Eala defends EAC budget amid Tanzania, DRC opposition

Burundi minister and current EAC Council of Ministers chair Ezechiel Nibigira holds the 2023/2024 Budget briefcase flanked by bloc’s Secretary General Peter Mathuki in Arusha, Tanzania on June 13, 2023. PHOTO| NMG

What you need to know:

  • 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 the ministers.

Arusha. The East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) has defended its position on the stalled East African Community (EAC) budget for 2023/24.

The regional assembly says the $103 million budget was passed in June this year within the ceiling recommended by the Council of Ministers.

"The Council had recommended a budget ceiling of $103.8 million. This is the same amount that the Assembly appropriated,” said Eala clerk Alex Lumumba.

He gave the House position on the matter in response to Tanzania's rejection of the budget which was tabled and passed by Eala in June.

Mr Lumumba insisted in a communication copied to ministers holding the EAC docket in all partner states that the House stood on its position on the estimates’ legitimacy.

"The Assembly did not impose any charge upon the Community over and above the ceiling recommended by the Council,” he stated.

Mr Lumumba, who is the secretary of Eala Commission which manages the affairs of the House, exonerated the House General Purpose Committee for the standoff.

He acknowledged that a detailed scrutiny of the budget by the Committee revealed some duplications in the budget as well as arithmetic errors.

However, Mr Lumumba said the errors were brought to the attention of all stakeholders "and eventually adjusted within the EAC budget".

The Eala Commission met twice this month (August) to deliberate on the stalled budget which can throw the EAC into another budget crisis after the 2020/21 cash crunch.

The saga had come at a time the Community appeared to wither off its cash crisis as the 2023/24 estimates that were passed were the highest in four years.

Officials of the Secretariat, the executive organs, have not been opened up on the matter as are others who have kept a safe distance from the media.

Those reached intimated that the budget could not be implemented because two partner states - Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) - have rejected assent to the estimates.

The two largest and most populous countries in the bloc cited irregularities in the $103 million budget for 2023/24 endorsed by the regional Assembly in June.

They are reported to have objected to the figure ($103million), maintaining that it was above the ceiling of $97million earlier approved by the Council of Ministers.

For the EAC annual budget to be implemented, it has to be debated and passed by Eala and later assented to by the Heads of State of all the seven partner states.

DRC, which joined the bloc in March last year, was the first to notify Eala of its rejection in a communication (letter) to Eala Clerk on July 5th, 2023.

Tanzania followed suit on July 27th, 2023 in a letter to Eala signed by Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation minister Stergomena Tax.

But the two countries appeared to have their own specific reasons for rejecting the budget whose implementation is now on hold until further notice.

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 the 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,” affirmed the minister Dr Tax.

The minister acknowledged receipt of copies of EAC Supplementary Bill (No1) 2023 and EAC Appropriation Bill, 2023 sent to her from Eala for assent by Tanzania.

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

The DR Congo, while echoing that the passed Bills "did not respect the budget ceilings”, said it was concerned as to why no funds were set aside for the translation equipment needed for the French speakers in the EAC.

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

According to Eala officials, efforts to reach out to the two countries were being spearheaded by the Speaker of the regional Assembly Joseph Ntakarutimana.

The position of five other EAC partner states - Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan - has not been entirely clear.

However, sources intimated that some have questioned as to why the irregularities raised by Tanzania and DRC had not been made before the estimates were tabled.

Some Eala members reached out hinted on the possibility of the House reconvening to debate the budget afresh while others see dialogue as a solution to the crisis.

Such crises are not entirely new to the EAC which has been subjected to financial quagmires in recent years, blamed on delayed or no remittances from member states.

The 2020/21 estimates, for instance, were passed by the House in February 2021, seven months behind schedule due to some irregularities, then at the height of Covid-19 pandemic.