The Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) Martin Ngoga says his absence from the regional legislative body sessions and the subsequent election of a Burundian legislator to temporarily replace him is a normal procedure which should cause no alarm.
On Monday, EALA elected Burundi representative Leontine Nzeyimana, as Chairperson to preside over the house business in absence of the substantive Speaker, leading to speculation that Ngoga had been ousted or replaced.
Nzeyimana polled 27 votes against Rwanda’s Fatuma Ndangiza who got 18 votes, to preside over the House until Ngoga returns.
Through Twitter, Ngoga dispelled concerns that he was absent from duty without the knowledge of the house, hence the election of a new speaker. He said that EALA doesn’t have a Deputy Speaker and the practice is to elect a member to chair the sessions when the speaker is away.
“This is a procedure to get a Member to Chair when the Speaker isn’t around. EALA doesn’t have Deputy Speaker or Permanent Panel of Chairpersons. No cause for alarm,” Ngoga said.
Rwanda’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in charge of the East African Community (EAC) Amb. Olivier Nduhungirehe, who is also attending the sessions in Arusha told KT Press that Ngoga was away from the assembly to attend to personal matters.
“Yes, Speaker Ngoga was absent for personal reasons and EALA doesn’t have a substantive Deputy Speaker,” Nduhungirehe said, adding that electing a temporary chair of the plenary sessions is normal, in order for the house business to continue in absence of the speaker.
It should be noted that Nzeyimana contested against Ngoga for speakership in December 2017 but garnered only 3 votes against the former Rwandan Prosecutor General’s 33 votes.
Burundi, which boycotted the election, disputed Ngoga’s ascent to the position of speakership, challenging it in the East African Court of Justice (EACJ).
In July last year, the regional court dismissed a petition which Burundi had filed in the First Instance Division of EACJ challenging Ngoga’s election.
The Burundian government challenged the process through which Ngoga was elected, arguing that Burundian and Tanzanian legislators were not part of the electoral process, which they said was in violation of the fundamental Principles of the Community under Articles 6 (d), 7 and 57 (1) and Rule 12 (1) of EALA Rules of Procedure.
EACJ ruled that the election of Ngoga did not violate the fundamental principles of the EAC, a verdict which was welcomed by Rwanda. Bujumbura did not appeal the ruling. Rwanda described the petition as a ‘political vendetta’ by Burundi following the breakdown of ties between the two countries since 2015.