Regional assembly approves $104m annual budget despite financial concerns

The East African Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, September 30, approved the EAC budget estimates for the financial year 2020/21, amounting to $104 million after a heated day-long debate held by virtual conference. 

This was as the House also passed the EAC Appropriation Bill, 2020, with amendments, stretching the bloc's budget envelope by an extra $7 million considering the initial budget estimates totaling $97.6 million as presented end last week by the Chairperson of the Council of Ministers, Manasseh Nshuti. The Council is the central decision-making and governing organ of the EAC. 

 

The original EAC Appropriation Bill, 2020 proposed a total sum of $97,669,708 (compared to $111,450,529 for financial year 2019/2020) as proposed by Nshuti last week. 

 

There was a heated virtual debate Wednesday as the Council of Ministers and lawmakers especially differed over allocations for the Secretariat, which is the executive organ of the Community, EALA and the East African Court of Justice, hence the new $7 million difference in figures. 

 

In the budget estimates tabled by Nshuti last week, the Secretariat had been allocated; $48,564,400, EALA $16,755,725 and the Court $3,970,406. 

But after the House amendments presented Wednesday, and the subsequent vote, the EAC Secretariat is to receive $48,418,301, while the Assembly gets $23,067,137, and the Court is expected to get $4,198,406. 

Presenting the initial EAC figures last week, Nshuti stressed, on behalf of the Council of Ministers, that the budget estimates were presented at a time when the region as well as the globe is still reeling from the effects (and after-effects) of the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to lockdowns and a slowdown in economic activities.

On Wednesday, Nshuti and his Tanzanian counterpart Dr Damas Ndumbaro, Deputy Minister for EAC and Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, insisted that as per the EAC Treaty, under Article 132, the procedure is such that the Secretariat prepares the budget, the Council considers it, and EALA approves. 

But lawmakers also noted that under Article 14 section 3 (c), the Council has powers to give direction to institutions except the Summit, EALA and the Court. 

It is yet to be known how the bloc's latest annual budget will be handled but the Summit can assent or not assent to the bill eventually. 

Debate on Wednesday was preceded by a report of the Committee on General Purpose, presented to the House by Committee Chairperson MP Dennis Namara. 

Namara's report recommends, among others, the need for the Council of Ministers to adhere to timelines for the presentation of the budget to the Assembly. 

Namara also stressed that the delay and non-remittance of funds by some partner states negatively impacted on the implementation of planned programs and activities by EAC organs and institutions, during the last financial year. 

The problem of delayed remittances continues to cause problems to the regional bloc. South Sudan and Burundi are the biggest defaulters with arrears totaling $36 million and $21 million, respectively. 

The report recommends the need for the contribution of each partner state to the EAC budget in the 2020/21 financial year to be reinstated to the total sum of $8,298,574, as was previously allocated. 

“This will enable the Community to raise an additional USD 2,895,124 to fund some of the unfunded priorities," reads part of the report. 

The Assembly also urged the Council of Ministers to expedite the finalization of a Sustainable Financing Mechanism of the Community and to put on hold, creation of more EAC institutions, until the mechanism is put in place. 

Wednesday's session was presided over by Ugandan MP Rose Akol, who was elected in absence of the substantive Speaker, Martin Ngoga.

jkaruhanga@newtimesrwanda.com

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