Arusha. Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation Minister January Makamba has opened up about the stalled East African Community (EAC) budget for 2023/24.
He insisted on Tuesday, during a virtual session of the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala), that the estimates in question have to be tabled again before the House “to break the impasse.”
He said no matter what position each partner state took in the saga after two partner states objected to assent, it would be in the interest of EAC if the matter was resolved “once and for all.” The $103 million budget estimates of the EAC for 2023/24 which were passed by Eala in June this year, have not been implemented after Tanzania and DR Congo refused assent.
The two states accused Eala of overstepping its role by passing $103 million, which is above the budget ceiling of $97 million earlier approved by the Council of Ministers.
“The root cause of the crisis is clear to everybody in the EAC. But more of us should be involved to find the way out of the logjam”, he pointed out.
However, Mr Makamba, who took over the docket on August 30th, said Tanzania was keen to ensure that the EAC budget lines were strictly adhered to.
“Our (Tanzania’s) understanding of the EAC budget is that it is a partner states’ budget,” he said, noting that key ministries of each state are normally involved in preparation.
He said Tanzania communicated its objection to the estimates through a letter to Eala by his predecessor, Stergomena Tax, on July 5th, followed by another one on August 22nd. The latest letter added to irregularities that have been cited by Tanzania; this time it was on what the minister said was a $500,000 budget in the contested estimates.
Impeccable sources at the EAC intimated that the said amount ($500,000) was taken from the EAC secretariat vote and transferred to Eala without the approval of the Council of Ministers.
“We will get to Eala to return the $500,000 to the secretariat and other monies that could have been allocated to other EAC bodies. Let’s get out of this logjam,” he insisted.
Instead, Eala should secure the same ($500,000) for expenditure for its earmarked activities for 2023/24 financial year from the General Reserve fund of the EAC. Tanzania’s position on the stalled budget estimates appeared to win the support of Rwanda, which has maintained silence on the matter before.
Rwanda’s EAC Affairs Minister, Prof Nshuti Manasseh, told the day-long virtual sitting that there was no need to form committees to seek ways to resolve the crisis.
However, the two countries’ position to re-table the budget did not go well with other partner states whose MPs were vocal about Tanzania and the DRC’s failed assent.
The debate during the virtual session turned hot to the extent that Mr Makamba was forced to tell the House to respect each country’s sovereignty, which is well articulated in the EAC Treaty.
“Let us respect each other’s positions and mandates. Tanzania does not have any problem even if this matter is taken to the Summit of the EAC Heads of State”, he explained.
He went on,” Take this [budget estimates] back to the Council [of Ministers] for member states to relook at and scrutinise further. EAC is the property of the partner states”.
Mr Makamba’s address to the regional assembly on Tuesday was the first in as many years by a Tanzanian minister holding the EAC docket.
For years, dating back to around 2015, Tanzania has been represented by the deputy ministers during the Eala sessions, which is not entirely the case with other countries.
According to the EAC Treaty, the minister responsible for EAC Affairs from each of the seven partner states is an ex-officio member of the regional Assembly.
On Tuesday, Tanzania’s suggestion—and, by extension, Rwanda’s—did not go well with Eala Speaker Joseph Ntakarutimana and the EAC Council of Ministers Chair, Ezechiel Nibigira, who is also Burundi’s EAC Affairs Minister.
The Speaker said he was finding it difficult to take the budget estimates back to the plenary sitting of the House “because Eala had already passed the budget.”.
“As a speaker, I have consulted enough with the Chairperson of the Council. I am already stressed. I tried some days ago to take the case to the plenary, but in vain”, he said.
On his part, Mr Nibigira said: “We have to clean up the budget, but within the law. This will be a long process. It will consume a lot of revenue of the Community. We don’t have such resources.”
Ordinarily, budget preparations begin with the secretariat and have to be tabled before the Council of Ministers, an authoritative organ of the Community for approval.
The estimates will then be taken to the House General Purpose Committee (GPC) for scrutiny, after which they will be tabled before Parliament for debate and passing.
The Council Chair and Speaker insisted that retabling the budget at Eala would delay salvaging the EAC from deeper cash woes caused by the failure to implement the 2023/24 expenditure plan.
Kim Gai from South Sudan and Dennis Namara from Uganda said taking the estimates back to the House has legal implications.
“The power to return the Appropriation Bill (estimates) back to the House must have the signature of the Heads of State,” they pointed out.
Tanzanian lawmaker Ngwaru Magembe urged fellow legislators from the seven nations to take the issue back to the Council of Ministers so that the estimates are tabled afresh.
“In EAC, we have our demarcation lines. But there are certain lines we cannot cross. You cannot win by being at loggerheads with the Council of Ministers,” he observed.
Dr Maghembe, an Eala lawmaker since 2017, said the EAC Affairs or Foreign Ministries in the EAC partner states were extensions of the State House in their respective states.
“If some countries (through their EAC ministries) had written letters on burning issues of the Community, it is the official position of their governments and must be respected,” he said.
He implored Eala and the Council of Ministers to be mature enough to sit on a negotiation table to resolve the impasse by passing the budget “even if it required amendments to the Treaty”.
But it was Paul Musamali (Uganda) who rained much criticism on Tanzania and the DRC for the budget crisis, likening withholding assent to the budget to “perpetuating illegality.”
He went on, “Why withhold assent for whatever reasons? Follow the law and do it on time. EAC is in dire need of funds to run its activities.”
The outspoken MP said this was not the first time Tanzania withheld assent to the EAC budget, adding that with the third quarter of the EAC budget calendar coming to an end without operational funds, the future looked bleak.