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Member states look away as EAC 2020/21 budget stalls

Sunday December 13 2020
EAC PIC

Former President Jakaya Kikwete addresses a formal session in the chamber of the East Africa Legislative Assembly (Eala) in a past sitting. The Assembly has recently been thrown into uncertainty over lack of budget funds. PHOTO|FILE

Arusha. The East African Community (EAC) and its organs will now be compelled to agree on the bungled budget for 2020/2021.

After settling down for the $97.6 million estimates, the contentious issue is now on re-allocation of funds within the same ceiling.

The main contenders are the Council of Ministers, a powerful policy organ of the Community, and the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala).

Lawyers and technocrats of the regional body now have to go to the law books to find out which of the two organs should rule the day on the stand-off.

On the policy side,is a passionate call for urgent intervention of the regional leaders to save the cash-strapped regional body.

“If we still have this integration project on our agenda, this impasse should be resolved. We are still in EAC,” remarked Eala Speaker Martin Ngoga on Friday.

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All looked well on Thursday when the much delayed budget - revised thrice - was tabled before the virtual session of the House for debate and approval.

However, MPs from Kenya who incidentally were active in the debate, ditched the session as the House was about to give nod to the estimates.

Under the Eala rules, a plenary sitting will take place only if there was a minimum of three MPs from each of the six partner states.

Mr Ngoga could not hint as to why the Kenyans ditched the session neither could he explain if he had ever reached them thereafter.

“We are closing down for end-of-year recess, I’m leaving Arusha tomorrow” (Sunday), the Rwandan lawmaker he told The Citizen yesterday.

Regional analysts feel the scenario has once again exposed the apparent divisions among the partner states on the crucial issues.

The major reason behind the bungled budget, impeccable sources said, is Eala’s amendments through re-allocation of funds.

“Such powers are only vested to the Council of Ministers which prepares the budget ready for tabling,” insisted an official of the Secretariat.

He added: “The bone of contention is no longer which of the two figures $104 million or $97.6 million should prevail. We have settled for $97.6 million.”

However, he intimated, the trouble started when the budget proposals were brought to Eala, through its General Purpose Committee, for scrutiny.

The legislative organ of the Community made re-allocations of the funds (with the $97.6 million ceiling) which is contested as not being within its mandate.

The re-allocation, sources intimated, was made to enable Eala hold six sessions of 21 days per year instead of four (14 days) as recently directed by the Council of Ministers.

The move drew ire of some EAC partner states, including Tanzania, which insisted the legislative assembly has no powers to change the budget figures.

“Any move, alteration of the budget passed by the Council is a direct affront to the EAC Treaty,” warned the deputy Foreign Affairs and EAC Cooperation minister William Ole Nasha.

He said in his maiden speech to the House after being sworn in that the Council of Ministers was the only organ empowered “to consider the budget of the EAC”.

The function of Eala is to debate and approve the budget of the Community, he said, stressing that Eala should strictly follow “stipulated rules and regulations”.

Mr Ngoga admitted that the General Purpose Committee of the House, indeed, did make “some amendments to the budget but not above the ceiling”.

He said after the Council had sent the budget for tabling, what the House did was to re-allocate the resources but not above the $97.6 million ceiling.

He defended the regional Assembly, saying in re-allocating funds within the main budget, it was acting within the ambit of a set of laws.

These included the EAC Treaty, the Budget Act of the EAC and the Financial Rules and Regulations of the Community as well as Eala.

The saga appears to divide the EAC partner states down the middle with Tanzania and Burundi reportedly opposed to the budget alterations.

Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda are seemingly in favour through expressions of the lawmakers in the House debate while the position of South Sudan is unclear.

Deputy Minister Ole Nasha said Tanzania was opposed to any move that contravened the EAC Treaty, urging the powers of the Council must be upheld.

Jean Marie Muhirwa, a legislator from Burundi, said the EAC budget saga “for so long” was enough sign that the region remains divided.

Ms Fatuma Ndangiza (Rwanda) strongly argued for the independence of the House to prevail and that the 21-day sittings should be upheld.

The soft spoken legislators questioned whether the Council of Ministers had final authority on the budget,saying this was shared among other EAC organs.

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By Zephania [email protected] [email protected]m

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