Speakers and Heads of African Parliaments have commenced talks on ways and measures to negotiate for foreign loan debt relief for African countries.
The push for debt cancellation which came up on Monday with a pledge to improve oversight over loan approvals also urged for judicious utilization of such loans in their respective countries,
This followed the official formation and launching of the Conference of Speakers and Heads of African Parliaments (CoSAP) initiated by the Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives, Rt Hon Femi Gbajabiamila.
The former of the conference, according to Gbajabiamila was due to the shared concern over the socio-economic effect of the coronavirus (Covid-19) on African counties.
Other members of the group include Hon. Tagesse Chafo, Speaker, House of Peoples, 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, AFP, President, National Assembly, Republic of Senegal; and Hon. Thandi Modise, Speaker, National Assembly, South Africa.
While Hon. Chafo, Speaker, House of Peoples, Ethiopia and Hon. Mukabalisa, Speaker, Chamber of Deputies, Rwanda could not make the meeting, Speakers and Heads of Parliaments from Algeria, Morocco, Cote D’Ivoire and Cape Verde were said to have fully announced their readiness to join the movement, according to the Chairman of CoSAP, Rep. Gbajabiamila.
The presiding officers of the African legislatures, in a virtual meeting on Monday, 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.
Gbajabiamila, in his remarks, emphasized 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.
It emerged that Hon. Niasse, AFP, President, National Assembly, Republic of Senegal has been able to co-opt his Algeria, Morocco and Cote D’Ivoire and Cape Verde into CoSAP.
“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”.
While affirming a Pledge of Accountability following the launching of CoSAP, the members 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”.
A communique issued at the end of the meeting noted that having had two meetings of the CoSAP, with the vision of Debt Cancellation Campaign Initiative (DCCI), 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.
Besides, the group will discuss and 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.
The communique reads in part: “We, the Speakers and Heads of Parliaments who participated in these meetings offer our support for the call and need for debt cancellation for Africa because of the extra burden of debt servicing especially during this 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 has been adopted by the Speakers and Head of Parliaments.
In his remarks, 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.
He said: “First, the accountability pledge is very crucial because we all know the suspicion that has dogged the developing nations for so long. To encourage them to release funds, not only as a way of suspending our payments but cancelling all that we owed, we need to ensure that they are persuaded about accountability.
“We also know, that many African governments are rather unfortunately under suspicion. Therefore, parliaments here, as an institution of accountability, perhaps would know exactly how to ensure that these debt relief measures are well taken, monies would be directed to appropriate sources. That’s very important because we have to commit to improving the public financial management and reviewing the launch regime in our various countries, which have been captured by these documents.
On his part, Hon. Muturi, 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.
“In signing this Communique and Accountability pledge, we will be pledging to promote efficient use of resources, particularly those accruing from debt and promoting citizen participation and be open in the use of the funds, review the policies in our countries and to ensure that all loans, if at all, are properly negotiated and they are used appropriately and collaborated as Speakers and Heads of Parliaments to ensure that all resources are channelled into the development of their communities”.
Hon. Niasse, AFP, 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.
“To address this situation, we need a strategy that will culminate on a full and comprehensive debt cancellation, which this group represents. This is step is very necessary for us to build a more equitable society,” he said
In her remarks, while expressed her excitement over the launch of CoSAP and the accountability pledge, Hon. Modise, Speaker, National Assembly, South Africa emphasized 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
She said: “While presenting this, we need to convince them to accept that, indeed this is coming at the right time when not only Covid-19 but in effect, the economic situation has been worsening and putting us into a dire strait
“This initiative begins also to drive home that we don’t just want debt cancellation for us to deal with economic issues, to address the issue of inequalities, of these wars that are not ending, of these disagreements that sometimes we don’t understand.”