By Tony Akowe, Abuja
Speakers and Heads of African Parliaments have begun taking measures that will culminate in foreign loan debt relief for African countries.
The push for debt cancellation being spearheaded by Nigeria’s House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila is coming with a pledge by the lawmakers to improve oversight over loan approvals and ensure judicious utilisation of loans in their respective countries.
Special Adviser to the Speaker on Media and Publicity Lanre Lasisi said in a statement yesterday that the measures followed the official formation and launching of the Conference of Speakers and Heads of African Parliaments (CoSAP) initiated by Gbajabiamila due to the shared concern over the socio-economic effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on African counties.
Members of the group include Tagesse Chafo, Speaker, House of Peoples’ Parliament of Ethiopia; Hon. Prof. Aaron Mike Oquaye, MP, Speaker of Parliament, Republic of Ghana, and Hon. Justin Bedan Muturi, Speaker, National Assembly, Kenya.
Others are Hon. Donatille Mukabalisa, Speaker, Chamber of Deputies, Rwanda; Hon. Moustapha Niasse, President, National Assembly, Republic of Senegal; and Hon. Thandi Modise, Speaker, National Assembly, South Africa.
Lasisi said during a virtual meeting yesterday, the Heads of African Parliament assured of their commitment to advocate for debt relief and to ensure that all resources made available from the debt relief efforts are transparently used and fully accounted for.
In his remarks, Gbajabiamila emphasised the need for advocacy for the expansion and the buy-in of other African Speakers and Heads of Parliaments, saying the President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Ms Gabriela Cuevas Barron, has shown tremendous support for CoSAP.
He said: “Today, officially marks the beginning of this historic initiative, and I want us to remember this as a historical day, not just for us as Speakers and Heads of Parliaments with a vision but for our continent, Africa.
“We have managed to achieve so much in this little time, but this is not the time to rest on our oars but to work even harder. We must put more pressure and effort than before and act with more strength and vigour that we can muster so that our voices can be heard more clearly both domestically and internationally.
“The next couple of weeks will serve as a major determinant of this initiative, but I’m confident that we are more than capable, especially because we are aware that our people are relying on us to see this vision and initiative to fruition.”
The members, however, agreed to ensure, through the assigned constitutional powers of the legislature, that freed-up resources are not misused, but are invested in social, economic and human capital development.
They said: “We pledge to include citizens in open and participatory processes to decide the appropriate use of such funds, to publish all relevant budget information, and to implement open procurement and contracting for all funds expended.
“We pledge to revise the current loan application procedures of our countries to ensure that subsequent loan collections are properly monitored, from commencement to completion, through our respective legislative powers.
“We pledge to work collaboratively as Speakers and Heads of African parliaments to ensure that all resources invested in Africa are channelled into the wholesome development of the continent.
“We pledge to partner with international and national organizations, public and private sectors as well as civil society organizations to keep us accountable and actualize our stated commitments to ensure that government is more transparent and accountable to our citizens”.
Lasisi said further that the members set for themselves some objectives that include to discuss and agree on a Plan of Action on how to collaborate and contribute in the ongoing campaign for Africa’s debt relief and also resolved to engage with other Speakers across the continent with the possibility of organizing the first Conference of Speakers and Heads of African Parliaments (COSAP) by 2021.
In a communique at the end of the virtual meeting, they emphasised the need for debt cancellation for Africa because of the extra burden of debt servicing, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic on African countries.
“The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has posed an extra burden on African countries such that extra expenditure is required on health and other related sectors that were not budgeted for to curb the spread of the virus;
“We accept that our various Parliaments have a role to play on issues of transparency and accountability, tackling corruption, and improving oversight over loan approvals and judicious utilization of the same in our respective countries.
“The Debt Cancellation Campaign Initiative (DCCI) therefore, seeks to campaign for the cancellation of African debts in order to provide fiscal space for economic recovery and development on the continent in the wake of Covid-19”.
Accordingly, a plan of action, a debt cancellation advocacy strategy and an outreach strategy for ensuring other Speakers across the continent are engaged was adopted by the Speakers and Head of Parliaments.
Head of the Ghanaian Parliament, Prof. Quaye said the vision of CoSAP, as well as the accountability pledge undertaken, were necessary because African bilateral and multilateral partners needed to be assured of the sincerity of the leadership of the African parliaments to ensure accountability in the application of the forgiven debt.
Also, Hon. Muturi, who is the Speaker, National Assembly, Kenya, while endorsing the launch of the group and the accountability pledge, said the event of the day was significant and showed how committed the leadership of African parliaments was by staking their integrity through the application of the forgiven debt.
Hon. Niasse, President, National Assembly, Republic of Senegal said the launch of CoSAP was not only historic for Africa and the evolution of the world, but it has also provided an opportunity for change, considering the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the socio-economic and human capital development on the continent.
In her remarks, Hon. Modise of National Assembly of South Africa emphasised that the documents would aid her advocacy for CoSAP in the Southern African sub-region presenting the new movement to her counterparts in the region and regional bodies like the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) parliamentary forum