As another cycle of the East African Community comes to an end with the appointment of a new Secretary General in the next few days, critics have described the tenure of the outgoing East African Community Secretary General Liberat Mfumukeko as a “disaster” and lacking in consensus building.
Mr Mfumukeko, a Burundian, was appointed during the February 2016 Summit of EAC Heads of State to replace Rwanda’s Dr. Richard Sezibera. His appointment took effect from April 26, 2016.
The EAC Heads of State Summit is now set to appoint his successor on February 27, when his term expires.
Based on the four pillars of the EAC – Customs Union, Common Market Protocol, Monetary Union and Political Federation – critics aver that none of those registered any meaningful development during Mfumukeko’s five-year tenure.
Instead, they accuse him of having been at loggerheads with almost all the major organs of EAC, including the Council of Ministers, East African Legislative Assembly and the East African Court of Justice.
The Council of Ministers chairperson Prof Manasseh Nshuti, also Rwanda’s Minister of State in charge of EAC Affairs, declined to comment on Mfumukeko’s tenure.
“There are many things including relationships with other EAC organs that could have been done better. But I will not comment much because my sentiments could be taken out of context,” said Prof Nshuti.
A section of staff who requested anonymity, EALA members, and heads of various EAC organs who did not want to be named, described him as arrogant, undiplomatic, insensitive, incompetent and out of touch with reality.
“He failed to offer the needed leadership. During his time, the Community has drifted apart and the organs and institutions of the EAC are almost dysfunctional and not moving in the same direction,” said Abdikadir Aden, MP, EALA.
“His relationship with the other EAC organs, including EALA, can only be described as a disaster,” he added.
Members of the General Purpose Committee responsible for the budget making process at EALA says he failed to initiate any meaningful legislative agenda.
EALA MPs accused him of being petty and unresponsive to the needs of the Assembly and they claim he starved them of funds.
“The role of the Secretary General is to ensure the concerns of the organs are the concerns of the Community as the accounting officer. He is the one who is supposed to look for money from the donors and partner states. And ensure there is funding for EAC activities,” said Denis Namara, chairperson the Committee on General Purpose.
“But when you find the SG does not look for money and doesn’t ensure the organs are running smoothly, how do you rate him? I can only describe his performance as very poor and the worst we ever had at the EAC,” added Mr Namara.
He also said that the EAC Budget Appropriation Bill for the 2020/21 is yet to be signed by the Heads of State Summit thereby starving the Assembly of funds.
“He brought the budget Bill in July 2020 instead of April. Up to now we do not have a budget signed by the Summit.”
He has also been described as being poor at human resource management as Secretariat staff on short contracts ended up working longer than their contracts required. At one time he defied the Council directive to stop staff recruitment.
Mr Namara blames the SG for failing to ensure partner states remitted their contributions on time.
Burundi, his home country, is yet to remit over $12 million and South Sudan owes the Community $27 million.
“He failed to ensure his home country, Burundi, and South Sudan remitted their contributions on time. I even doubt if he ever set foot in South Sudan to persuade them to pay up,” said Mr Namara.
But in his defence, Mr Mfumukeko dismissed the claims by the EALA chairperson, stating that he mobilised funds for major organs and programmes run by the Community.
“Funds were raised for institutions which execute development programmes. I definitely raised funds for EAC Secretariat, Lake Victoria Basin Commission, LVFO, IUCEA (education), CASSOA (aviation), Health Research Commission, and Partner States for programmes implemented by them,” said Mr Mfumukeko.
“EALA’s mandate is not to execute development programmes, they mainly have a legislative and oversight mandate. On some sensitisation and other activities where I would have been able to negotiate funds for EALA, I never received any proposal from them. Other institutions send proposals to my office.”
On the financial contributions from Burundi he said the delays in remittances did not start during his tenure.
“I tried my best to push them and as a matter of fact in January 2021 Burundi made two payments and will soon pay entirely the arrears for FY 2019/2020,” Mr Mfumukeko explained.
“The Secretariat has sent reminders for payment to all partner states including South Sudan. The Secretariat does not have the power to apply sanctions on any country; only the Summit does.”
He however acknowledged that delayed contributions by EAC partner states affected implementation of annual operational plans.
“Also, this results in some organs putting the blame on the EAC Secretariat that holds the overall management and administration of the Community.”
He defended his tenure saying under Customs Union and Common Market, his office oversaw the construction of 15 one stop border posts, built and operationalised.
“Customs offices were provided with state of the art technology and officers were trained. This has reduced the tremendous cost of customs clearance and the duration for crossing the borders,” said Mr Mfumukeko.
On free movement of labour and services, he claims to have initiated the East African international e-passport launch in 2017.
“For the first time our citizens are traveling worldwide with the same passport under the identity of “East Africans.” This is a major step in our integration journey.”
During his tenure, the EACJ failed to operate for the better part of the 2020 because of lack of Judges and funding.
Under the Monetary Union pillar, the Summit recommended the setting up of a monetary institute in 2016. But to date there is no institute in place.
Instead Mr Mfumukeko blamed the sluggish performance of the EAC to lack unity of purpose among the EAC organs.
“Bureaucracy and long processes in decision-making; too many operational functions of the EAC Secretariat require authorisation by EAC Partner States,” he explained.