Government of Burundi will table a proposal to have its share of annual payment to the East African Community (EAC) bloc reduced.
Minister for EAC, Isabelle Ndahayo informed the Burundian Parliament on Thursday that Burundi should not be required to pay the same as its neighbors yet the economies and size were different.
Ndahayo has prepared a raft of proposals Burundi will file with EAC. Among them is to ask for a review of the contributions that member states make to the EAC Secretariat based in the northern Tanzania city of Arusha.
The EAC has Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and new entrant South Sudan.
In July, the EA Legislative Assembly approved a $111.4m budget for the 2019-2020 financial year. It will take care of the bloc’s institutions including the court and various projects.
$57m is supposed to come from member states and the rest $54m from development partners.
However, Burundi and South Sudan have not been sending the contributions in full, and some years not paying at all.
As a result, the Secretariat, incidentally led by Burundian Secretary General Mfumukeko Liberat, is even struggling to pay staff.
For example, the hiring of staff and renewal of contracts for about 60 short-term staffers has been put on hold.
Kenya and Tanzania, the region’s giants, have been the ones sustaining the Secretariat. However, since 2017, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam have also been holding back from sending their portions – quietly arguing that if others aren’t that enthusiastic about paying their dues, why should they be in any hurry.
Speaking in Rwanda in March at the closed-door retreat of EAC ministers and key officials of the bloc, Mfumukeko laid it all bare in his opening speech.
As of January 2019, less than 5 months to end of the 2018-2019 financial year, member states had only remitted 45% of the total cash obligations.
“Consequently, several activities have been postponed due to lack of funds”, Mfumukeko told the Council of Ministers.
In her parliamentary speech this Thursday, Burundi’s EAC Minister Ndahayo also informed lawmakers that she would seek to have French language adopted as one of the official languages of the bloc to join English and Swahili.
But going by the prevailing geopolitical dynamics, say observers, it remains to be seen from which forum Minister Ndahayo will raise her proposal.
The bloc’s leaders summit is in disarray, amid Burundi’s unresolved fight with Rwanda, and the latter’s ongoing fallout with Uganda.
In February, President Paul Kagame took over as rotating chair of the Summit from Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni. The transfer of power had also come with difficulty. Leaders had failed to meet as the summit was postponed twice.
Kagame said at the Ministers’ Kigali retreat that the bloc’s leaders needed to address three challenges.
Firstly, “We urgently need to get our house in order…,” said Kagame; adding that the second issue is: “We have to urgently unblock obstacles in ongoing projects and to allow ourselves to finish the good work we have started together”.
The third issue, which the president said should guide the retreat was: “There is nothing wrong with being ambitious”
He noted: “Many of these require little more than political will. Even small triumphs generate so much goodwill and increase the trust of our people in the EAC. So why deprive ourselves of success that we need, and that is within reach?”.