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January 2004

African Front Proposal Concerning Private Members Bills

Procedural rules of the Pan African Parliament must ensure that private membersí bills are debated and come to vote, and are not subsumed under constituent state sponsored bills, committee motions, or government sponsored motions (when parliament elects its officers). Although there are always more bills than there is time to debate them, priority-making to decide which bills to debate must be done by vote or blind-draw, never by the executive branches of government, and certainly not by some bill drafting office concerned with technical expertise.

In many parliaments around the world private members bills are not allowed, or even when they are on the Order Paper of the legislative houses, never come to a vote because precedence is given to government or party bills. Creating legislation has become the exclusive preserve of majority party caucuses, ministers, and their departments. Members of Parliament have been relegated to a passive and almost useless role in the parliamentary process. In many places, members of parliament are not even elected but are merely appointed by the head of state to vote for whatever the president wants.

If the PAP is to command respect and attention, gain the confidence of Africans, create interest in Pan African concerns, attract popular participation and engage the people in the process of African integration, it must protect the independence and right of private members to introduce bills.

It is for this reason that we are proposing the first item on the PAP agenda should be to create and adopt Standing Orders of the Parliament governing Private Members Business.

The objective is to give each Member of Parliament an opportunity to introduce a bill, motion or draft resolution that will be voted on during the parliamentary year. If afterward the size of the PAP should grow, as we have proposed, to 1080 members elected in a general election, then each member should have the right to introduce at least one bill that will be voted on during the life of the parliament (i.e., between general elections).

In the new Pan African Parliament the following Rules of Procedure should apply:

Following the election, there is a blind draw from a list of all Members of the Pan African Parliament, to determine the order of precedence in which the members can introduce their bills. Effectively, about 265 Members of the first Pan African Parliament have the right to put forward legislation.

From time to time, the Clerk of the PAP will draw from the list up to 20 names of Members. These members then have the right to have one of their bills debated and voted on. Those who are not ready to introduce a motion, or to debate, can reserve their time (or a portion of it) or negotiate to exchange their time slots with others if they like.

A member with multiple bills and motions before the House must pick the motion or bill that they want to move forward. If they do not choose, then the first one that they have sponsored is put on the Order Paper. Thereafter the bill is read, debated on and voted on. It is important for the PAP to ensure that the process which follows the first vote is transparent and speedy. In many countries bills get bogged down in intractable procedures between readings. If a bill passes first vote, a select committee of PAP members is set up, (or the bill is passed to a standing committe) to conduct public hearings on the bill. After the hearings the PAP can debate it and vote to turn the bill into law. The whole process should take a few weeks, and never more than half a year.

Since there are two sessions in a year, each lasting approximately 30 sitting days (not counting weekends), there will be at least 480 hours for debate per year, if they sit for 8 hours a day. It is reasonable that each private bill gets debated for two hours and then comes to a vote. It is unlikely that all debates will last two hours or result in a vote (given the fact that most parliamentary bills are carelessly drafted, or are introduced for symbolic reasons, or to stimulate debate), but even then at least 60 to 100 private bills could come to a vote each year.

It is important that no private members bill is killed by parliamentary authorities before it reaches the floor, as governments like to do in order to prevent an issue from becoming public. For every messy bill there is a good one, and so aborting bills for technical or political reasons is unacceptable. In any case, private members bills tend to pass through the process much faster than more sophisticated and larger (and also usually convoluted and incomprehensible) government bills, because they usually have shorter time for debate and scrutiny.

Protecting private members bills will encourage Members of the Pan African Parliament to support each otherís bills and this will result in the passing of transparent and coherent resolutions with broad support. In the long-term the protective approach towards private members' bills is beneficial because the parliament will tend to be more independent, yet less conflicted, and more constructive.