By Agather Atuhaire
With Parliament yet to resolve the battle over political party representation at the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), The Independent’s Agather Atuhaire spoke to Lydia Wanyoto, an NRM member who has been at the assembly since its initiation in 2001
How is representation at EALA different from the national assembly?
EALA is one of the seven institutions of the community. The others include the Summit, which is composed of the heads of partner states; the Council of Ministers; the Secretariat and the East African Court of Justice. EALA’s job is to negotiate agreed areas of cooperation.
The only difference is that national parliaments only legislate for local jurisdiction. The laws that Uganda passes can only work within the boarders of Uganda, but under Article 48 of the East African Community Treaty, the laws EALA passes surpass the laws of Uganda and bind the five partner countries.
Why is it so important that the East African Community has an assembly?
When the five member countries agree on something, it is the assembly that passes the law that binds that commitment, and provides oversight to its legislation at the national level. But there are also cross-border projects and issues like roads and infrastructure, air travel, the Lake Victoria Basin Commission and other natural resources which cross borders. The assembly also moves motions and bills to bring East Africa together for common good. We also pass the budget and its appropriation. Our budget has now gone over US$100m and it is our duty to oversee this expenditure and make sure that the money does what it is intended to do and report back to the national assemblies as required by Article 65 of the treaty.
How is EALA budget funded?
Every partner state contributes. We pass the budget in May and it is shared equally among the five partner states before they pass their national budgets.
The member states have different GDP levels. Is that considered while allocating their budget obligations?
The spirit of the integration is equity, so no. Every country contributes equal amounts and shares equally in the opportunities, whether it is jobs, institutions or positions. Our principle is that a sovereign state is not determined by numbers or size. For example the president of Burundi has the same status in negotiations as the president of Tanzania, whose country is almost 10 times larger. Tanzania has a population of about 48 million but they bring 9 members to the assembly, the same as Burundi with about 8 or 9 million people.
How often does the assembly sit?
The assembly sits quarterly, for 2 weeks in every four months. We meet in January to look at the previous year’s activities and reports and draw a work plan for the new year. We also sit in April or May to pass the assembly’s budget. We sit again around September to operationalise the budget and look at other activities of the community. We close the year in November or December by looking at end of year programmes. Emergency sessions can be called. We take recess after every session but we do committee work during the recess period.
How are the resolutions passed by the assembly implemented?
It depends on the resolution. Some resolutions go to national assemblies, others to Summit of Heads of State, others are taken to the Council of Ministers or the Secretary General. It depends on who can take the appropriate action.
Isn’t the assembly too small? I mean, 45 people representing over 100 million?
It could be small in number, but not in quality. Any increase in numbers must be justified because it is very expensive flying people to Arusha.
What do you see as the assembly’s main achievement in its 10 years of existence?
We have mobilised East Africans to come together as East Africa. The assembly has also passed a number of laws that have taken precedence over national laws.
What is your view of this fight in Uganda over EALA seats by the political parties? Doesn’t it contradi ct the principle that EALA members represent their countries, not parties?
Well, politics, and democracy, is about getting your space and your numbers, and you can’t redefine that. That is NRM’s strength as the ruling party, with a majority in Parliament. Yes, at the assembly I am a Ugandan legislator, but locally I am an NRM legislator at EALA.
There was a court ruling that no one would serve at the assembly for more than two terms. How come you’re campaigning to return?
The matter is in court and we cannot discuss it. I am waiting for the judgment.