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Home / East African Legislative Assembly

East African Legislative Assembly

Power and competences

The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), as in the case of national legislative assemblies, is the law-making organ of the EAC. As the legislative organ of the Community, the EALA is responsible for, among other things, approving budgets of the EAC; debating audit reports; performing an oversight function; and initiating Bills in the Assembly. Bills are normally introduced by any member and/or members of the Assembly. The Assembly may request the Council, as it has done over the years; to submit to it proposals on EAC related matters that may require its attention and scrutiny.

The EALA holds its proceedings once a year and such meetings are presided over by the Speaker. The speaker is elected from among the representatives for a-five year term on a rotational basis. The EALA representatives hold office for five years and are eligible for re-election once for a further term of five years. Decisions in the Assembly are guided by a majority vote of the representatives present and voting. Once a Bill has been enacted by the Assembly and assented to by the Heads of State or Government, it becomes an Act of the Community.

 

The democratic deficit of the Assembly

Theoretically, the Assembly should serve as the custodian of regional democracy enlargement and consolidation. However, certain operational and structural limitations hamper the Assembly’s role as the organ responsible for promoting democracy through its legislative Acts. First, each partner state is empowered by the treaty to elect nine (9) representatives, a practice which does not take cognizance of the population of the partner states. The EAC region has a total population of about 127 million, which translates into an average of 3 million East Africans per EALA representative. These figures vary markedly when the 9 EALA representatives are calculated against the total population of each partner state. For example, one EALA representative from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda represents nearly 889,000, 4 million, 1 million, 5 million and 3 million people respectively. A similar anomaly holds true with respect to the issue of equal financial contributions by the partner states to the EAC. The contributions are mainly pegged on the principle of equality as opposed to proportional representation. Limitation of funding notwithstanding, proportional representation provides a better option, at least in terms of fair distribution of population. Suffice it to say, electorates feel attached to their representatives than other government officials, that is to say, representatives are expected to draw public attention on issues that affect their constituents.

Secondly, the electoral procedures of the EALA representatives conducted by the National Assemblies of the partner states as prescribed in the treaty, puts into question the legitimacy of the representatives and by extension the Assembly itself. There is no Community-wide uniformity in the electoral process. Each member state is empowered to employ its own electoral laws, rules and regulations when electing the representatives. Article 50 (1) provides:

 

The National Assembly of each partner state shall elect, not from among its members, nine members of the Assembly, who shall represent as much as it is feasible, the various political parties represented in the National Assembly, shades of opinion, gender and other special interest groups in the partner state, in accordance with such procedure as the National Assembly of each partner state may determine.

 

This indirect electoral process undermines the principles of popular participation and individual sovereignty. More specifically, it is the electorates who confer sovereign rights on elected representatives who, in turn, make laws on behalf of the electorates. This is the key to liberal democracy also inscribed in the EAC treaty. The founding fathers of the EAC seemed to have been more interested in national representation as opposed to the people’s (East African’s) representation. There is, therefore, no clear nexus or what I have called a missing link between the EAC and the people of East Africa. The view that the EALA should be the link between the Community and the people of East Africa was reiterated when one representative observed that “one of the major considerations in establishing the EALA was because it would create and be a link between the Community and the East African people”. ). In order to fill this gap, that is the missing link, the EALA pursues what it calls “taking the Assembly to the people through tours, of the partner states by the EALA representatives”. Even though the EALA representatives acknowledge this anomaly, they have not, to my knowledge, passed any law directing the partner states to introduce direct elections as the most viable and democratic option. These tours cannot substitute the sovereign rights of the East Africans in participating in popular elections, one of the foundations for liberal democracy also envisaged in regional integration processes, including the EAC.

Parliaments, the EALA included, derive their mandate and legislative authority from the electorate to whom they also owe allegiance. The provision in the EAC treaty which empowers the political parties and other interest groups, to participate in the nomination and thereafter election by parliament of the EALA representatives shift allegiance to the nominating bodies as opposed to the electorates. In Kenya and Tanzania, for example, the political parties represented in parliament are the key players responsible for nominating and electing the EALA representatives. In Uganda on the other hand, those interested in seeking nomination in the country’s “no-party movementocracy”, have to be supported by at least 50 members of parliament. An individual interested in seeking the nomination and election to be a member of the EALA has to meet certain criteria namely: be a citizen of a partner state; not be a member of parliament; not be a minister in a partner state; and not be an employee of the Community.

 

 
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