The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) on Thursday, February 24, postponed critical plenary business after the six-member bloc’s ministers in charge of EAC Affairs again failed to follow proceedings on important matters affecting the citizens of the region. The Assembly is sitting in Arusha, Tanzania. The affected day’s business included debate on a report of a House Committee that assessed the status of institutional development of the Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency (CASSOA) and the level of enforcement of safety, harmonization of civil air transport policies and civil aviation rules and regulations in the region. Also very important were three draft laws that were to be submitted for the first reading by the Council of Ministers. These include the EAC Financial Services Commission Bill, and the EAC Surveillance Compliance and Enforcement Bill which factor into the establishment of the long-overdue East African Monetary Institute (EAMI). The EAMI is a transitional mechanism to the East African Central Bank that will issue the single currency that is expected to be in place by the year 2024. This regional monetary institute, a precursor to a regional central bank, is one of the four institutions expected to carry out much of the preparatory work for the creation of the East African Monetary Union (EAMU). Besides the two Bills, several other reports were to be presented but this could not happen. MP Aden Omar Abdikadir (Kenya) who stood in for Speaker Martin Ngoga noted that “we don’t take the excuse of the issue of” Kenya’s EAC Minister who is the Chairperson of the Council missing because any other Council member was supposed to stand in. Early last week, Burundi’s Minister for EAC Affairs, Amb Ezechiel Nibigira, acted as Chairperson of the Council after Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of EAC and Regional Development, Adan Mohamed, earlier resigned to contest for a political seat in upcoming general elections back home. When Nibigira left Arusha, unexpectedly, and Manasseh Nshuti, Rwanda’s Minister of State for EAC Affairs who was attending virtually also didn’t show up on the screens, plenary sittings were adjourned to Thursday, February 24, hoping that Ministers would make time this time. Come Thursday afternoon, much to the lawmakers’ chagrin, no single Minister was around, or even attending virtually, prompting MP George Odongo (Uganda) to say that “Arusha (EALA) has become the graveyard of legislation.” Odongo decried the fact that pressure groups from the region are asking for important pieces of legislations to be fast-tracked yet “those who are supposed to escalate the recommendations of the House are not present.” MP Amb Fatuma Ndangiza (Rwanda) said: “One of the mandates of this House is oversight and this matter should come under oversight. We should hold our Ministers accountable. We are spending taxpayers’ money and we have work to do but they are not here.” MP Pierre Celestin Rwigyema (Rwanda) who served in the third EALA wondered why things got this bad yet “we never missed a member of the Council.” He added: “We have to make Ministers accountable.” The Council of Ministers – which comprises Ministers from each partner state responsible for EAC Affairs – is the central decision-making and governing Organ the bloc. Council members are sworn in as ex-officio members of the Assembly and they assist in maintaining a link between the political decisions taken at the EAC Summit and the day-to-day functioning of the bloc. Every time there is an EALA sitting, all Council members are supposed to attend and whenever the latter is not possible, be represented by the Chairperson of the Council, or any other Council member, follow deliberations and answer to questions raised in the House. Without Council representatives in the plenary, important business is blocked. Lawmakers resolved to carry on with committee work without plenary sittings, just like they did for the better part of last week, until Tuesday next week when they hope the Council of Ministers will be represented. They noted that the Council of Ministers’ behaviour is an impediment to the achievement of the objectives of the EAC. MP Oda Gasinzigwa (Rwanda) said she was very disappointed considering that they have been “discussing this issue since last year” and had thought things would get better. Gasinzigwa said: “We understand the challenges and various other commitments of our Ministers in their partner states but even when all can’t be here at least one can attend and we continue business. This Assembly is not enjoying suspending plenary business. It is disheartening as this is a very important organ with important responsibilities of oversight and legislation.” Gasinzigwa noted that it was unfortunate that even when technology can be used they failed to get one Minister attending virtually. Gasinzigwa who is a member of the EALA Commission, the Assembly’s leading committee, proposed that they later seek a session with the Council and the EAC Secretary General to ensure accountability. The development also comes after the Rwandan and Burundian ministers on February 16, owned up, and, among others, pledged to work out a plan such that recommendations the regional Parliament makes are fully implemented. Another long serving lawmaker, MP Fred Mukasa Mbidde (Uganda), said: “It is disturbing we are leaving the Assembly in this kind of manner.” He insisted that “we have no further business here except to make sure the Ministers are here to perform their duties.” Two years ago, the umbrella association of national law societies in the EAC filed a case at the bloc’s court in Arusha, against the Council of Ministers for persistently violating the EAC Treaty. At the time, the issue of EAC meetings being held regularly and resolutions being passed as well as important decisions made without the involvement of Attorneys General of partner states, contrary to the spirit of the Treaty, was once more brought to the limelight. The East Africa Law Society (EALS), the premier regional Bar Association, noted that the Council, being the main policy organ of the EAC, should and must be at the forefront of upholding the laws of the Community and implement them without exception.