The Pan African Parliament is in Crisis

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The African Union (AU) has been pushing for regional integration and trade for the African continent. This will lead to the creation of the African Free Trade Area that will strengthen political unity. The Pan African Parliament (PAP) is crucial to this project. However, this regional body whose role at the moment is purely consultative and made up of MPs chosen by their respective legislatures has now come under fire. The PAP’s president Nkodo Dang who is a Cameroonian national has refused to disclose how he has handled the legislature’s finances. Dang is also known to enjoy an extravagant lifestyle which doesn’t help matters.

By the way Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema who is a member of the body spoke out at the way the PAP had been using its funding. When Malema speaks he always attracts the public’s attention.

The Pan African Parliament in session in Midrand, South Africa. EPA/Jon Hrusa

Apart from foreign donors, the PAP also gets support from the African Development Bank. South Africa provides funding for its operations. While the South African government is yet to comment on the allegations, major newspapers in the country have been extremely critical. It’s not inconceivable that Pretoria might be forced to re-assess its financial contribution in the face of civil society pressure. The other danger is that bad publicity could dent the PAP’s efforts to secure more meaningful legislative powers. This is seen as important in the broader context of the drive to great integration on the continent. In addition, being able to make laws will improve the parliament’s relevance and give citizens a stake in the regional integration process.

If President Cyril Ramaphosa is serious about pushing ahead with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) and seeing the creation of a single continental currency he has to assert some sort of pressure on the PAP to come clean about its ethics and conduct. This could be an opportune moment for the president to show that he believes transparency and accountability should be present at all levels of the AU. So yes, he should re-access the government’s financial contribution to the PAP and could decide to withhold it. He can then along with his colleagues in the AU’s Assembly of Heads of State and Government pressure the PAP to release their accounts. Dang and any other wrong doers should of course face removal from the PAP and prosecution.

The controversy about the PAP’s leadership doesn’t augur well for Africa’s integration drive. It has caused division within the institution, a factor that could slow down the quest for autonomy to make binding laws. The AU has to step in. The AU Assembly should urgently insist that the PAP releases its financial report and investigates the accusations against Dang. The South African representatives to the parliament have already expressed concerns over Dang’s leadership, accusing him of corruption. If he’s found guilty, the organisaton shouldn’t hesitate to act appropriately against him. By doing this, the AU will be sending a clear signal that it disapproves of any irregularities. It will also highlight the importance of having a clean organisation at the core of the regional integration process.

The future of ACFTA rests on how this situation will develop. The AU has to bring the PAP to book if it firmly believes in a United Africa. The AU should also ensure Dang’s political career comes to an end and that he be punished accordingly for his abuse of power. If this AFTA is to become a reality and all the relevent parties involved are to benefit from it then a PAP that is directly elected by the AU’s citizens with full legislative powers will be necessary to provide oversight by passing legislation that protects the interests of all member states and ensuring their participation in all spheres. This is to ensure that all the continent’s economies both the small and great can benefit.

Nkodo Dang, president of the Pan African Parliament.

But this can only happen if the current PAP is serious about being held accountable itself. This is a matter Ramaphosa himself must address via withholding the organization’s funding and calling on them alongside the AU’s leaders to release the records of their accounts. The PAP was created in 2004 and according to its founding document a conference would be able to “review the operation and effectiveness” five years after it was set up.