Ginwala for Pan African Parliament?

South African parliamentary Speaker Frene Ginwala’s second term in the job is about to expire, and she is unlikely to take up a third. But she may end up as Speaker of the Pan African Parliament (PAP), in the formation of which she has played a key role.

Ginwala has already been elected by a majority in South Africa’s National Assembly to be one of the country’s delegates to the PAP, along with Makhosazana Njobe (African National Congress), Qedani Mahlangu (ANC, National Council of Provinces), Harriet Ngubane (Inkatha Freedom Party) and Barend “Boy” Geldenhuys (New National Party).

Ginwala is running for re-election on the ANC election list, and has been involved throughout the deliberations of the African Union on the formation of the PAP. “It is not often that I have an opportunity to participate in debates on the floor of Parliament,” she said, “so I take every opportunity with both hands.”

With 10 years’ experience in the drafting and application of rules governing parliamentary procedure, Ginwala expects to be closely involved in fashioning the rules that will guide the PAP in its first five years.

“It is a totally new job and the body will encompass a range of parliamentarian traditions,” she said.

“But the first order of business will be to elect the president of the Assembly [the equivalent of speaker] and four vice-presidents representing the four geographic and linguistic regions of the continent.”

The position of PAP president will be a rotating one. “Following that, there will be a debate and a preliminary set of rules will need to be agreed on so that we can establish ‘the rules’ for the rules and begin the process of drafting and appointing experts,” said Ginwala.

The inaugural session and swearing in of members of the PAP will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 15.

The PAP is one of the new structures created by a treaty of the AU and required 24 of the 47 national Parliaments to sign up before it came into existence. In November last year Senegal’s Parliament met, agreed and became the 24th state to ratify the treaty.

In the same month, South Africa’s National Assembly and National Council of Provinces chose five serving MPs to represent South Africa at the founding session.

During its first five years of existence the PAP will have consultative but not legislative powers. Whether it receives such powers will be decided after a review by heads of state at the end of the first five-year term.

But, said Ginwala, even without legislative powers the PAP will still “play a major role [because] the commissions, including economic and social affairs or peace and security or [those] monitoring human rights, will be subject to our scrutiny and will be held accountable to the PAP”.

Furthermore, it will help promote the activities of the AU and familiarise citizens with its role.

There is, said Ginwala, a need to avoid “duplication and overlaps of regional bodies” and to achive the “rationalising of these regional bodies that will report their findings to the PAP”.

If she gets the PAP presidency, Ginwala may also find herself running it from home ground. There is support for South Africa to host the PAP.

President Thabo Mbeki acknowledged in Parliament that Libya and Egypt are both contenders as PAP hosts, but said: “Naturally I think South Africa is the most appropriate [host] … Many African countries raised the matter with us before we even considered it to say that they believe that South Africa should host the PAP.”

A final decision on the PAP’s location would have to be taken by the “assembly of states and government”, a plenary session of the AU, said Mbeki.

While Mbeki was in France to address the French Parliament late last year, President Jacques Chirac expressed his support for a South Africa site being chosen.

Ginwala, whose constituency office is in Cape Town, said she would welcomes the idea of establishing the PAP in South Africa.

Could Cape Town itself be an option? The PAP, she said, “must not be seen to operate in the shadow of our own National Assembly”. There are “cost and transport considerations” on the one hand, and finding a suitable building, on the other.

“At the moment,” said Ginwala in a debate on the PAP in September, “there is no building that represents the continent ... The PAP must be constructed of African material. It must, in its gardens and its ambience, reflect the diversity of the continent. But that’s not enough — that will be a physical environment. What fills that building will be shaped, in part, by what we do.”

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