Monday, May 17, 2010

The Pan-African Parliament; another level of poor governance

When we talk about poor governance in Africa it's usually concentrated on the individual countries. A story today exposes another ineffective level of government, the Pan-African Parliament. The Parliament is one of several regional governments that is seen as week and ineffective, so much so that many Africans are unaware of it's existence. These regional governments have multi-million dollar budgets but are unable to make positive change.

From the Globe and Mail, Geoffrey York first gives us some good news on governance before moving onto the Pan-African Parliament.

Several countries – including Ghana, Tanzania, Botswana, Liberia, Malawi and Mauritius – are winning praise for their democratic elections, their increasing stability, or their efforts to tackle corruption. Ghana has been one of the most successful, holding a series of free and fair elections whose results are accepted by all sides. Even the African Union, founded in 2002 to represent the 53 nations of the continent, is gaining some respect for its refusal to tolerate military coups and its efforts to persuade regimes to hold free elections – even though it has signally failed to deal with veteran autocrats such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

The Pan-African Parliament is a reminder of the grand ambitions that have often faded into disappointment. Set up by the African Union in 2004 after years of planning, PAP has a budget of more than $14-million (U.S.) this year, including $1.5-million for salaries and $40,000 for hospitality. Another $100-million has been allocated for a new headquarters. Yet the body meets only twice a year, usually for just seven or eight days in Johannesburg, and it has no real powers. It’s merely an advisory body, which the African Union can easily ignore.

“We are, in my view, a toothless bulldog,” said Ambrose Dery, a lawyer from Ghana who has served as a member of the Pan-African Parliament for the past year.

“I think the PAP is not doing enough. We don’t have legislative powers. The AU decides when to consult you and when not to consult you. Between our meetings, we have a limited scope of action. We are part-timers. We come here twice a year. How effective can we be?”

When the Parliament was created in 2004, it was envisioned that within five years it would have legislative powers and its members would be directly elected. Instead its members are still appointed by the legislatures of the 47 member countries – including many that are authoritarian or military-dominated. Some of the member countries have been suspended for military coups, or placed under sanctions, so PAP currently has fewer than the 235 parliamentarians it should have.

Mr. Dery says he has seen little evidence that PAP is tackling key problems such as corruption. In fact, the Parliament itself was embroiled in allegations of nepotism and financial misappropriation after auditors could not account for nearly $1-million in spending. Its founding president was accused of misusing some of the money.

“You can only check corruption when you have oversight responsibility,” Mr. Dery said. “The budget of the AU is supposed to be submitted to us, but it is not submitted. We can’t compel them to submit it. We cannot call any head of state and say, ‘Look, you’ve done something wrong.’ We don’t have those powers.”

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