The East African Community Secretariat continues to be in the news for all the wrong reasons. It is accused of mismanagement, misuse of funds, and incompetence.
Last week, it was reported that “More than 1,000 assets belonging to the East African Community that were bought at $1.88 million could not be traced” and “more than $1 million in cash could not be accounted for.”
The audit report for the financial year ending June 30, 2017 shows low absorption capacity “of 62 per cent” and “EALA legislators attributed the low budget absorption to weaknesses in financial management and staffing leading to programmes stalling or running behind schedule.” This state of affairs at the secretariat isn’t new.
It has been like this for some time now.
For instance, in 2016, six employees of the Community took the secretariat to court over wrongful dismissal and Enos Bakuku, the deputy secretary-general in charge of procurement and infrastructure at the time wrote to the Secretary-General Liberat Mfumukeko about the importance of respecting procurement procedures.
And as media reports indicated in 2018, between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of querries in audit reports relate to flouting procurement procedures, mismanagement and misuse of funds.
These persistent reports of mismanagement, financial impropriety and corruption are compounded not only by conflicts between member states but also, as the Secretary-General acknowledged at a retreat with his staff in Kigali in March 2019, limited funds and lack of quorum for some meetings, which affects implementation of key projects.
The difficulty in raising funds is due to failure by member states to honour their financial obligations on time, the secretariat’s inability to attract funding and suspension of some funds by donors is due to the Community’s failure to resolve the Burundi political crisis that broke out in 2015.
For example, the Secretariat had, by the end of January, received only 45 per cent of financial obligations from member states and by March, South Sudan and Burundi hadn’t remitted their contributions for the financial year 2018/2019.
In addition, funding from donors has drastically reduced from $124 million in 2012 to only $54 million in 2019.
As a result of limited funding, Mr Mfumukeko, the Secretary-General told the Council of ministers at a retreat in Kigali that “several activities have been postponed due to lack of
funds.” The Secretariat’s woes are exacerbated by the inability of some member states to attend some meetings which the Secretary-General said “has caused delays in making some decisions and implementing key activities.”
While the most prominent failure to show up for a meeting was when Burundi’s president failed to show up at a heads of state Summit late last year, just last week, EALA suspended budgetary discussion due to the absence of the ministers in charge of the EAC from member states.
What’s more troubling is that top leaders of the Community know the problem at the Secretariat and some have, in the past, promised to solve it without walking the talk.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli, after taking over the chairpersonship in June 2016 accused the secretariat of wasting the “meagre resources contributed by member states” and promised to solve the problem.
Magufuli left the seat in 2017 and handed over to Ugandan President Museveni without honouring his promise.
Museveni handed over to President Paul Kagame late last year without doing anything.
Will Kagame help clean up and restore trust in the Secretariat so it can deal with the affairs of the Community instead of dealing with endless questions of mismanagement and waste?
It’s not certain that he will especially due to conflicts with Uganda and Burundi where the ecretary-General comes from.
That said, its clear Kagame knows the problem at the Secretariat and could take the higher moral road and put it to order despite disagreements with Uganda and Burundi that might make it politically impossible.
At a retreat of the Council of Minister and Secretariat staff in Kigali on March 28, Kagame told them that “We urgently need to get our house in order...” and urgently unblock obstacles in ongoing projects and...finish the good work we have started together.”
Whether or not Kagame will help put the secretariat in “order” only time will tell.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR, Lead Consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd, E-mail: ckayumba@ yahoo.com; twitter account: @Ckayumba