Parliament had to be alerted in the afternoon session on Friday on the number of MPs present when the Minister for East African Cooperation, Mr Samuel Sitta was reading the speech of estimates of the ministry for this financial year.
It became evident that only 36 MPs were present in the chamber, less than a tenth of all MPs, and that six MPs had registered their names to debate the speech, which again was far less than is ordinarily expected. And it isn’t because MPs were too far away and didn’t come to the chamber altogether, busy with their private activities or other parliamentary work, but rather that they left after the more serious business of debating estimates of the Ministry of Home Affairs ended.
There is no reason to suggest that there was a boycott in the proper sense of the term, though there was a de facto act of boycott, in the sense that someone was in the chamber and then went away as the minister prepared to take the podium, instead of sitting and listening.
The issue was not between the minister and the MPs but rather MPs and East African Community issues generally, that it is something they take for granted, and on the whole the government is doing the right thing in the area, in which case there was nothing to take issues with the minister, that his work and that of his colleagues was on the whole satisfactory. It is a case where the minister is given a pat on the back by not being present.
The question really is whether MPs have shown the right attitude towards EA Cooperation, and if their absence from the chamber, owing to being satisfied with what the government is doing in that area is proper. If one asked the minister he would probably have been satisfied with the benign view of MPs towards the ministry’s work, but would have been dissatisfied with the ‘benign neglect’ they showed on hi s speech, though this position might be contradictory.
The minister ought to be worried if indeed the government is doing the right thing on EA Cooperation, as someone who is doing the right thing must more often than not tread on someone’s toes; if the government is hurting nobody, then it is inactive, or far less active than it should have been, such that MPs would be seeking clarifications and corrections.
In his speech the minister mentioned considerable progress in trade between the partner states, noting remarkably that Kenya was the main foreign market of Tanzanian goods, taking about 60 per cent of the market share, within regional trading. That means there isn’t just cooperation but it is also profitable for Tanzania, meanwhile as he also remarked that the issue of monetary union will have to be profoundly reexamined to avoid failures or bottlenecks later, taking example of the crisis in the European Monetary Union.
This too must have been pleasing for the MPs, such that they didn’t have to stay behind to ask questions about assurances in the event of monetary union, while common market is rather stalled too.
When one remembers what was discussed during the Wangwe Commission presentations on fast tracking East African Federation this nonchalant attitude of MPs on EA Cooperation becomes easy to understand.
What was insisted upon at that time was the safeguarding of sovereignty, and so long as the ministry or the government is doing nothing that brings some sort of compromise on sovereignty, for instance right of establishment of other East Africans, all is well. It is benign conservatism that is ruling in the sentiment of MPs, and as the ministry has no new initiatives, EAC issues are in safe hands.
One MP suggested that the House should form a parliamentary standing committee on East African Cooperation so that many issues be followed up instead of being part of the standing committee for foreign affairs, defence and security.
There is an academic point in what the MP said, but the level of presence of MPs in the chamber when Minister Sitta read his speech doesn’t warrant the formation of such a committee, because there are really no issues to follow up, as only six MPs registered to debate the speech.
Until the government can take bolder steps towards the common market, ending non-tariff barriers to the implementation of the customs union protocol, benign neglect of EAC issues will persist.