Contracts for senior staff of the East African Community (EAC) Secretariat expire this month, a situation that regional lawmakers fear would jeopardise activities at the bloc’s headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania.
During the last plenary of the just-concluded Kigali sitting, last week, the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) adopted a resolution by MP Susan Nakawuki (Uganda) urging the Council of Ministers to show the Assembly interim measures to address the impending staffing gap.
By March 31, Nakawuki said, 32 top EAC staffers will be gone.
“I am aware that these positions were advertised and people shortlisted but not recruited yet. I want to notify the Assembly that as of Saturday (last weekend), we are not going to have a legal draftsman,” Nakawuki said.
“We have committee work and we are supposed to continue working as an Assembly but without a legal draftsman. This is just an example. Shortlists have been done but they are pending council sitting.”
The Assembly also moved to urge that: contracts to replace staffers whose contracts have ended should be done at least three months before; and that the Council considers short-term contracts of exiting staff until recruitment is done so as not to affect smooth operations of the Community.
Lawmakers also want the Council to set up a recruitment policy for the Community.
Possibility of lacking a legal draftsman particularly affects lawmakers.
Speaker Daniel Kidega, however, said the Commission, the main decision making committee of the Assembly, was aware of the fact that the functions of the draftsman are core to the Assembly.
Kidega said the EAC Treaty and Assembly rules allow the Speaker to invite any technical person who is an East African to “come and help the Assembly with work when the Speaker and the Commission deem it necessary.”
In the interim, he said, whenever any committee needs the services of a draftsman, the outgoing officer will be called upon to assist.
According to Nakawuki, already, the senior monitoring and evaluation officer, the principal political affairs officer, and principal international relations officer have left.
Others whose contracts are due to expire are the principal librarian, principal tourism officer, principal agriculture officer, senior statistician, senior records officer, senior human resources officer, senior customs officer, trade officer, and the principal environment and natural resources officer.
Nakawuki told the Assembly, which was attended by some regional EAC Affairs ministers, including the Chairperson of the Council of Ministers, Dr Susan Kolimba, that earlier when the director for infrastructure, Phillip Wambugu, left there was a gap.
When donors from the World Bank came looking to sponsor some infrastructure projects but there was no one to give them the information they needed, she said, the Council “had to whisper silently and call Wambugu back just to attend these meetings and address concerns much as he was no longer a staff of the Community.”
Nakawuki also reported that the Council previously directed the director for human resource to undertake a study in all other regional economic blocs to see how their recruitments are done, how employees are treated in other regional groupings; and under what terms.
“The study was conducted by the principal human resource officer; whereby blocs like ECOWAS [Economic Community for West African States] use retirement age and performance contracts and where officials have performed well, they can extend [contract]. The report was done but Council did not act,” Nakawuki said.
MP Margaret Zziwa (Uganda) said: “There is a crisis as the recruitment has not started and we are going to have this vacuum. I support the suggestion that at least a period of six months is given to these officers either at contract level or at legislation so that we are not plunged into crisis.”
MP Patricia Hajabakiga (Rwanda) said the EALA Commission and the Assembly have always been concerned by this particular situation at EAC level where staff have no career development but come and leave as they came.
“It is disturbing that at the EAC level there is no permanency in terms of staff. People come and leave and those who come in start from scratch, learning what EAC is all about,” Hajabakiga said.
Dr Kolimba said she had taken note of the issues raised, adding that the Council will not allow the situation to get out of hand.
“As regards most of the positions listed as going to be vacant, the Council is aware of that and the ad hoc service commission has already done its work and now we are waiting for the Council to meet and approve the names,” Dr Kolimba said.
“The list is there. We know that they are going to meet on 30th of this month.”
The motion, moved by Nakawuki, had a connection with that referred to the committee on General Purpose last year on the matter of recruitment in the Community.
Kidega said: “The matter she has raised is of urgency because of the exodus of senior staff of the Community by the end of this month.”
Last October, EALA resolved to investigate allegations of corruption and other malpractices in the recruitment processes at the EAC Secretariat.
The decision, which also put to halt recruitment, was reached after the passage of a motion “of public importance” moved by MP AbuBakr Ogle (Kenya) seeking suspension of the then ongoing recruitment process at the Secretariat in Arusha, Tanzania, pending an audit.
At the time, Ogle told The New Times that it was a result of widespread complaints by EAC citizens regarding the transparency of the process.
There were claims of impropriety and underhand dealings in short-listing and hiring to be verified. Their investigation is among the Assembly’s activities being affected by lack of funds as partner states failed to make their remittances, another dilemma to the Assembly.
The recruitment process has been on hold for the last eight years pending completion of an institutional framework and it only begun in the first quarter of last year.