Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and some African Speakers of Parliaments say there is an urgent need to push for debt cancellation for the continent from multilateral and bilateral partners.
A statement issued in Abuja on Monday by Lanre Lasisi, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, said that the speaker convened a virtual meeting of African Speakers of Parliaments seeking to establish the Conference of African Speakers and Heads of Parliament (CoSAP).
The body, which he said would facilitate increased collaboration among Speakers, Heads of Parliament and National Assemblies across Africa got a boost.
The African speakers will also seek to advance the African development agenda within and outside the continent in conjunction with both the executive arms of government as well as African regional institutions.
The virtual meeting had in attendance Hon. Tagesse Chafo, Speaker, House of Peoples Representatives, Ethiopia,Mr Aaron Oquaye, Speaker of Parliament, Ghana, Mr Justin Muturi, Speaker, National Assembly, Republic of Kenya.
Others were Mr Donatille Mukabalisa, Speaker, Chamber of Deputies, Rwanda and President Moustapha Niasse, AFP, President, National Assembly, Senegal.
According to Gbajabiamila, development across the continent has become stunted due to the heavy burden of the debts.
He also said that the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) had compounded the issue for the continent, considering the socio-political and economic consequences of the disease.
“We all agreed that Africa’s debt burden had become an existential threat to our societies, our economies and the future and we need to do something about this and treat it as a continent-wide priority.
“It is safe to say that the burden of debt servicing, vis-à-vis spending on education and health care for example, is a threat to our continent’s stability and development, especially in the era of COVID-19.
“When we find ourselves having to make policy choices between paying debts or saving lives, we know something is not morally right.
“As democratically elected representatives of our people, we cannot be silent, we must speak up and we must act. And the time to act is now,” he said.
The speaker added that there was the need to reflect on the processes that led to Africa’s heavy indebtedness in the first place and the role parliamentarians could play to address it.
He also said that the speakers and heads of parliaments should reflect on the assurances they as parliamentarians could give their borrowers if their debts were cancelled, adding that the freed-up resources would be invested in social and economic development of citizens.
“If we want debt cancellation, we must be able to build the confidence of the borrowers that the cancellation will indeed save lives and livelihoods across the continent, and we, as Speakers and Heads of our parliaments, will ensure that is indeed the case,” he said.
On the need for the establishment of the Pan-African Speaker’s Conference, Gbajabiamila said that collective efforts at tackling challenges facing the continent had become expedient.
According to him, the motive behind the initiative is that each year they identify a theme, issue or challenge that is pan-African in scope and meet to deliberate on how to work together across parliaments in Africa to tackle these continental issues and challenges.
“As heads of our respective parliamentary entities, it will also be a good platform to share experiences and expertise in different aspects of our legislative duties pertinent to the growth, development and sustenance of our economies and our societies; and on ways to enhance the capacity and impact of our parliaments on our democracies and the lives of the peoples we all represent.
“We have spent decades learning from the rest of the world, now we must begin to learn from one another,” he said.
Agreeing with both initiatives, Mr Tagesse Chafo, Speaker, House of Peoples Representatives, Ethiopia, said that though almost every government on the continent had been trying to seek debt forgiveness, this should not, however, stop the parliaments from contributing to the efforts through a platform such as this.
“As representatives of our people, we are to come together, advise and campaign about the issue, we don’t have to keep quiet because debt cancellation would be good for the resuscitation of our economies that have been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Also, Mr Aaron Oquaye, Speaker of Parliament, Ghana said that the debt burden was essentially a common challenge on the continent, as most African countries had to depend on foreign loans to execute their national budgets.
He, however, noted that the Speaker’s group, in its efforts to push for debt cancellation must be able to convince the creditors about accountability if they hoped to succeed.
“Donor agencies are interested in accountability because they are confounded about the issue of corruption, and we must be able to give the assurance and that is why the speakers Conference is critical,” he said.
He added that if nothing was done, there may be no economy to service the loans.
Mr Justin Bedan Muturi, Speaker, National Assembly, Republic of Kenya, also emphasised the need for the initiative, adding that, the coronavirus pandemic had undermined most African economies because conditions attached to most of the loans had been eroded by the consequences of the pandemic.
On her part, Mrs Donatille Mukabalisa, Speaker, Chamber of Deputies, Rwanda, noted that already, African countries depend on and were heavily burdened by loans even before the pandemic.
She, however, added that the group must be clear about the kind of debt it was seeking to address and from which partners.
While President Moustapha Niasse, AFP, President, National Assembly, Senegal, regretted that the pandemic had affected all economies on the continent negatively, he suggested that opinions of members of the forum must be sought on how to solve the issues between suspension or cancellation of debt.
“We must be convinced that we have a job to do at the level of parliament,” he added.
It was also agreed that a Communique would be released in the first week of September, while the campaign for implementations of the plan of action would begin in the second week of September as well.
According to the forum, the third week of September would be devoted to the planning for the 2021 conference by the secretariat.
While it was decided that Nigeria would host the maiden edition of CoSAP chaired by Gbajabiamila, the new body is expected to meet again in the first week of September to approve the plans and swing into action.