Tanzania, DR Congo hold up EAC budget implementation

The East Africa Legislative Assembly during a session in Arusha, Tanzania. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) cited irregularities in the $103 million budget for 2023/24 endorsed by East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) in June.

Arusha. The East African Community (EAC) has been thrown into crisis after two member states withheld assent to the recently passed budget estimates.

Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) cited irregularities in the $103 million budget for 2023/24 endorsed by East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) in June.

They are reported to have objected to the figure, maintaining that it was above the ceiling of $97 million approved earlier by the Council of Ministers.

For the EAC annual budget to be implemented, it has to be assented to by the heads of state of all seven partner states.

The shock rejection has also been attributed to the conflicting or outdated rules and regulations that govern the operations of the EAC.

Specifically, the quagmire has once again put in the spotlight the relevance of some provisions of the EAC Treaty, which was operationalised for over 20 years without amendment.

Efforts by Eala and the EAC Secretariat in the past two weeks to rescue the situation had not borne fruit by yesterday.

Mr Alex Lumumba, the Eala Clerk, was not categorical if the two countries are likely to soften their positions on the crisis, which has once again opened cracks in the bloc.

"Two things can happen. The two partner states may uphold their (hardline) positions or they can revisit their positions,” he told The Citizen in his office.

Consultations aimed at reaching out to the governments of the two countries over the matter are being spearheaded by Eala Speaker Joseph Ntakarutimana.

Mr Lumumba did not rule out the standoff necessitating the reconvening Eala to debate the budget estimates afresh.

He said although the implementation of the budget has been halted due to pressure from the two countries, each of the two states has its own specific reasons.

Tanzania observed that the two budget bills tabled and approved by Eala for 2023/24 fiscal year were “inconsistent” with the budget ceiling that was approved by ministers.

This, Tanzania maintained, was contrary to Article 59 (2) and 132 of the EAC Treaty as well as Regulation 18 of the EAC Financial Rules and Regulations.

"To that effect, the United Republic of Tanzania wishes to withhold her assent,” said Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation minister Stergomena Tax.

She acknowledged receipt of copies of EAC Supplementary Bill (No1) 2023 and EAC Appropriation Bill, 2023 for assent by President Samia Suluhu Hassan.

However, she said in a letter to the Eala Clerk that Tanzania was not in a position to assent the budget as required for each partner state due to the irregularity.

The DR Congo which joined the EAC last year, on its part, echoed Tanzania on its objection, saying the passed Bills “did not respect the budget ceilings”.

This was contrary to what was agreed by the partner states during the 43rd Ordinary and 48th Extraordinary Meetings of the Council of Ministers held prior to June 2023.

The DR Congo communicated its position on the crisis through its ambassador to Tanzania who is also accredited to the EAC, Mr Jean Pierre Massala.

However, DRC's rejection of the budget, unlike Tanzania, had much to do with its status as a French-speaking nation joining the largely Anglophone EAC territory.

The vast country is protesting the removal of a budget for purchase of simultaneous translation equipment to be used by the French speakers at Eala sessions.

But the Eala Clerk was quick to respond to this, hastening to say that purchase of the tools in question may need the amendment of the EAC Treaty.

“English is the official language of the EAC. Use of French is yet to be amended to the Treaty,” Mr Lumumba said, noting that it would be premature to purchase the equipment.

He said Tanzania's rejection of the Bills are primarily due to the country's concern that Eala imposed a new charge on the Community Fund contrary to Article 59 of the Treaty.

The Treaty says Eala shall not proceed on any bill that will impose any charge upon any fund of the Community or facilitate any issuance of withdrawal from any fund.

"URT (Tanzania) is of the view that making re-allocation within the budget did not reflect what the Council (of Ministers) sent to the Assembly," he pointed out.

Consultations to rescue the situation include two meetings of the Eala Commission,a body formed six years ago and tasked to manage the affairs of the Assembly.

Members of the Commission are two elected Eala members from each partner state, the Chairperson of the Council of Ministers and the Speaker, who is its chairperson.

During the latest sitting of the Commission held on Monday (August 14th), the DR Congo ambassador promised to give his country's feedback anytime from Monday next week.

Tanzania was not represented at the meeting but the Eala Clerk said other avenues were being used to reach out to the Tanzanian officials "for a consensus."

EAC secretary-general Peter Mathuki, who is the accounting officer of the Community, could not be reached yesterday although his office promised to update The Citizen on the same later in the day.

However, Dr Mathuki told the media on Wednesday that budget disbursements from the partner states have seen some improvements.

During the financial year which ended on June 30th this year, the remittances recorded was 64 percent with 37 percent of the total budget sourced from the development partners.

The failure by the two EAC to assent the budget has been received with consternation by some EAC staff at the Arusha head office and its institutions scattered across the region.

"The bottom line is that the EAC has no expenditure budget for the 2023/24 financial year,” lamented one senior member of one of the three organs, visibly dismayed.

He blamed the crisis on Eala “usurping the powers of the Council of Ministers”. The latter is an authoritative organ of the Community responsible for budget and allied matters.

The official, who is knowledgeable on the House procedures, said under the Commonwealth Parliamentary systems, Parliaments have no powers to go beyond the ceilings of the proposed budget.

Other workers have questioned as to why the matter has been raised after the budget estimates were tabled, debated and passed ready for assent and not before.

With little likelihood of the matter not getting resolved soon, there are at least two alternatives to have funds filling the EAC coffers, at least to cover for the administrative costs.

These include an “Emergency Budget” for which the Heads of State are empowered to bring in or Vote-on-Accounts, a safeguard measure that worked during a similar crisis in 2020.

That was during the height of EAC's worst financial crunch, coupled with Covid-19, when the 2020/21 budget's approval was delayed for eight months.

However, the latter option was played down by a senior official of the secretariat who said Vote-on-Account will apply only before the budget is passed.