Representatives to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) have criticized the amount of money the Arusha-based East African Community (EAC) Secretariat spends on consultancy and capacity building.
Lydia Wanyoto, a Ugandan representative to the EALA, said 43 percent of the total funds allocated to the office for political programmes is spent on consultants, yet there were experts employed there on permanent basis.
She was on Wednesday participating in the EALA debate of the EAC financial budget for 2008/9 that was passed by the EAC Council of Ministers on June 17 in Arusha, Tanzania.
The debate comes only days after member states in the regional political and economic blocks passed their respective national budgets on June 16. The total expense passed by the ministers was estimated at US$40,499,095.
Presenting the EAC budget to a full house attended by ministers and legislators from all member countries of the East African Community– Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, and Tanzania– Eriya.
Kategaya, Uganda’s Minister of EAC Affairs and Chairman of the EAC Council of Ministers, said that this year the EAC budget would focus on strengthening the capacity of the regional political block into a more active organisation.
Kategeya said the expenditures of the block is estimated to total to US$40,499,095 with the expenses split to take care of capacity building at the Arusha-based Secretariat. He said the budget would also fund fast tracking of Rwanda and Burundi’s integration into the community.
Rwanda and Burundi joined the EAC in July 2007. He added that the activities of the EAC Secretariat will cost a whopping US$23,639,774, with the secretariat taking US$7,348,643.
Presenting the budget, Kategaya had earlier said the community faced a challenge of relying too much on donor support to run the activities, while some partner states were reluctant to pay their obligatory membership fee.
Rwanda, according to Kategaya, had expressed commitment to pay its dues before the end of this financial year.
He added that the issue of travel and conference facilities expenses causes trouble in the effective running of community affairs, saying that legislators on committees and negotiators often travel among member countries to hold sessions.
EAC parliamentary sessions are supposed to be hosted on rotational basis within the five member countries, and the next session will take place in Kigali. Rwanda will also host the EAC presidential summit in July 2008.
The budget will also cater for ongoing feasibility studies concerning the EAC Railways Master Plan that will connect the capitals of the member states.
Construction works for the EAC railway is underway in the outskirts of Nairobi, and early this month, President Paul Kagame announced during the Leon H Sullivan summit in Arusha, that Rwanda and Tanzania were already in advanced negotiations for a railway line linking Kigali and Dar es Salaam.
The budget will also cater for a regional homogenous tourism and wildlife management policy that seeks to market and promote East Africa as a single tourist destination.
Rwandan Minister of the East African Community Monica Mukaruliza and the newly elected representatives to the assembly are attending the negotiations but The New Times was not able to get a comment from her by press time.
EALA members reacted variously on the budget passed by the EAC ministers with Lydia Wanyoto from Uganda saying;
“There’s need for reforms at border customs posts as one way to utilize the agricultural advantage of the EAC,” said Wanyoto.
“This will reduce the increase in food prices because East Africans can trade easily if conditions at customs posts like installing freezers and coolers were put in place.”
President Kagame has on several occasions also called for similar reforms at borders as East Africa seeks to achieve growth.
In a related development, the East African Community has stepped up measures to increase investment on Lake Victoria so that the lake, which serves over 100 million people in the region, can have sustainable development for local communities.
The fund, known as the Lake Victoria Basin Commission, replaces the older Lake Victoria Management Programme, and will cost US$246 million. The project will be funded by The World Bank and other donors.
Rwanda is the only the country in the region so far that has began work on the project.