SUNDAY September 22, 2019
By Joe Lihundi
Tranquility News Reporter, Arusha
Activists have pointed an accusing finger at the East African Community (EAC) partner states allegedly for losing appetite in the integration agenda.
Failure to honour their pledges to budgets of the bloc and to walk the EAC Customs Union and Common Market rhetoric calls into question the partner states’ commitment to the bloc, they doubt.
They have submitted a petition to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), pleading with the House to push the Council of Ministers for it to recommend to the Heads of State Summit to invoke Articles 143 and 146 of the EAC Treaty.
Article 143 says a partner state, which defaults in meeting its financial and other obligations, shall be subject to sanctions which the Council of Ministers recommends to the summit.
Article 146(1) says the summit may suspend a partner state from taking part in activities of the bloc if it fails to fulfill fundamental principles and objectives of the treaty, including the failure to meet financial commitments to the community within a period of 18 months.
And Article 146(2) says a suspended partner state shall cease to enjoy benefits provided for under the treaty but shall continue to be bound by membership obligations until the suspension is lifted.
Partner states competing and urgent priorities are overriding those of the EAC, leading to the bloc’s failure to pay salaries to its staff, the East Africa Civil Society Organisation Forum (EACSOF), the activists’ umbrella outfit in the region, observes at the weekend.
A regional weekly newspaper — The East African — reported recently that owing to cash crunch biting the EAC Secretariat, some staff had deserted headquarters of the bloc based in Arusha, Tanzania.
Implementation of the EAC Treaty, protocols, laws, policies, strategies, plans and programmes has almost come to a halt, compelling some staff to take their annual leave and return to their respective home countries.
Sessions of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) slated for August this year had to be called off, pending availability of funds.
Ms Martha Makenge, the EACSOF Programme Manager and Acting Chief Executive Officer, says findings of a survey by the forum shows a dwindling trend of average aggregate contributions by the partner states.
They do not only delay to remit their contributions, but also fail to comply with their financial obligations by 100 per cent, Ms Makenge says. She cites the 2018/19 Budget with an average of barely 59 per cent aggregate contributions.
The EAC Treaty requires each partner state to contribute $8,298,574 towards the end of every calendar year, but only Rwanda and Uganda contributed 14 per cent and 72 per cent, respectfully, by September 13, 2019.
South Sudan tops the list of shame with contributions arrears amounting to $27,626,462 followed by Burundi $13,742,399, Tanzania $9,256,405, Kenya $8,459,232, Rwanda $7,115,313 and Uganda $2,293,720.
“This trend does not only infringe the Finance and Appropriation Acts of the community, but is also detrimental to the survival of the EAC,” Ms Makenge cautions.
“This trend does not only infringe the Finance and Appropriation Acts of the community, but is also detrimental to the survival of the EAC,”
East African Civil Society Organisations Forum Programme Coordinator and Acting Chief Executive Officer Martha Makenge.
Ms Makenge says EACSOF intends to file a petition at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) to pressure the Head of State Summit to impose sanctions stipulated in Article 146 of the treaty and to implement Article 24 of the Customs Union Protocol.
“Discussions on NTBs have now become a permanent agenda in all EAC meetings, denying the serious fora of moments to consider and develop strategic integration initiatives,” Ms Makenge says.
The Article 24 of the Customs Union Protocol directs the bloc to create a Committee on Trade and Remedies in a bid to determine a mechanism for administering and managing disputes settlement.
Composed of qualified and competent members in trade, customs and law from each partner state, the committee’s role is to handle rules of origin and measures on anti-dumping, subsidies and countervailing and safeguards as well as on disputes settlement, among others.
The committee though is to collaborate with partner states authorities in initiating investigations on disputes and in determining and recommending measures for preventing injury to a domestic industry, its decisions are final.
However, fifteen years since the Customs Union Protocol came into force; the EAC authorities are tight-lipped on the fate of the key institution in finding lasting solutions for both technical and non-tariff barriers inhibiting growth of inter-trade in the region.
The rate of trade among the EAC partner states is still lagging behind at about 15 per cent, thanks to the technical and non-tariff barriers for ignoring protocols of the bloc.
The rate of trade among the European Union and the Southern African Development Community member states, for instance, stands at over 60 per cent and about 50 per cent, respectfully.
Unless the EAC authorities activate the Committee on Trade and Remedies, they will continue denying East Africans of benefits of the integration agenda which their counterparts in regional economic communities elsewhere are reaping, the activists believe.
EAC comprises six partner states with equal financial contributions, namely Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo governments have shown keen interest in joining the East African regional economic community (REC); believing integration will relieve them of instability which is taking its toll on their countries.
MORE INFORMATION: DEVELOPMENT PARTNERS’ INPUT
The activists’ decision to keep the EAC partner states on their toes comes when development partners’ appetite to finance budgets of the bloc is apparently waning too.
The donor’s input has been declining over the years owing to the partner states’ wanting commitment to the integration agenda. Their monetary pledges have not only been delaying, but also have been inconsistent, as they nosedived from $124 million, equivalent to 90 per cent in 2011/12 to $43 million, equivalent to 43.1 per cent, in 2018/19.
The shrinking support among development partners come when the bloc is in dire need of it to implement its 5th Development Strategy which heads of state penned down during their Kampala summit early last year along with priority infrastructure and health projects to be implemented in 10 years.
“I am not sure if the budget endorsed in Kampala in February reflects political will,” the US attaché to Tanzania, Dr Inmy Patterson, told the 2nd EAC-Development Partners Consultative Forum in October last year, apparently confirming the donors’ resolve.
“Summits can come and go, but you need to walk the talk,” added the US attaché, saying if each of the EAC partner states had asked itself ‘big picture questions’, including if it really needed the integration agenda and it could create enabling environment.
The former European Union Head of Delegation to Tanzania, Mr Roeland van de Geer, concurred with Dr Patterson, saying “it all boils down to political will, for sure. We (development partners) can argue, coordinate and facilitate, but partner states have to resolve”.
Mr van de Geer said the European integration process survived the test of time, citing devastating wars, misunderstanding compounded by expansion of partner states from six to 28 and the introduction of Euro, which some still believed to date that it was not the right decision for the bloc.
“It took the leadership courage to surrender sovereignty to the regional body,” he stressed.