The East African Community could face a financial and operational crisis following the postponement of the Heads of State summit, for the second time in 90 days.
The EAC presidents’ summit, which was initially scheduled for November 30, 2019, and re-scheduled for February 29, 2020, has been postponed yet again due to a lack of quorum.
In a three-paragraph letter released last week, Secretary General Liberat Mfumukeko said he had received a letter from the chairman of the EAC Council of Ministers, Olivier Nduhungirehe, indicating that South Sudan was unable to attend both meetings.
In his letter dated February 21, 2020, Mr Nduhungirehe said a new date would be set after consultations with partner states.
Quorum for the East African Community Heads of State Summit is attained when all partner members are represented, according to Rule 11 of the Rules of Procedure. This is in keeping with the EAC’s mode of decision-making by consensus, under Article 12 of the Treaty.
In a letter sent to partner states, Mr Mfumukeko also postponed the 41st Extra-Ordinary Meeting of the Council of Ministers that was scheduled to take place from February 25-27, 2020 at the EAC headquarters in Arusha.
The Summit, comprising heads of government of partner states who include presidents Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), John Pombe Magufuli (Tanzania), Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Pierre Nkurunziza (Burundi) and Salva Kiir (South Sudan), is the highest decision-making organ of the EAC, which is responsible for charting strategic direction of the trading bloc.
The Council of Ministers meeting is held immediately preceding a Heads of State Summit, and is considered the central decision-making and governing organ of the EAC.
The Council, whose membership constitutes ministers or Cabinet secretaries from the partner states whose dockets are responsible for regional co-operation, plays a critical role in maintaining a link between the political decisions taken at the Summits and the day-to-day functioning of the Community.
Failure of the EAC to hold both the Council and Summit meetings within the stipulated time has far-reaching consequences, not only on the financial viability of the bloc but also on the functions of its major institutions that include the regional parliament and court.
The postponement means that more than 21 Bills by the East African Legislative Assembly will not be assented to, thereby delaying critical Community agenda.
The Summit was also expected to appoint more judges to the East African Court of Justice bench to expedite the backlog of cases.
The most critical impact is a delay in passing the EAC Secretariat’s budget, whose approval to execute is only granted by the Heads of State.
While Mr Mfumukeko acknowledged that delayed decisions could slow down the Community’s integration agenda, he declined to assign blame.
“The EAC organs and institutions have always discharged their mandate despite the delays in disbursements,” he said in an interview. “Indeed, sovereign states do not fail in their financial obligations, hence a possibility for the Secretariat to enjoy a credit facility from its suppliers/providers of goods/services. In a few instances meetings have been postponed, but held within the following month.”
It is not yet clear when the Summit will be convened again, as South Sudan, which called for the postponement, is yet to constitute a Cabinet.
South Sudan is in the process of forming a Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) following a compromise between President Salva Kiir, opposition leader Riek Machar and other groups.
South Sudan has proposed that the EAC Heads of State Summit and the Council of Ministers meetings be held in mid-March when the TGoNU is in place.
High on the agenda of the 21st EAC Heads of State Summit is a review of the four pillars of the bloc — the Customs Union, Common Market, Monetary Union and the Political Federation.
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s application to join the bloc is also expected to be discussed.