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‘How ECOWAS Parliament plans to make W/Africa’s single currency project succeed’
The Secretary General of the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS Parliament), Nigerian-born Nelson Olalekan Magbagbeola, has indicated how the parliament intends to bring to fruition the much-touted single currency for the sub-region and its benefits by 2020. He spoke with a select group of journalists on the sidelines of the Fourth Legislative Donors Conference in Abuja. INNOCENT OBOH was there. Excerpts:
What are the areas of priority where the ECOWAS Parliament should channel the resources from the donor agencies?
If you look at the Strategic Document, you will see our areas of priorities. We have 13 standing committees and these committees are mirrored alongside the departments in the ECOWAS Commission, so whatever the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government or Council of Ministers have agreed on as a priority for the Community that is what the Parliament wants to go along with.
They include the areas of free movement of persons and goods, which is a major challenge in our region. We are confronted with the challenge of non-tariff barriers (NTBs). You go along the corridor, people extort money from you, block the goods, the goods get perished on the road, and these are non-tariff barriers which we are working on. Another one has to do with trade integration. Goods that are produced within the community should enjoy quota and duty waiver because they are produced within the community. That is within the framework of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme. We want to see ECOWAS as a single economic space in which citizens can live and work anywhere without harassment.
We are also looking at the single currency, because recently some Heads of States, namely those of Cote d’ Ivoire, Ghana, Niger and Nigeria met in Niamey, Republic of Niger on this. We are looking at how to remove the divergences in the macro-economic situations of the member countries. We are looking at macro economic convergence of the economies of these member states as well as harmonisation of policies and this we are also focusing on using the legislative actions.
What about the discrepancies for modalities among the member countries of the community, would it not stall this single currency project especially as it concerns the Anglophone /Francophone countries?
There are no discrepancies, it is just further negotiations and further discussions and we have started and hopefully the partners will understand that it is only one single community and we are working together.
The essence of having the single currency is to facilitate trade and we already have a group – the French-speaking countries plus one Portuguese-speaking country – Guinea Bissau, having CFA. It is the Anglophone countries that have different countries such Ghana that has Cedi, Nigeria -Naira, The Gambia -Dalasi, Sierra Leone-Leone; you have Cape Verde –Escudo and Liberia with dual currency US/Liberia dollars as legal tender. So how do we harmonise it? We have started working but we have to get the fundamentals right, we are working on the issue of the convergence of the economies through macro-economic convergence criteria; we are looking at policy harmonisation including payment system development.
A businessman from Nigeria should be able to go to Senegal and draw money easily and get its real time value on the deposit. We are working on that and we have even gotten support from AfDB, which is working with the West African Monetary Institute (WAMI) in Accra.
Nigerian parliamentarians in this ECOWAS Parliament are alleged not to be living up to their responsibility as many of them allegedly keep away from their core functions. And when it comes to decision making that will affect Nigeria they are not there. Why do we have this kind of experience?
May I say this to you, it is a misconception. This is a 115- member parliament and Nigeria has 35 members. And I can tell you authoritatively that the Nigerian MPs are contributing their quota to the growth of the ECOWAS parliament. We have them as chair of committees; we also have them as members of the Bureau. Nigerian MPs are doing very well so wherever you get that kind of allegation, I can tell you that it is not correct.
After the two-day donors’ conference, what is the way forward for the ECOWAS Parliament?
We are very happy that we have given visibility to ECOWAS Parliament; a lot of the partners now know what we do. Our first objective was to enhance the power of the parliament. We now have a Strategy Document which we have shared with the partners. Some of them have made commitments, you have listened to ACBF, UNHCR and we are going to have bilateral meetings with them after this conference.
Some of the donors raised issues about the need for the Parliament to fine-tune its strategies with the Commission so as to maximise the use of these funds to avoid duplication among the three arms of ECOWAS. What is your reaction to this?
This is misinformation; we have existing partnership with the ECOWAS Commission and most of the partners represent the executives of their countries. So we had a discussion with them and they said we should work with the parliament because their mandate is to work with the executives. There is an existing agreement, which they cannot modify now, we have discussed with the European Union on the regional indicative programme. We looked at the plan that they have to support the parliament on legislative actions to get some of these projects implemented.
One key role of the parliament is oversight; the parliamentarians represent the people of the community, they need to oversight the programmes of the implementing bodies like the ECOWAS Commission, GIABA, and a few others. It is in our Supplementary Act that was adopted last year in Abuja. So we are now using the new instrument to talk to the partners to say our capacity needs to be enhanced and the financing gaps need to be bridged.
Do you have any kind of dissension between the Commission and the Parliament?
Let me say this openly, we work hand-in-hand. When the Commission organised the annual donors coordinating meeting recently, Parliament was represented. So we work together but the partners seem to get it differently. When we talk of ECOWAS their major focus has always been the ECOWAS Commission that is what we try to correct.
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