REVEALED: How leadership instability crept in at PAP - AFRICAN PARLIAMENTARY NEWS



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Friday, December 8, 2023

REVEALED: How leadership instability crept in at PAP

Opinion by Olu IBEKWE

The statement "if we want to understand today, we have to search yesterday" emphasizes the importance of history in gaining a deeper comprehension of the present. This proverbial expression underscores the idea that current events, circumstances, and societal structures are often shaped by past developments, decisions, and actions.

This implies that the establishment and evolution of an institution, such as the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), have a profound impact on the contemporary landscape. A historical examination will reveal the development of the institution and their influence on the present. Past decisions contribute to the current state of affairs such that studying the consequences of those decisions will provide a valuable lesson for understanding current challenges.

One could say without equivocation that the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) which was established on 18 March 2004 witnessed stable leadership up till October 2013. Elected officers of the Bureau and other organs of the Parliament served out their respective tenure without interruptions unless such a member was not re-elected or re-designated to the parliament. Leadership crisis were rare and the relationship amongst parliamentarians was convivial. This enabled the parliament to focus on delivering on her mandate. Scheming for political leadership with the attendant negative strategies and viciousness were regarded as un-parliamentary. Everyone looked out and cared for each other. What affects one, affects all.

However, what transpired during the October 2013 session of the PAP changed the course of events. As late Nigerian author Chinua Achebe would say, things began to fall apart with the result that the centre could no longer hold. There is now an attitude of “the end justifies the means” approach in the pursuit of leadership positions. It is this mentality that has gotten PAP to where it is today. But then, let us see how it all started. 

Hon. Juliana Kantangwa, from Rwanda was on Wednesday May 28, 2012 elected 4th Vice President of the Pan-African Parliament representing the Eastern African Region. She went for national parliamentary elections almost a year later, was successful and designated to PAP.

Following her re-designation, Hon. Kantangwa was on Monday 21 October, sworn in and resumed her office as the Fourth Vice President. But in a strange twist, the President on the morning of Wednesday 23 October 2013 plenary announced the receipt of communication from the Clerk declaring vacancy in the seat of the same Fourth Vice President who had been sworn in and resumed her office on Monday October 21. It is obvious that someone had instigated the declaration as we shall see later. Vacancies were also declared in the offices of some other organs of the Parliament. Interestingly, the seat of the First Vice President who had also gone for national parliamentary election and was yet to be re-designated back to PAP as at the October 2013 session, was not declared vacant!

This unexpected and surprising turn of events prompted an observation from a member:

HON. CHAIRPERSON OF THE JUSTICE COMMITTEE: “Thank you, Mr. President, and I am sorry for intervening. I am rising on a point of procedure to seek guidance from the President on the first issue of vacancies. I have listened carefully and, to the best of my recollection, there are some positions that have fallen vacant. These have come about because Members are not coming back to the House, but there are also vacancies that have been declared vacant and yet I can see the Hon. Members who held them within this House. We need clarification as to how this came about because my understanding was that, if a Member is here and the term of office is three (3) years, then someone has to complete the term. I am a bit confused and would like clarification on how that came about.”

It was on the basis of this observation that the President sought the intervention of the Chairperson of the Rules Committee who gave his personal interpretation to the effect that the proposed election was necessary because the member was starting a new term having taken her oath of office. There were at this point, disagreements and interventions from members who noted the contradictions in the Rules especially Rule 6.5 on how a vacancy is declared and Rules 16(10) and (11) on the tenure of the members of the Bureau. A member specifically urged that the Rules should be reviewed because “we are not going to have short three-year mandates and go back to holding elections every year or every two years”.

Realizing how contentious the issue had become, a parliamentarian from Sierra Leone, Hon. Sheku B. B. Dumbuya said: “Mr. President, I can see that this issue is becoming increasingly contentious. We had never thought of it and we never knew we would come to this. We already have a programme for today and I would want to advise that we defer this issueThe Bureau, with the collaboration of the Committee on Rules of Procedure and the Committee on Justice will have to sit and discuss it and you can come back to us later. The more we continue to discuss this issue, we are going to eat into our time because any contentious issue is a potential”.

The late former President Hon. Bethel Amadi who presided over that session said: “Hon. Members, can I please be given a minute to respond to the Chairperson of the Justice Committee. Chairperson of Justice, you raised Rule 16 (10), which says: “The term of office of a Bureau Member of the Pan African Parliament shall be three (3) years”, and we agree. It was passed by this House. Rule 16 (11) further says that “In the event of a vacancy during the term of office of a Member of an organ of the PAP, the Member elected in replacement shall complete the term of his/her predecessor and it may be renewed once.” Even when we agree that the term is three (3) years, there is contemplation that there could be vacancy and in that provision, once the vacancy exists, the new person elected to complete that term will only sit for the duration of that term. Now, the issue that has been a point of argument relates to what has been the practice in the past”.

In view of the varying opinions expressed by the members of the parliament, the matter should have have been referred to the Rules Committee for consideration and report back as required by Rule 92(1) which states that “Should doubt arise over the application or interpretation of these Rules by the Presiding Officer, he or she may, without prejudice to any previous decisions, refer the matter to the Permanent Committee on Rules, Privileges, Ethics and Discipline. The Rules Committee Chairperson’s personal interpretation on such a sensitive and contentious issue where internal contradictions in the Rules were observed should not have been taken as the position of the Committee. This is because under Rule 22(8), decisions by the Committees are supposed to be taken by consensus or failing which by a two-thirds majority vote of all members present and voting. Also the matter should not have been resolved in that sitting without taking a break to allow for consultations by members of the Rules Committee. But it would appear that then Chairperson of the Rules Committee and some other members had been captured hence the unwillingness to refer the matter and follow the procedure laid down in the Rules.

It would appear that between Monday October 21 when Hon. Kantangwa was sworn in and resumed her office as the Fourth Vice President and Wednesday October 23 when the vacancy was declared in the same office, someone had embarked on lobbying. Hon. Dr. Ashebir W. Gayo, a parliamentarian from Ethiopia who was interested in replacing Hon. Kantangwa appeared to have been the one. It did not matter that Hon. Kantangwa had been sworn in and resumed her office. And to achieve this, the leadership must have been lobbied for an accommodating interpretation of the rules. The interpretation marked a departure from existing practice and signaled a turning point in the history of PAP. And I might add, the introduction of ambush and or/ jungle politics at PAP.

In 2013, a female parliamentarian, Hon. Juliana Kanteengwa from Rwanda who had been sworn in and resumed her office, had to vacate the seat and undergo an unprecedented election in order to accommodate Hon. Dr. Gayo who was interested in occupying the seat of the Fourth Vice President! Ten years later, in 2023, another female parliamentarian from Mauritania, Hon. Prof. Massouda who had also won re-election, re-designated, sworn in and resumed her office during the May 2023 session had her seat declared vacant by Hon. Dr. Gayo in order to actualize his ambition of becoming the Acting President. To achieve that, another female parliamentarian from Cape Verde, Hon. Lucia Passos who had earlier been appointed Acting President on rotation, in accordance with Article 12.7 of the PAP Protocol and Rule 19(1) of the Rules of Procedure, was prevented from taking up the position by Hon. Dr. Gayo. In 2013, he had to “lobby” some people at PAP. But in 2023, he appeared to have lobbied some people at the AUC to achieve his ambition. 

A very disappointed Hon. Juliana Kanteengwa in her speech before that Wednesday October 30, 2013 replacement election reminded her colleagues that the Rules prescribed a three-year mandate for the members of the Bureau, not seventeen months and that in deciding on a three-year mandate, that was the minimum time that the House felt any reasonable Bureau would make an impact.

I have been part and parcel of this Bureau and part and parcel of the achievements of this Bureau only up to yesterday and because we have to concur with our Rules of Procedure, I had to step down - for I have come from an election - and follow the Rules of Procedure as interpreted to date. Is that a crime?

“I think it is no reason to give me a vote of no confidence by singling me out of these Hon. Members who are performing all the work on your behalf and then you say, “Juliana, come out” before the end of the three-year mandate that you gave them. Hon. Members, I stand here to request for your vote. I beseech you. There is no reason I should not be voted back to finish the mandate together with my Colleagues in the Bureau because I have been performing with them”.

But in his speech before the election, Hon. Dr. Gayo said: “Hon. Colleagues, as you all know, today, we are going for elections because the mandate of the former Fourth Vice-President of the PAP is over according to Article 9 (2) of the Rules of Procedure of the PAP. Mr. President and Hon. Members, we should not speak or act against our own Rules of Procedure. I hope that you all agree that the term of the former Fourth Vice President is over and, therefore, this agenda for elections is legitimate.”

So in 2013, the basis for Dr. Gayo’s action was the interpretation of the Rules of Procedure by the Chairperson of the Committee on Rules in a manner that favoured him. He urged his colleagues to “not speak or act against our own Rules of Procedure”. But by 2023, the same person acted against the Rules of Procedure which he urged his colleagues not to do in 2013. The story has changed to violation of the PAP Protocol and the AUC had to be used to accomplish that. Similar facts and circumstances but since the Rules did not favour his position, it had to be suspended. Anything standing on his way had to be dismantled. Unfortunately, the exalted office of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission was used to perfect the 2023 coup in violation of clearly established precedents and existing practices and procedures that had been established at the Parliament since inception! How do we expect our continent to make progress under such circumstances?

It is important to state that the plenary as the highest policy making organ of the Parliament, has the power and authority to revisit and reverse an earlier interpretation of the rules especially when it is not an interpretation by th Rules Committee. The Rule talks about referring an issue to the Rules Committee and not the Chairperson.

Under both Articles 11(8) and 12.1 of the PAP Protocol and Rules 92(2) and 93 of the Rules of Procedure, PAP has the right to revisit an earlier interpretation of the Rules by the Chairperson of the Rules Committee and this was, in essence accomplished during the 2022 amendment process by harmonizing the contradictions in the Rules of Procedure. The amendments did not have any implication on the PAP Protocol, contrary to Dr. Gayo’s new song. It was purely an internal affair of the Parliament.

The amendments to the Rules of Procedure adopted by the Parliament on 04 November 2022 should in essence, be seen as an attempt by the Parliament to return to the practice before the October 2013 aberration. The amendments will engender stability and consistency in the leadership of the Parliament and ensure that the contestation for leadership that has characterized the post-October 2013 contentious and erroneous interpretation of the rules with its attendant disruptive consequences is eliminated.

The policy organs of the AU should rise to the occasion and direct that PAP be allowed to manage her internal affairs in line with the provisions of Article 17(2) of the Constitutive Act of the African Union which provides that “the composition, powers, functions, and organization of the Pan-African Parliament shall be defined in a protocol relating thereto”.

The PAP Protocol was ratified by the Member States of the Union and so binding on all the organs, institutions, departments and member States of the Union. Articles 11(8) and 12(1) of the PAP Protocol gave the parliament the power to adopt and amend her rules of Procedure while Article 20 gave the Assembly, the power to interpret the Protocol. What should reasonably have been done is to request for an interpretation of the contested part of the Rules from the appropriate AU organ that is statutorily responsible for the interpretation of the protocol.

Another issue of note which is evident from the record of proceedings of the October 2013 session is that the First Vice President who had also gone for parliamentary election in Cameroon, could not attend the October 2013 Session having not been re-designated to PAP. But his seat was not declared vacant during that October 2013 session.

Then President explained thus:

“The First Vice-President has not been re-designated and has not been re-sworn-in and I believe that his Parliament, from the information available to us, is still sitting up to the 29th of this month. So, his original mandate is still validTherefore, for all those whom we have clear information that they have lost elections and, as such, will not even be available for re-designation of a re-swearing or those who have gone for elections but have not yet been re-designated by their Parliaments, their positions will be declared vacant as they arise and we have the appropriate information thus required to do so.”

This is, and has been the practice as articulated in Rule 6.5 of the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament which is still valid and subsisting, having been adopted in 2011. In this regard, the saying that one cannot change the goal post in the middle of the game becomes very apt in this matter. Interference in the internal affairs of the Pan-African Parliament portrays the Union in bad light and should no longer be allowed by the policy organs of the AU.

Interestingly, the First Vice President during 2013 whose position was held in abeyance for two consecutive sessions to enable him secure re-designation and contest for the position during the May 2014 session is one of those who are at the forefront of declaring the seat of the President vacant on 23 August 2023, the very day the President left for election in Zimbabwe. He has vehemently refused to accord Chief Charumbira, the same rights and privileges which he enjoyed for two consecutive sessions. And unfortunately, the AUC as an institution is being used to accomplish this statutory aberration.

Article 5 of the Protocol which is being relied upon as the basis for the action speaks about the declaration of vacancy in the seat of a member of the parliament. The procedure to effect the declaration is articulated in Rule 6.5. An enquiring mind would want to know why there has not been similar declaration of vacancy in the seats of all the other officers of the various organs and members who had also gone for parliamentary elections since the adoption of the amended rules in November 2022?. Why single out the President and First Vice President for a kangaroo declaration if not to achieve the political objective of installing Dr. Gayo as the Acting President of the Parliament? Is this not a way of achieving what they could not achieve in 2022 following the controversial report by this same Team after their so called February 23 and 24 2022 consultations with the regional caucuses that featured the same parliamentarians? Is this not a continuation of attempt by the “February 23 and 24 2022 regional consultation cabal” to foist a leadership on the Parliament?

In conclusion, it is important to note that corruption in an organization can occur in a number of ways. It can occur in the form of abuse of power, office or position.. It can occur through the misuse of entrusted authority. It can manifest in the form of favoritism or preferential treatment, or practices intended to secure unfair advantage. It can also occur through the misuse of official authority or the manipulation of policies and decisions to serve political interests.

Corruption undermines the principles of fairness, transparency, and accountability. It erodes public trust in institutions and hinder development. Bending the rules as was done in October 2013 to accommodate certain interests is in itself, a form of corruption which could have been prevented had the proper step of referring the issue to the Rules Committee been followed. Fortunately, the Parliament through the Amended Rules, adopted on 04 November 2022 had corrected that aberration.

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