As he says the task of providing a voice for the voiceless is beyond holding virtual meetings… ‘Parliament will revert back to our physical meetings once the situation permits’- Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament Assures
The Speaker of the Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS) Parliament, His Excellency Sidie Mohamed Tunis has assured that the sessions of the community’s parliament will soon return to physical meetings once the situation permits. This situation been referred to here by the Speaker is the deadly Coronavirus Pandemic which has hit all countries of the world and has greatly prevented physical meetings due to social distancing measures to curtail the spread of the virus.
HE Tunis made this disclosure on Tuesday 21st July 2020, whilst delivering his opening speech to the plenary of the 2nd 2020 Extraordinary Session of the ECOWAS Parliament. This session was done online via Zoom Virtual link and saw ECOWAS Parliament’s Members of Parliament (MPs) from all fifteen (15) community members’ state in attendance. During the session, a motion was moved by Honourable Mahama Ayariga from Ghana for the session to be done by virtual meeting as online session has never happened in the history of the ECOWAS Parliament. It was seconded and moved on with.
Meanwhile, it could be recalled, according to an earlier news release from ECOWAS Parliament, following guidelines on the Covid-19 protocols for ECOWAS Institutions, issued by the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, the Parliament is holding a five-day virtual Extraordinary session to consider some referrals from Community institutions on germane issues that border on the wellbeing of the people of the sub-region, in line with the provisions of the Supplementary Act relating to the Enhancement of the Powers of the Parliament.
Notable among the referrals are: Request by the President of the ECOWAS Commission seeking assistance from the Parliament in implementing the ECOWAS protocol on the community levy; that Parliament takes decision relating to the contribution of ECOWAS Member States to the African Union Solidarity Fund in the fight against COVID-19: and Referral from the ECOWAS Commission on the fight against COVID-19, the stabilization and recovery of the economies of ECOWAS Member States.
Meanwhile, whilst dilating on the impact of Coronavirus on the operations of the ECOWAS Parliament, His Excellency Tunis in his opening statement said: “I honestly cannot imagine that we were unable to hold the 1st Ordinary Session in May. This was the first time in history that the Parliament would miss holding an Ordinary Session as scheduled. I also couldn’t imagine holding an Extra Ordinary Session virtually. Many thanks to technology; at least we will be able to use this obviously imperfect avenue for a Parliament to meet.”
On the area of achieving the 2020 work plans of the 5th Legislature of the ECOWAS Parliament, Speaker Tunis said: “We will also pursue the 2020 work plan as vigorously as the situation permits us to. In collaboration with the General Secretariat, we are watching unfolding events as they relate to the safety of holding physical meetings. I wish to recall that we are yet to hold the 2020 1st Ordinary Session. We also need to organise several Committee meetings around our Member States as is customary.”
In addition, HE Tunis said “I am, quick to add that Parliaments cannot perpetually hold their activities virtually. The task of representing the people, embarking on oversight functions, conducting parliamentary interpellation and providing a voice for the voiceless is beyond holding virtual meetings.”
Therefore, he said: “We as a Parliament will do our best to discharge our functions online, but will revert back to our physical meetings once the situation permits.”
Meanwhile, during the opening session of the plenary, several other speakers made statements. This includes the President of the ECOWAS Court, Mr Edward Asante who said that the court started on the route of using virtual meetings about a month ago when they initiated the use of this technology after the pandemic forced the adjournment of 71 cases including 27judgments and 12 applications for accelerated hearing.
The ECOWAS Court President further said that “With the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it is increasingly becoming obvious that we would have to rely on virtual sessions for the foreseeable future beyond the pandemic because; for the Court, the technology has the additional benefit of improving citizens access to the, with savings from transportation and associated costs of traveling to Abuja for sessions, not to talk about saving of hotel expenses for both parties and the lawyers.”
On the area of referrals, Mr Edward Asante said “Just like the Parliament, the Court also has the power to entertain referrals under its original mandate as the principal legal organ of the Community.” However, he said unlike the ECOWAS Parliament, the “the Court has never in its history received any such referrals from any Member State, a worrisome development which has implications for the development of Community law and its integration into those of the States.”
Hence he said: “we look forward to work with Parliament and ECOWAS parliamentarians towards ensuring that the ECOWAS Court receives referrals from national courts because of its salutary impact on our integration project. In this way we will be strengthening the collaboration between both institutions in the service of the Community and furthering the delivery of justice.”
Another speaker who made a meaningful presentation at the Opening session of the ECOWAS Parliament’s Plenary was the Director General of the West Africa Health Organization (WAHO), Professor Stanley Okolo who said that since 1970 the world has average disease outbreaks every year. He said several factors including over population and lack of hygiene facilities result to that. He warned regional governments to be very careful in reopening borders as that could result to a second wave of the Coronavirus outbreak.
ECOWAS Commission presented the briefing on the status of the Community Levy.
Before the end of the opening session, the ECOWAS Parliament considered and adopted the draft agenda and draft Work Programme of the first 2020 Extraordinary Session; it considered and adopted the draft report of the inaugural session of the Fifth Legislature of Parliament; it Considered and adopted the draft Work Programme of Standing, Joint and Ad Hoc Committees; and it also considered and adopted the draft Plan of Activities of Parliament for the second half of 2020.
The plenary was adjourned to Saturday 25th July 2020, but between now and then, several committee meetings are scheduled to take place until Friday 24th July 2020.