A five-day conference
focused on strengthening the legislative mandate of the Economic Community of West States (ECOWAS) parliament ends Friday in the Ghanaian capital, Accra.
ECOWAS' Communications Director Sonny Ugoh says the meeting considered proposals that would ensure the regional parliament’s role is enhanced to a level in which its decisions would be binding on member states. Currently, the parliament acts in an advisory capacity.
“The whole idea of the meeting is to make proposals to see how we can move parliament from an advisory position, which it is now, to ultimately have core legislative functions,” continued Ugoh. “Now we are moving beyond a non-binding parliament to a parliament whose decisions would be binding on the community… within the context of the ECOWAS regional integration.”
Ugoh outlined some of the proposals being considered at the conference.
“The idea is to see how we can strengthen them in the area of approving [ECOWAS] community budget, in the area of participating in the process of appointing statutory appointees, [and] in the process of involvement in our integration project,” said Ugoh.
“This is valuable because as part of our objectives the vision of making sure that by 2020 our activities are citizen driven [and] citizen focused,” he said. “There is no greater way to ensure this than to involve the parliament in this process.”
The 115-member ECOWAS parliament is mainly made up of recommended legislators from current parliamentary representatives from member nations.
Ugoh, however, says the new proposals under consideration would change how the regional parliament is formed.
“The proposal is [that] we should have an electoral college that would elect members of parliament from the parliament of member states as it is now. Members would be elected by electoral college of their peers from member states,” said Ugoh.
In 2006, regional leaders called on the ECOWAS Commission to come up with a mechanism to strengthen the role of the parliament. But the process stalled following political and security challenges in member nations.
Ugoh says ECOWAS is committed to going ahead with the project despite the political and security challenges.
“I must admit that it could have happened earlier, but considering the circumstances of West African, I think we have made some reasonable progress,” Ugoh said. “We believe that now that we have gotten to this point, we’ll progressively increase the tempo of activities in marching towards a parliament that heads of state and the people of West Africa desire.”