Kampala, Uganda | URN | The East African Legislative Assembly has launched a 5-year strategic plan aimed at fast-tracking the remaining phases of the integration process, especially the two remaining integration pillars – the monetary union and political federation.
Integration of the East African Community (EAC) stands on four pillars. The other two already being implemented are the Customs Union and the Common Market, with the remaining targets being the free movement of goods, persons and capital and the harmonization of tax regimes.
The Monetary Union, when implemented will lead to a single currency and central bank, while a political union aims at forming a sovereign state with one top political leader.
In September 2018, a committee was formed to begin the process of drafting a regional constitution, and the confederacy was supposed to be ready for implementation by 2023. In the five years, the legislators hoped to put in place all the legal requirements for the four phases.
Objectives of the plan include accelerating and consolidating sustainable production in key sectors, enhanced investment in infrastructure, accelerating the full implementation of the monetary union and mechanisms of a political Union.
But, there is wide scepticism over the attainment of the last two, going by the faltering customs Union and common market, which have so far failed to do away with non-tariff barriers to trade.
The strategies include the full integration of the Republic of South Sudan in the EAC Customs Union, which will ultimately lead to a fully integrated EAC Customs Union by the end of 2021, and a Common Market by the end of 2024 when South Sudan will be a full member of the common market.
The other target is good governance in the region, which will see the EAC Integrity and Anti-Corruption Bill enacted and the EAC Protocol on Good Governance ratified and implemented.
The legislators also plan to have the relevant legal instruments for the establishment of the Political Confederation adopted.
According to the plan, the legislative assembly’s planned activities in recent years have been hindered by delayed remittances of funds by the Partner States which affects the implementation timelines.
The Assembly has also been demanding for the implementation of the financial and administrative autonomy granted to it, but this is yet to be and has affected the planning and execution of certain programmes since the Assembly still depends on other Organs of the Community especially on policy matters.
There are reports that the legislators and staff of the EAC secretariat are owed salaries of more than three months, as the community struggles with financial problems.
More than half of the funding for the community’s activities is from contributions by the partner states which are supposed to pay 8 million dollars per year each, while the other part comes from development partners or donors.
South Sudan and Burundi are in arrears of 15 and 28 million dollars respectively as of July 2020. For the year 2020/2021 financial year, the community was forced to reduce the budget by more than 10 million dollars.
The Strategic Plan also cites the inadequate staffing levels as well as the high turn-over of the Members of the Assembly, with only a few members re-elected from the previous assemblies.
The legislators say that this had an impact on the institutional memory which compelled EALA to allocate substantial funds for the enhancement of the capacity of the new Members.
The parliament was also disrupted by the process of impeaching the 1st Speaker of the 3rd Assembly, Margaret Zziwa of Uganda, which paralyzed its operations, as well as the delayed election of representatives of some Partner States, which affected the legislative calendar of the 4th Assembly.
The legislators also noted that there are severe threats to the realization of the objectives of the regional integration, including the inter-State conflicts and political instability in some Partner States which affect the smooth implementation of the integration agenda.
This, coupled with the apparent resurgence of nationalistic tendencies as well as inherent fear and mistrust among the EAC Partner States, threatens the sustainability of the Community. Matters are made worse by the weak or lack of conflict prevention and resolution mechanisms.
The members’ document notes that the parliament’s role in spearheading the integration process is being hindered by the limited public awareness of the benefits of EAC integration.
The Plan will also strive to address the lack of a sustainable funding mechanism for the EAC programmes and projects, as well as press the reluctant partner states, to amend the Treaty, particularly provisions which constraint the effective functioning of the regional parliament.
The legislators also condemn what they call the preferred use of Protocols over Legislation by the Partner States, which affects EALA’s legislative mandate.
According to the Treaty forming the EAC, legislation is a shared mandate between the Assembly and the Summit of the Heads of State, while the Council of Ministers and Members of the Assembly are mandated to initiate and introduce Bills in the House.
Since its inauguration, the Assembly has passed a total of 92 Bills of which 66 have been assented to, 18 are still in the process of being assented to, while the Heads of State have withheld assent to the remaining eight Bills.
The Bills whose assent to is being withheld by the presidents include the East African Community Tourism and Wildlife Management Bill, 2010, the East African Community Service Commission Bill, 2011, the East African Community Transboundary Ecosystems Management Bill, 2012 and the East African Community Creative and Cultural Industries Bill, 2015.
Others are the East African Community Electronic Transactions Bill, 2015, the East African Community Forests Management and Protection Bill, 2015, the East African Community Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Bill, 2012 and the East African Community Persons with Disability Bill, 2015.
The MPs also accused the respective Committees of failure to address the concerns raised by the Partner States on the Bills that the heads of state have refused to assent to.