Scam story refuses to die at East African Community

Bounces back in Parliament 6 years after it was first told


East African Community flag

SATURDAY July 6, 2019

By Tranquility News Correspondent, Arusha

The East African Community (EAC) is seeking $305,000 to repair a building housing its headquarters in Arusha, thanks to the just ended downpour across the bloc for wreaking havoc to the complex unveiled barely seven years ago.

Analysts were quick to criticise the quality of the building soon after local contractors led by the then director and chairman of Dar es Salaam-based African Real Estate Company (Areco) Ahmed Ikbar had accomplished its construction.

An Arusha-based reporter with a Kiswahili weekly, Dira, Joseph Ngilisho, once reported that funds and materials for the construction of the building were misappropriated, leading walls of the structure to crack and the roof to leak.

Ngilisho accused a former EAC senior estate official of being the mastermind behind the scam only to find himself arrested by the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) and arraigned at the Arusha Resident Magistrate’s Court.

PCCB prosecutor Rehema Mteta told the court then that Ngilisho was about to collect Sh500,000 (about $200) downpayment for killing the story and writing another story that would clear the official from scandal, claiming that Ngilisho had demanded Sh2 million (about $800) to accomplish the work.

East African Community heads of state pose for a souvenir picture shortly after a building housing headquarters of the bloc was inaugurated in August 2012. PHOTOS | AGENCIES

Ngilisho denied the allegations at the court, saying the EAC official had actually complained over the possibility of the story costing his employment, pleading with him to write another article to retract facts of the previous one.

Ngilisho refused to retract the story, but advised the EAC official to publish an advert in the same newspaper in a bid to refute facts of the story by himself.

When the official met Ngilisho for the second time, he provided him with Sh500,000 payment for the advert before the anti-corruption watchdog’s officials arrested the reporter on grounds that he was receiving a bribe to kill the story.

Ngilisho was found guilty of the offense at the court, but was released after paying Sh500,000 fine, with each party in the case as well as outside the courtroom believing the judgment had killed the story once and for all.

But the story resurfaced recently, albeit not through the beleaguered reporter, when the EAC Council of Ministers successfully tabled a motion in the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) to ask the House to pass $390,000 Supplementary Appropriation Bill (2), 2091.

The building also houses the debate chamber of the East African Legislative Assembly.

A big chunk of the funds in the bill are required for assessing the damage which the just-ended rains caused to the EAC headquarters building, apparently as a result of the reported ‘misappropriation of funds and materials’ during the construction work.

Representing the Chairperson of the Council of Ministers, Burundi’s minister responsible for EAC Affairs Isabelle Ndahayo told the House that the remaining $85,000 would support negotiations for development partners.

China granted the EAC $200,000 for technical cooperation with the bloc last financial year of which $115,000 was allocated to transport and works.

The council was, therefore, asking for the approval of the House to allocate the $85,000 balance of the Chinese government’s grant to convene a Joint Technical Experts Meeting of Energy, Finance and EAC Affairs to agree on the roadmap for the next 10 years.

Eala Speaker Martin Ngoga concurred with the minister saying the building though was new, it was in bad shape. “As we proceed (with the budget debate), we should understand the danger the building can cause,” he cautioned.

The East African Community office complex has three four-storey wings covering an area of 14,925 square metres.

Some Eala members were concerned over justification for the House to pass the supplementary bill, as it surpassed the 5 per cent ceiling of the fiscal year’s budget contrary to the EAC financial rules and regulations.

“If the money has not yet been spent, the supplementary bill should be included in the 2019/20 budget,” suggested Rose Akol.

Her colleague Mary Mugyenyi wondered if incorporating the supplementary budget in this financial year would at all hinder the intended assessment and renovation of the building.

EAC Secretary General Liberat Mfumukeko clarified saying hard cash though had not been spent on the work yet, the secretariat had already initiated a procurement process and that a purchase order had already been made in this fiscal year’s budget.

“The motion could not be tabled two months ago before we engaged the procurement committee,” he explained.

Chairperson of the Eala General Purpose Committee Abdikadir Aden allayed the fear of the Eala members of passing the bill, saying the House had approved $12,679,598 worth supplementary budget in its Zanzibar session in February last year against the $99,770,716 budget the assembly passed for the bloc in 2017.

The Arusha International Conference Centre where the East African Community used to rent some of its offices before its building was constructed.

The 14.8-million Euros (about $13 million) worth of the EAC headquarters building was financed by the German government through Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) and the structure was designed by Archis Architects also of Germany.

The office complex, which covers 14,925 square metres and comprises three four-storey wings, was officially inaugurated in 2012.

Former Secretary General Richard Sezibera said during the inauguration ceremony that the building offered flexibility of expansion once new members were admitted to the then five-nation bloc.

Dr Sezibera explained that the foundation of the earthquake-proof building standing on a 10-acre Number 12 of Block 111 at Sekei Ward in Arusha City’s central business district was capable of supporting two additional floors.

The EAC used to pay $450,000 rent to the Arusha International Conference Centre (AICC) in addition to another rent it paid to New Safari Hotel and Diamond Trust buildings in which it had other offices.

AICC is the Tanzania parastatal’s building structure constructed by the defunct EAC.

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