By James Karuhanga
Regional lawmakers have passed the East African Community Integrity and Anti-Corruption Bill, 2019 after inserting amendments to ensure that reports alleging corruption by the six-member bloc's Secretary General can also have clear channels of follow up. The key amendments were introduced in February and were subject for debate mid this past week, opening up legislative processes to enact the Bill.
Giving justification for the new changes, MP Amb Fatuma Ndangiza highlighted two main elements including to empower every East African and residents within the Community "to report acts of corruption and corrupt practices in addition to and notwithstanding the responsibility of the Secretary General and the Heads of organs and institutions of the Community."
She added: "It also provides for reports alleging corruption by the Secretary General to be made to the Council of Ministers."
Under the EAC Treaty, Ndangiza noted, and regulation eight of the financial rules and regulations, the Secretary General is responsible and accountable to the Council, the policy organ of the bloc.
With the new changes, the Secretary General, as principal executive officer of the EAC, will be required to develop mechanisms for reporting corruption and corrupt practices and centralised programmes for creating awareness.
These shall be applicable to all organs and institutions of the regional economic community which comprises Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and South Sudan but is now looking to welcome DR Congo, in the near future.
In October 2019, EALA's Standing Committee on Regional Affairs and Conflict Resolutions traversed the region to consult stakeholders in each country about the Bill. After scrutiny of the Bill the Committee presented a report to the House in February. While debating the Bill, some lawmakers noted that it was not clear on reporting in case the Secretary-General is alleged to be involved in corruption. The House therefore referred the matter to the committee to come up with a proposed ammendment to the bill to cater for that anomaly.
A new clause has also been inserted to the effect that the Council shall at least once very year, submit a report to the regional Parliament on measures and programmes taken to prevent and combat corruption in the bloc. It will include number of reports made to national anti-corruption agencies and any action in respect to the any report.
Existing frameworks to combat corruption
Currently, there exists only few frameworks for preventing and combating corruption within the community - the EAC staff rules and regulations and the EAC Anti-corruption Policy of 2006, as well as the EALA and EAC court of justice codes of conduct.
These tools, however, do not have sanctions to stop EAC employees from engaging in corruption.
Once passed, it is hoped, the legislation will stem cases of graft, wasteful expenditure, irregular recruitment, use of wrong procurement methods and other corrupt tendencies that have drained the bloc.
Among other cases on record, EALA's report on the audited accounts of the EAC for the year ended June 30, 2016 - filed mid 2018 - highlighted irregular transactions of Rwf5 million ($6,000) and Rwf26 million ($32,000) in one of the Community's new institutions in two consecutive days.
Seven years ago, an audit of the Secretariat revealed cases of wasteful expenditure, questionable payments and weaknesses in procurement management, with the Secretariat reportedly spending about $3.4 million during the 2012/2013 financial year on uncalled-for procurement of air tickets, accounting for about 10 per cent of its total expenditure during the year under review.
At the time, the Arusha-based Secretariat refuted the claims.
The world will commemorate international anti- corruption day on December 9 and, Amb. Ndangiza told The New Times, "it is heartening to note that the East African Legislative Assembly has responded to this global call and EAC Treaty commitment to promoting accountable governance by passing the Bill."
"Corruption is a cancer that affects all areas of societal transformation and undermines effective and efficient utilization of resources which come from our tax payers, the citizens of EAC as well as tax payers of development partners," she said.
"Preventing and combatting corruption and corrupt practices is every one's right and responsiblity. It is one thing to pass a Bill by the Assembly but for it to be an Act of the Community requires the highest political will of the six Heads of state by assenting to the Bill."
The Bill is among the unfinished business of the third Assembly whose tenure ended in December 2017. It was initially conceived by Kenyan lawmaker Zain Abubakar, former Chairperson of EALA's Committee on Regional Affairs and Conflict Resolutions during the third Assembly.
The tenure of the current fourth Assembly will elapse in December 2022. The lawmakers are hoping the Bill will be passed into Law and approved by regional leaders before their tenure ends.
Ndangiza said their hope is that "the assent will be fast tracked" so as to contribute to effective, accountable and transparent EAC organs and institutions towards a culture of integrity and zero tolerance to corruption.
This article originally appeared in The New Times.