BY CHARLES KAZOOBA
The East African Assembly legislators have accused East African Community Secretariat of hijacking their oversight role, but the latter claim that its powers of operation are attached to different organs by partner states through the Council of Ministers.
The rift came to light during the EAC budget debate on Thursday when a cross-section of the lawmakers argued that the Secretariat had suffocated the relationship between the former and their constituents.
“Institutions at the EAC should respect each other. There is a situation of one institution tending to be bigger than the other. Monitoring and evaluation have been left to the Secretariat according to the (2007/08) budget estimates, yet the Treaty charges EALA with the oversight role,” Bernard Mulengani, a Ugandan legislator said. He added that the EAC organs are operating at a parallel basis yet they must have a smooth working relationship.
MPs warned that since their role had been compromised, the Assembly is unable to enforce changes in the budget though they have room to debate it. The EAC budget was presented at Uganda’s parliament this week.
Catherine Kimura from Kenya complained that the 27 legislators from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania – the original bloc members – have been denied offices, were allocated only three computers and have been blocked from accessing the Secretariat offices where they are supposed to seek information to guide their debates.
“Nothing has been mentioned of our offices in the budget. The hotel rooms where we work are inconvenient for us to do serious reading and scrutiny of the documents given to us,” she said.
Uganda’s MP Mike Sebalu appealed that legislators be empowered to interact with the people at the grassroots to expedite the promotion of the EAC exercise.
“The issue of sensitizing people on where they want to go becomes critical when legislators are excluded from interaction,” he decried.
However, the EAC deputy Secretary General told The New Times soon after plenary that the legislators’ oversight role had not been catered for in the $28m 2007/08 budget. He said the MPs had instead been sworn in after the budget had been drawn.
“It is not true that their oversight role has been hijacked. There was no Parliament then (during budget making process). The Secretariat has no powers to take over any organ’s role,” Ambassador Julius Onen said.
He however blamed the hitch on both the Assembly and the technocrats for the inappropriateness of the design of the EAC Treaty. Onen said the Treaty required urgent amendment but after all the five partner states reach a consensus.
Rwanda and Burundi joined EAC on Monday but are yet to fully participate in the Community’s organs including the legislative body.