrenchment of the principle of geographical rotation within the Pan African Parliament.

Generally, contestations and scheming especially for political offices in any political setting are normal and politicians employ all manner of strategies at their disposal to gain advantage. When they lose, they make up and move on as happened on 29 June 2022 after the Bureau elections. Politicians do not have permanent friends or enemies, but permanent interests and that is why a political friend today can become a political opponent tomorrow and vice-versa. Grandstanding is also fair game.

However, the same cannot be said of secretariat staff who as public servants, are expected at all times, to be neutral while exercising sound professional judgment in the discharge of their duties.

The Staff Rules and Regulations of the African Union as approved by Assembly Of The Union, Fifteenth Ordinary Session 25 - 27 July 2010, Kampala, Uganda (Assembly/AU/4(XV)) obligates staff members of all organs and institutions of the AU to uphold the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity in the discharge of their duties. “They shall, in executing their responsibilities, be guided by probity, impartiality, confidentiality, fairness, honesty and truthfulness. They shall maintain the highest standard of conduct and avoid any action or omission incompatible with the standards of conduct required from them as international civil servants and regulate their private and official activities so as not to adversely affect the interest of the Union”.

In the performance of their official duties, staff members shall neither seek nor accept instructions from the government of any Member State or from any other authority or source external to the Union.

However, a careful review of the circumstances that led to the suspension of parliamentary activities at PAP on 01 June 2021 will show that the crisis was due to the failure of the institutional mechanisms at both the PAP and the African Union Commission to nip it in the bud.

Senior management staff of the Parliament who were supposed to be apolitical in carrying out their responsibilities, literally jumped into the political arena by taking sides and using their positions to advance the cause of their favoured candidates. AU Staff Rules and Regulations were flagrantly ignored, binding decisions of the AU policy organs were treated with ignominy to the detriment of the Parliament. Instances abound.

According to the AU Handbook, the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) provides a unified central legal service for the AU including all its organs and institutions and ensures that decision-making processes are compliant with AU legal frameworks. It also provides advice on the interpretation of AU legal instruments such as the PAP Protocol.

So when the OLC issued an opinion in May 2021 stating that the principle of geographical rotation is a well-established principle within the Union and that the principle has been consistently applied with legal obligatory effect within the entire Union, the expectation was that PAP staff members were bound by that pronouncement. The OLC opinion concluded that any election of the PAP Bureau that doesn’t respect Executive Council decisions on geographical rotations shall be deemed illegal and that only regions who never occupied the presidency of PAP shall be eligible to present candidates for the post.

Instead of taking steps to ensure compliance with the AU Legal Counsel’s opinion which would have ensured a smooth and peaceful Bureau election on 01 June 2021, then Clerk purporting to act in consultation with the senior management staff, and in a flagrant breach of oath of office, wrote a letter PAP/OC/083/21 dated May 31, 2021 in which they injected personal opinions in an already settled institutional principle. By so doing, they thwarted the election process, undermined its application and instigated a conflicting interpretation that resulted in chaos and crisis at the Parliament.

The OLC letter was properly presented to the presiding officer during a properly constituted plenary session of the parliament and was admitted into the parliamentary record. It is not the duty of any staff of the secretariat to decide the weight to accord such a communication from the AU Legal Counsel as they mischievously arrogated to themselves.

Not done, the then Clerk, in cohort with the management staff, circumvented the AU political channels with established record on rotation principle and instead approached the African Court on Human and People’s Right to seek the court’s opinion on interpretation of a principle already settled, embedded and established within AU institutional processes. These were done to frustrate compliance with the OLC opinion on settled AU institutional principles. It was obviously motivated by a desire to create an institutional conflict in interpretation with hopes of a contradicting opinion by the court on rotational Presidency.

The staff members consistently continued on a path of misinformation and misrepresentation of facts in a blatant abuse of authority and with the sole purpose of manipulating and skewing parliamentary opinion to favour their personal views on rotation and consequently, their preferred candidates.

Not only did the conduct of the said staff result in prolonging the crisis, it also resulted in unnecessary expenditures which at the end, resulted in the affirmation of the opinion of the OLC.

There is therefore need for the management staff of the Parliament to undergo reorientation and self-introspection to ensure that the partisanship exhibited during the period described above does not become a new normal.

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