Arusha. After a delay of about six months due to the long election period in Kenya, the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) is back to business and has been holding a plenary session, which ends this week in Kampala.
The legislative organ of the East African Community (EAC) is now using the resumption of business to once again press hard for full autonomy in discharging its duties.
Still, it remains an ambitious target for the regional legislative organisation.
“Autonomy for Eala is vital and the Parliament of Uganda is so keen to see it operationalised,” says the Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, Ms Rebecca Kadago, as the fourth Assembly convened there two weeks ago.
The members - nine each from the six EAC partner states - were sworn in in Arusha in December last year. A Rwandan legislator, Mr Martin Ngoga ,was elected the Speaker.
Repeated calls for full financial and administrative autonomy for Eala and the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) have been made for years, albeit without much success.
It is said that most of the the powers, including the recruitment of staff, procurement matters and budget administration are still under the firm control of the Secretariat, the executive arm of the Community.
Repeated calls for autonomy for Eala, in particular, gained much currency during the fourth Eala session whose five year tenure (2012-2017) ended in June last year.
The MPs insisted numerous times that full autonomy of the legislative body, especially on financial matters, would ensure that it discharges its activities more effectively and efficiently.
Eala, though, has legislative functions as well as oversight of all the EAC matters.
The enactment of the legislation of the Community is effected by means of bills passed by the Assembly and assented to by the Heads of State.
In 2016, a resolution was passed, which called for the granting of full financial and administrative autonomy to Eala and EACJ as part of the proposed reforms within the regional organisation.
Similar calls were made during an induction workshop for the new legislators, which preceded the plenary sessions in the Ugandan capital.
Mr Abdirahin Haithar Abdi, the former Speaker of the second Assembly challenged the regional Parliament to push for its autonomy “if it is to effectively undertake its mandate”.
He was categorical that administrative and financial autonomy will give the regional Assembly the much needed impetus and space to drive the integration process.
The former Speaker from Kenya added that the decisions of the Assembly were determined by majority vote “and thus Eala should not be bogged down by the principle of consensus”.
He further stressed that not only to prioritise key activities in their undertakings but allocate the resources in the same direction. He served as Speaker from 2007 to 2012.
And the immediate former Speaker from Uganda Daniel Kidega called on the new members to spend more time on research “in order to effectively contribute to the debates from the standpoint of information.”
He maintained that as a regional legislature, it was necessary for members to avoid taking country positions in the debates but rather embrace the regional standpoint.
“The idea of integrating EAC and the region must always be the bigger picture”, he said, further urging the new Eala members to embrace financial discipline and decorum.
The former EAC secretary general Amanya Mushega warned the current leaders that they have to show committment to the regional integration because memories of the collapsed former Community are still there.
“The former EAC took off on a sure footing but ideological differences among the partner states led to its collapse”, he said, adding;
“The current EAC remained on track. However, the question of timing and speed was of the essence”. Mr Mushega was the EAC boss from 2001 to 2006.
On the other hand, Ms Kadaga emphasised the principle of rotation (among the partner states) in the appointment of key officials of the EAC and hosting of major events of the regional body.
“As legislators, we must direct our efforts towards a unified and empowered EAC,” she said, adding that the MPs should look beyond nationalism to a regional mindset.
Eala Speaker Martin Ngoga said the assembly was keen to take the mantle to the next level. “This is what it means with continuity and facilitating growth”.
In 2015, addressing an Eala session in Nairobi, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged to support the push for the regional body’s self-governance. He told the MPs that self-rule would be important for the community to deliver on its mandate. “This proposal has my full support and I will consult with brothers to see it introduced quickly.”