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Mistrust, cries of unfairness as states fall out over EAC job vacancies

Monday October 18 2021
East African Community offices

East African Community offices in Arusha, Tanzania. FILE PHOTO | NMG

By LUKE ANAMI
By MOSES HAVYARIMANA

A dispute over the distribution of jobs in the organs of the East African Community, which has simmered for close to a decade, came to a head last week when the bloc’s legislative assembly blocked the hiring of House clerks, citing irregularities in the recruitment process.

Cat-and-mouse games unfolded in the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) in Arusha over the hiring of a clerk and a deputy, signalling festering discontent with the staffing ratios in the Community.

Ugandan legislators, led by Denis Namara, have been at the forefront of the quest for equity in the recruitment of staff, dramatically staging walkouts that made Speaker Martin Ngoga suspend sittings on Tuesday through to Thursday due to lack of quorum.

The Eala started sittings in Arusha on October 3 and are expected to run until October 20.

The EAC Secretariat, early this year, advertised at least 60 vacant positions whose filling has unveiled bad blood and unhealthy competition among the six partner states.

An extraordinary Council of Ministers meeting scheduled for last Wednesday, which was expected to finalise the staff recruitment process, had to be moved to a later date, perhaps in the next week, at the prompting of Uganda’s EAC Affairs Minister Rebecca Kadaga, who had reportedly travelled.

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Defer interviews

Later on Friday, Ms Kadaga wrote to the Secretary-General demanding that the interviews set for October 18 for various advertised jobs at the EAC organs and institutions be deferred.

“As you are aware, EAC partner States agreed that a partner state must have points in order for its citizens to be considered eligible candidates and that at the beginning of each recruitment exercise the EAC Secretariat shall inform each partner state about her balance of weighted points (refer to Article 4.6 of the Operational Manual for Implementation of the Quota System). In respect to the above, this is to inform you that the Republic of Uganda requests postponement of the interviews... until the Secretariat submits the available quota points for each partner state as at the time/date of advertising the jobs,” the later dated October 15, 2021 reads.

Some have read mischief in the Ugandan MPs’ manoeuvres, saying they have gone to great lengths to have their way.

In a motion tabled in the Assembly, Mr Namara, chair of the General Purpose (Budget) Committee, insisted that the process of recruiting a House clerk and deputy, advertised in July, failed to adhere to the EAC’s quota system, which espouses equity in staffing.

“We want the EAC to suspend the entire staff recruitment exercise for violating the principles and regulations and objectives of integration, the Treaty, the Staff Rules and Regulations and operational manual for implementation of the quota system,” said Mr Namara.

“We call for a forensic audit into the quota system and restrictions applied to citizens for partner states in the job advertisements, receiving of applications, profiling, short-listing and interviewing of candidates in the ongoing recruitment exercise,” he added.

Mr Namara wants an independent firm appointed to conduct the interviews.

Deputy clerk hiring

Eala has not had substantive clerks. The current holders of the position have six-month non-renewable contracts pending appointments.

The advertisement sought a candidate who once served as a deputy clerk, consequently favouring a Ugandan applicant who was formerly a deputy clerk.

But the panel, comprising clerks of the national assemblies from each partner state, perhaps avoiding past staff of the Community, settled for a candidate from Tanzania. This did not go down well with the Ugandan MPs, who then moved to file a minority motion to express their displeasure.

The Ugandan lawmakers argue that Alex Lumumba Obatre scored the highest marks against competitor Saidi Othman Yakubu from Tanzania.

Documents in the possession of the MPs, which The EastAfrican saw but whose authenticity could not be immediately established, point to this assertion.

“Let the jobs be given on merit,” said Ugandan lawmaker Suzan Nakawuki.

On Tuesday Mr Namara, while moving his motion, said: “The advert sought someone who has at least served at the level of a deputy clerk but they want to bring us someone who was a secretary of the Speaker and we are saying that’s not acceptable.” He noted that Rwanda and South Sudan have no staff while Burundi has one and Uganda two.

“And yet some people want to give more to Tanzania (which has four) and Kenya, which has three,” said Mr Namara.

“If we don’t fight hard, the system will marginalise us in the Community,” said Paul Musamali, another Ugandan legislator.

The MPs accused Speaker Ngoga of bias. The diplomatic bad blood between Uganda and Rwanda also seemed to play out, with Mr Ngoga (a Rwandan) at some point offering to step aside and allow someone else to lead the proceedings.

“Throughout my career, I have applied standards that are beyond suspicion,” said Mr Ngoga. “I can apply Rule 41 and have somebody else handle this … I don’t want to preside over a process where some feel not fairly treated.”

On October 12, the Tanzanian legislators set the stage for a crisis after they walked out of the chambers, paralysing debate, then the following two days the Ugandans and South Sudanese also stayed away.

Juba chapter

So high are the stakes that the Juba MPs ousted their chair, Thomas Dut Gatkek, and replaced him with Dr Anne Itto Leonardo. In a letter dated October 14, addressed to the Undersecretary of the South Sudan EAC Affairs ministry, Andrea Malueth, the MPs said they had arrived at the decision during a meeting in Arusha on Wednesday.

“We and the Ugandan chapter are concerned about the unfairness of the recruitment process. The quota system has not been used, so we want the recruitment process to stop so that it can start correctly,” Dr Itto told The EastAfrican.

She said they are fighting for justice and fairness in recruitment.

The Juba Chapter wants affirmative action applied so that South Sudanese benefit the way Rwanda and Burundi did upon joining the bloc. Dr Mathuki, in a letter dated October 13 acknowledged their quest and promised to act on it.

“We seek the Council’s concurrence on the current recruitment and for the 15 positions that were not shortlisted. This was done for the Republic of Rwanda and Republic of Burundi when they joined the community,” says Dr Mathuki in his letter to Council chair Adan Mohamed.

The rules and regulations require that the recruitment of staff be done in a quota system, to reflect the equal representation of partner states.

Tanzanian lawmaker Abdullah Hasnuu Makame, however, said the matter should be left to the Council of Ministers.

“We shouldn’t be talking about this here because our mandate is to represent people and make laws and oversight and the council has already said that this is not where it should be discussed. The thing is, every process was followed and all countries were represented,” he said.

EAC Secretary-General Dr Mathuki agreed with the legislator.

“Recruitment in the EAC, including short-listing and profiling, is carried out by the Council of Ministers. For EALA staff it is the clerks of national assemblies of partner states who carry out the interviews, then take their report to the Council. The Council makes the final decision. The SG can then issue appointment letters. The process is still on and the appointments are yet to be finalised,” he said.

The EAC has failed to recruit staff for close to 10 years due to differences among partner states. Last month, two Ugandan nationals moved to the East African Court of Justice seeking to halt the current recruitment.

In 2006, the Council issued the EAC Staff Rules and Regulations. Under this process, the Secretary-General advertises, shortlists no more than three candidates from each partner state for each position; chairs an interview panel made up of representatives from each partner state, EAC organ and institution.

But this process was faulted after allegations of nepotism, favouritism and corruption at the EAC secretariat. Citizens of East Africa, a lobby, petitioned the Council, seeking to block a July 2020 recruitment, citing irregularities.

The petitioners accused the Secretariat officials of soliciting bribes from applicants, communicating wrong dates to some short-listed candidates, shredding applications, leaking interview questions, and altering marks to favour others, among other issues.

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