The East African Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, March 1, resolved to put aside debate on a report on the progress made in integrating South Sudan into the six-member bloc’s Customs Union so as to send a strong message to Juba after its Minster in charge of EAC Affairs failed to appear in the House for nearly two years. Lawmakers decided that they stay debate on the report till Wednesday in the hope that Deng Alor Kuol, the South Sudan Minister in charge of EAC Affairs shows up, either physically or virtually. MP Abdullah Hasnuu Makame (Tanzania) noted that the Minister had “consistently” not appeared despite the fact that “we’ve been flexible; amended our rules and we have virtual procedures whereby a member who cannot be here physically can attend virtually.” South Sudan was admitted into the bloc in October 2016, becoming the sixth partner state. EALA Speaker Martin Ngoga noted that Makame raised a very important point. Ngoga said: “The business here is to discuss how we can integrate our newest member in the Community and I think the front line person in that discussion should be the Minister from that country.” “So, what is the message he is sending to this House? Should we start with the process of integrating the Minister before we integrate the Republic of South Sudan? It is a very unfortunate situation. If it was a one off incident it wouldn’t be an issue but this is someone we’ve never seen.” Kuol was appointed to the post in June 2020 and then became an ex-officio of the regional Parliament. Article 48 of the EAC Treaty requires Ministers in charge of EAC Affairs to attend and follow proceedings in the House. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, amendments were made to House rules to permit members who cannot attend physically to at least attend online. Technically, though South Sudan has nine lawmakers in the Assembly, if a question is raised on the floor about matters pertaining to the country, none of its MPs can competently, legally, answer. Ngoga stressed that the absence of the South Sudan EAC Affairs minister was “offending us and it is offending the purpose for which we are sitting here and the purpose for which the Republic of South Sudan is a member of the East African Community.” It was at this point that MP Mary Mugyenyi (Uganda) moved a motion that the Assembly postpones the presentation of the report by EALA’s committee on communication, trade and investment until Kuol shows up. South Sudan lawmakers also voted for the motion. Issues hindering South Sudan integration In the course of their oversight activity, the EALA Committee noted several challenges hindering the country’s progress towards integrating the administrations of its Customs into the EAC Customs Union. The Republic of South Sudan’s shift in priority activities which has been geared towards peace and national building as opposed to integration initiatives was one of the elements, the Committee report indicates. Then there are disparities in policy, legal and regulatory frameworks in South Sudan with EAC, as well as the fact that the country’s judicial system is based on the Arabic system “which makes it challenging” for the Ministry of justice and constitutional affairs to incorporate the laws and regulations of the EAC. Lawmakers also observed, among others, that the grace period requested by Juba to commence the implementation of EAC protocols – particularly the EAC Customs Union instruments – ended in October 2019 but “South Sudan has not formally communicated its request for an extension of the grace period.” The Committee report does not highlight matters regarding South Sudan’s arrears to the EAC. But available information indicates that as of June 2021 the country defaulted from making its annual remittances and has a total outstanding amount above $27 million.