Not the time to trade blame but shore up EAC  

03Jul 2020
The Guardian
Not the time to trade blame but shore up EAC  

​​​​​​​CRISIS is brewing in operations of the various organs and institutions of the East African Community as a tug of war seems to be engaged between the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) and the EAC Secretariat. EALA members, upon suggestion of its Committee on General Purposes-

-refused to approve 68bn/- (USD 29.4m) for the first quarter of the 2020/21 financial year as proposed by the East African Community (EAC) Council of Ministers.

Reports from Arusha say EALA members were ‘furious’ with the failure by EAC ministers to table annual budget estimates, citing EAC Treaty provisions and asserting that this failure constitutes a breach of obligations. The legislators wanted estimates to be tabled first before emergency vote proceedings for the first quarter are intimated, not without such estimates. They said it would be like moving in the dark, taking the first step in an unknown direction, so they refused to approve the quarterly budget measure via a ‘vote on account’ motion the chairman of the Council of Ministers tabled.

As EALA members unanimously stayed the request to support EAC operations, the crisis intimated as of July 1 is likely to spiral as officials and staff of those institutions start getting rattled and inconvenienced in their work. 

The EALA has effectively postponed the budget session for EAC institutions to await the tabling of actual estimates, which the Council of Ministers chairman was at pains even to give a date as to when the ministers would meet and agree on a budget outline. As it is often the case with how EAC affairs are run, it will take an initiative at the summit, that is, among the six presidents, to set in motion a rapid mechanism to sort out the situation.

For one thing, discussion among EALA members tended to focus more on the legal formalities than the fiscal substance involved, for instance in refusing to cooperate about the ‘Vote on Account’ while other issues were being taken up. So far the EALA Speaker has extended the period for consideration of the EAC Budget for Fiscal Year 2020/2021 by invoking section 12 of the EAC Budget Act of 2008.

Where the shoe pinches, all the same, is that EALA members see the fault lies with the Secretary General, and via his office the Council of Ministers, reminding them to “always comply with the provisions of the Treaty and the EAC Budget in regard to the preparation and presentation of the budget to the assembly.” The members could be understood to say there are no valid reasons this situation came about, which is in the least, fairly inaccurate.

EAC officials say the Vote on Account request was in line with Article 6 of the EAC Budget Act 2008, as a stop-gap measure to allow for continuity of EAC activities. The Council of Ministers via the chairman explained that it had not been possible to bring the budget estimates in good time (by 30th April) within the financial year. Under normal circumstances, this should have been done but the Covid-19 pandemic, among other reasons, led to the delay in agreeing upon and tabling budget estimates.

So long as there is a mechanism to ensure that EAC activities do not grind to a halt it is good that it is taken up and put into use. It is the least EALA members are expected to do, to facilitate that opening.