LEGISLATIVE MATTERS

ECOWAS Parliament Members Ratifies Report on the CL Protocol Application

By Melvin Tejan Mansaray

Members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Parliament (MEPs) have considered and adopted the  report of the seminar on,  “the involvement of ECOWAS Members of Parliament in  monitoring the implementation of the Protocol on the Community Levy (CL).”

The three days (23rd to 25th March 2021) event in Freetown, Sierra Leone‘s capital is aimed at involving MEPs in monitoring the application of the Protocol relating to the CL  in order to guarantee adequate recovery of the product which required for the financing of the activities for the benefit of the Community.

The   ECOWAS   Revised Treaty published by the ECOWAS Commission in  1993, makes for  Financial  Provisions and,  Article 70 ( Regular Budgets of the Community), Section No.1 indicates that the regular budgets of the Community and its institutions shall be funded from a CL  and such other sources as may be determined by the Council.  Article-No. 72, Section No.1 – 5, makes provision for the purpose of the CL, where it is derived from, how it is determined, the application and modalities for the transfer of revenue generated for the  CL, and the protocol that defines the utilization.  “Member States undertake to facilitates the application of the provisions of this Article,” Article No. 72.5 states. 

At the Opening Ceremony, H.E. Hon. Sidie Mohamed Tunis, Speaker of the ECOWAS  Parliament among other things lamented the decline in the payment of  CL by saying that:  “Sadly, we are witnessing a low mobilization of the said resources which has been around 30% of forecasts over the past three years,” adding that, import receipts on which the CL  is based have also dwindled due to the impact of the health crisis on the global economy. 

“ We are therefore entreated during our discussions, to define an intervention framework for parliamentarians in the strategy of mobilizing the said resources and to find the means to achieve the effective application of the ECOWAS Protocol, because,  the CL is the very expression of the solidarity and responsibility of our respective Governments in the process of integration and in the achievement of the regional agenda,” the ECOWAS Speaker, Hon.Tunis said.

Other Dignitaries at the seminar included Head of Delegation of the Sierra Leonean Members of the ECOWAS Parliament – Hon. Chernor Ramadan  Maju Bah, Halima Ahmed -Commissioner for Finance of the ECOWAS Commission, Dr. Francis Kaikai – Sierra Leone’s Minister of Planning and Economic Development, Jacob Jusu Saffa – Minister of Finance, Government of Sierra Leone, Nabella Tunis – Sierra Leone’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and  International  Cooperation, H.E. Hon. Sidie  Mohamed Tunis, Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament and Hon. Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu –  Speaker of the Fifth Parliament of the Second Republic of Sierra Leone.

In his keynote address, Hon. Dr. Chernor Abass Bundu, Speaker of the Sierra Leone National Assembly spoke on the history, ethno-cultural interrelations, and the integration among the Community.
He said: “ The CL was designed with the intention not to create an additional financial burden on Governments but rather to translate painlessly their financial commitment into actual payment through a process of collecting and transferring through the Central Banks a small levy on their extra-community imports,” adding, “Another contention has to do with the question of proper management and utilization of funds, in short, the principle of accountability. There is a local adage that says if you tell the dog not to eat the bone, you should also be prepared to tell the bone to properly dispose of itself. There is an implicit fiduciary obligation on the ECOWAS Commission and Parliament, and indeed on all the institutions of ECOWAS, to ensure that funds are better managed and judiciously utilized and that every Member State has reasonable cause to believe that its citizenry would have equal access to or at least equitable entitlement to the distribution of the costs and benefits of economic cooperation and integration flowing from the institution to which it transfers 0.5% of its tax revenues on goods originating from non-ECOWAS countries…
A sheep farmer cannot be expected to send his herd to have a headdress at a saloon managed by lions; otherwise, his sheep pen will simply never grow or multiply

After the Opening Ceremony,  Halima Ahmed delivered a presentation on sub-theme 1: ‘General overview of the CL and status of its implementation,’ ‘Status of the collection of CL contribution arrears of Member States,’  by Molokwu Azikwe, Acting Director of Budget and Treasury and,  Khadi Saccoh,  erstwhile Commissioner of Finance, ECOWAS Commission.

It was however discussed that Protocol A/P1/7/96 adopted on July 27, 1996, defines the conditions for the application of the CL in accordance with Article 72 of the ECOWAS revised treaty. Article 7 of the said protocol fixes the CL rate at 0.5% of the value of all goods imported from third countries, with the exception of aid, grants, subsidies, and products originating from third countries, imported as part of the financing granted by foreign partners who are exempted.
The CL application report also captured that, “ the state  of recovery of the CL and arrears of contributions from the Member States revealed a low rate of mobilization of this resource due to several factors such as delay in the disbursement of mobilized products into these accounts, resulting to; “the inability of ECOWAS to fully implement its annual programs and projects; decline in the ECOWAS’s visibility  to the citizens of the community, donor influence and shift of attention from ECOWAS’s agenda, reduce the pace of economic integration, etc.”

The  MEPs however later dedicated time to examine the sub-theme, “ General overview of the CL  and status of its implementation,” moderated by  ECOWAS Commissioner of Finance, Halima Ahmed.

During her post-presentation debate, MEPs reckoned that they were enlightened on the several challenges that ought to be overcome by the Parliament. 
They also later listened to a presentation on sub-them 2, ‘Status of collection of CL  and contribution arrears of Member States,’ by Madam Ahmed which was followed by the presentation of sub-theme 3, “Prospect of the ECOWAS Community Levy in the face of the issues related to the EPAs and the AFCFTA. However, sub-theme 4 featured a presentation on ‘Methods of involving ECOWAS MPs in monitoring the implementation of the protocol relating to the CL,’ moderated by Ibrahima Gueye, former Director of Finance ECOWAS Commission.

In response to Gueye’s presentation, eight  (Hon. Magasi Mohamed, Gambia,
Nabied Nimaye, Burkina Faso, Hon. Aglandao, Togo and Nassizou Halidou, Niger, Aime Assina, Senegal, Hon. Ahi Sampson, Ghana, Hon. Sado Nazaire, Benin,) 
  MEPs made contributions. 

“My recommendation is that before we leave, let there be a clear resolution that those countries that are falling foul, including my own country, be sanctioned. We can’t leave our fate in the hands of those who keep our money and not remitting it. I also think that there should be a clear resolution that there should be no international agreement that takes away the CL and we leave it in the hands of those who represent us,” opined, Hon. Clarence Massaquoi, Liberia.

Hon. Sado Nazaire, Benin said: “I  will like to suggest that we have a focal points in each State. With the focal points, we can train and trace for people to understand what they are supposed to do and what they need to do completely. We must also define ways of motivating them. I will like to suggest that by way of getting the monies owed, the West African Monitoring Union, Central Banks debits automatically contributions that are to be paid. ECOWAS should help that the Central Bank levy  amount and we should contact countries such as Ghana and Nigeria, proceeding in this way,  we will start finding a few solutions to the problem and meeting the challenges.”

Hon. Ahi Sampson, Ghana, expressed that: “We must realize that there are challenges with the current system of collection. There is a need for us to review. Some Members States collects the levy, keep it throughout the year without paying to the Commission. Some States collect and then transfer half or sometimes a quarter of what they have collected to the Commission, which means that there is something wrong with the mode of the collection as it stands now. I suggest that we should have a desk at the various collection points, there should be a mechanism where collections can be placed into a direct account without necessarily going through the Members States banks before they transfer it to the Commission. I want to recommend that for the Parliament to be able to help in supporting the Commission,  they ensure that one hundred percent of collection at the point. We should strengthen the Committee for Finance and at the moment, we could have a Committee for the budget to handle oversight of our various countries at collection points and quarterly, they could have a meeting with the various Ministers of Finance in the subregion so that we can trace how much has been collected. The Parliament’s Committee for Finance and Budget should be strengthened to have oversight and meetings with the Members States and ensure that the Commission is not deprived of the necessary funds needed for conducting its operations.”

On the third day, MEPs and ECOWAS Administrative Officers took time to write the seminar’s draft report’s conclusions and recommendations.
Later in the day, MEPs were served with the seminar’s report  which was considered and adopted sixteen conclusions and recommendations. 

Among the conclusions and recommendations are: “ The current situation of Member States faced with challenges arising from COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the world economy with a mobilization rate of about 30% over the last two years; Parliamentarians should use their    power of oversight of government action to press member states to fully implement the provisions of the CL Protocol including the following – of strict adherence to tax base (including petroleum products and other goods), the effective application of the levy rate (0.5% on all import released for local consumption, etc: Called for the establishment of an expanded committee to monitor the implementation of the protocol, including parliamentarians  from the ECOWAS Parliament, in addition to the technical managers of the institutions (ECOWAS Commission/ECOWAS Parliament/ECOWAS National Unit), the Monitoring Committee will include among its members, MPs who are Members of the ECOWAS Parliament Members of the ECOWAS Parliament   who are nationals of Members States must capitalize on the provision of the rules of procedure at the National Level  to engage the Ministries in charge of the CL in order to discuss not only recoveries, but especially the effective application of the Protocol; the  method of CL recovery should be reconsidered  in order to achieve a direct payment into the account opened fro this purpose in the central banks by the taxpayers after liquidation by the competent services. This would avoid any delay and any payment into public accounts; Raising awareness and advocacy should be undertaken by all Parliamentarians who are members of the ECOWAS Parliament in their respective States; Consider all its concerns, ECOWAS Parliament shall take all necessary measures, by virtue of the powers conferred on it by the Supplementary Act relating to the strengthening of its powers, particularly in budgetary terms, to ensure that Member States comply with Protocol A/P1/7/96,” among other things.

During the consideration of the content of the report,  some EMPs (Hon. Clement Kofi,  Ghana, Hon. Collins Owoso Hon. Toe G.R., Burkina Faso, Hon. Charlo B, Califa Seidi, Hon. Sulaiman Bah, and Hon. Nassim. H) however expressed varying concerns, corrections, clarifications,  sanctions, among other things which were adequately addressed and resolved.

In his vote of thanks, ECOWAS Parliament Speaker, Hon.  Mohamed Sidie Mohamed  Tunis said, “ in all standards, the meeting has been educative and inspiring,” thanking the participants for their generous inputs, promising hard work and commitment to the issue of the CL. 

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