Top 5 challenges highlighted at the EAC retreat

Officials at the Strategic Retreat of the Council of Ministers, Heads of Organs and Institutions of the East African Community (EAC), in Kigali, Rwanda. Village Urugwiro.

Last week, the East African Community Council of Ministers and Heads of Organs and Institutions held a day long retreat in Kigali to discuss the salient challenges affecting the bloc and seek ways to get the integration process back on track.

The retreat came at a time when various regional joint projects have stalled while other multiple initiatives are yet to achieve the desired impact.

Below are the top 5 issues that shaped the agenda of the summit:

Non-compliance with signed Protocols

Despite awareness of the impact of implementation of integration initiatives such as common market protocol, the EAC secretariat said some partner states are yet to harmonise their national laws, policies and systems hence rendering the protocols ineffective.

The secretariat further noted that beyond the protocols, there also exists other barriers to integration such as tariff and non-tariff barriers at Customs and Immigration desks in some Partner States.

Liberat Mfumukeko the EAC Secretary General said that it is not uncommon to receive complaints from citizens on challenges experiences at immigration desks including illegal arrests.

“These include the denial of entry into a Partner State without being furnished with the reasons for the denial; the confiscation of travel documents by immigration officials upon arrival into a Partner State followed by the requirement to report to a police station daily, similarly without due process. Students enrolled in Universities different from their Partner State of origin being charged tuition fees as an International Student,” he said on Friday.

Lack of citizens’ awareness

A majority of East African Region citizens does not understand regional integration and the East African Community integration agenda. Others are skeptical of the initiatives hence low, the secretariat said.

According to surveys conducted by the bloc, a large section of citizens within the region appreciate the benefits of integration but remain skeptical of the EAC agenda.

This they say calls for the need to create awareness on regional integration, various EAC policies that can serve their national and perhaps personal interests.

A random spot check by The New Times on Kigali city residence on their understanding of EAC and the integration agenda showed that there is a lot of awareness raising required.

A majority of those interviewed knew little about the body’s organs or mandate as well as deliverables.

Financial liquidity issues

Financial challenges are not a new concern for the East African Community. Over the recent years, complaints by the secretariat on inability to conduct their affairs due to lack of finances has become common.

The recent retreat was no different, the secretariat continued to decry severe liquidity issues caused by lack and late disbursements by partner states.

For instance, as at January 30th 2019, contributions by Partner States towards the EAC Main Budget stood at 45 per cent, several activities have been postponed due to lack of funds.

At the moment 50 per cent of the EAC main budget is donor funded which has also put the ownership of its agenda in questions.

The need to identify alternative sustainable financing mechanisms for the community has been in consideration for several years now with little progress made.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Richard Sezibera addresses participants. Village Urugwiro.

Long decision-making processes

The decision making process of the bloc was said to be long, tedious and somewhat unnecessary.

“There is need to review our decision making process to ensure efficiency and timeliness. There are issues that have been on the table for more than eight years. Good examples are the institutional review and the alternative financing mechanisms for the community. While the two processes have a great bearing in the running of the EAC, they have been on the discussion table for too long,” Mfumukeko said.

Key stakeholders no involved in decision making

To make progress impactful, integration and development of the community, stakeholders such as the business community felt that there is need for inclusion in decision making to decide on priority areas.

By their own admission, the secretariat admitted that they have since realized that they have not adequately involved the stakeholders.

“We are not effectively involving our key stakeholders, such as the private sector, civil society and other interest groups, in our decision-making processes,” the secretariat said.

Other issues which featured prominently include lack of attendance of meetings which affected quorum which had seen a number of meetings postponed or cancelled causing delay in making some decisions and implementing key activities. Burundi and South Sudan for instance failed to attend the recent retreat.

The EAC Staff rules, salaries and regulations were also said to be outdated as they were last reviewed in the year 2006 and had not been updated to take into context on changes and developments since.

Minister of State of EAC affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe said that by addressing the above and other issues, they seek to improve the relevance of the bloc to in bringing citizens closer and increasing opportunities for stakeholders in the process.