The East African Community (EAC) Meeting of the Council of Ministers opens this Monday morning in Arusha, Tanzania, to discuss the endless demand for allowances by East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA) MPs.
High on the agenda seen by ChimpReports is the consideration of the facilitation for EALA meetings held through video conference.
In August 2020, the MPs presented to the EAC Council of Ministers an invoice of $ 2,129,447 to cover their expenses for the period from March to August 2020.
These expenses included daily subsistence allowances (DSA) for travel and participation in “virtual” meetings (Zoom or videoconference) conducted by Members from their countries, or even from their places of residence.
At its 40th ordinary meeting held on February 25, 2021, the Council of Ministers “directed the Organs and Institutions of the Community to adhere to the existing Community Regulations on payment of DSA for only physical meeting, when persons in the service of the Community are on official duty and away from the station.”
The decision was later on upheld by the 42nd extra ordinary meeting of the Council held on May 7, 2021.
However, the members piled enormous pressure on their respective ministers and governments, saying they had already incurred costs through the virtual meetings held from March 2020 to 7th May 2021, hence the need for Council to reconsider the Council’s decisions.
$560 per zoom meeting
Yet, a study done by ChimpReports’ investigation team shows each Member of Parliament was claiming the sum of $560 per virtual meeting, even for meetings that lasted only 20 or 30 minutes.
For example, on August 27, 2020, the MPs held a virtual conference to consider and approve a vote on account for financial year 2020/21.
The meeting which started at 10:20am ended at 10:45am, lasting 25 minutes.
Earlier on August 12, a committee sat to deliberate on a vote of account from 9:28am to 10:00am.
The MPs held another meeting on the same topic from 10:00am to 11:20am on August 17.
On August 26, the lawmakers held another conference via zoom from 2:46pm to 3:09pm, lasting only 24 minutes.
Out of 11 meetings held between May 14 to September 2, EALA MPs asked to be paid $2m.
The total number of hours of the entire video conferences held in five months is 25.
Additionally, each MP is entitled to a monthly salary of over $6,000. It’s partly because of these reasons that several partner states rejected this bill.
The Ministers emphatically stated that some MPs never provided evidence to show that they actually traveled from their residences to EAC offices in their respective countries to hold zoom meetings.
According to the financial rules of the EAC, DSA can only be granted when a person travels and spends the night away from his place of residence.
For such meetings each claims $400 of Daily Subsistence Allowance (DSA) and $160 of sitting allowance, totaling to $560. This is the amount of money the MPs are entitled to while conducting business in Arusha, Tanzania.
An investigation by ChimpReports established that that the majority of the lawmakers held the virtual meetings from the cities where they live as transport was heavily restricted by their respective governments after the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.
Notably, the MPs forgot that they registered their places of abode (mainly respective home capital cities) with EAC before assuming office.
Additionally, most government buildings such as Ministries were literally closed with only essential staff allowed to work, leaving EALA MPs to work from their residences.
“So there was no travel at all for them. And according to the rules and regulations of EAC, Daily Subsistence Allowance (DSA) is received to help with hotel, food and other items when someone travels. We were surprised to see MPs claim all this money,” said an official at the EALA who asked to be protected to speak freely.
Each EALA MP now claims USD560 per virtual meeting held even from one’s home or in Ministry located about 1 or 2 kilometers away from their residences.
Meeting of Ministers
ChimpReports understands EALA MPs have not only piled pressure on their respective Ministers to clear the zoom conferences bill but also moved a motion to remove the acting EALA Clerk Charles Kadonya from office.
The angry lawmakers accused him of frustrating their efforts to access zoom conference allowances. This motion was moved and spearheaded by Ugandan lawmaker Mukasa Mbidde.
While MPs continue to pass big budgets for their allowances, other sectors remain underfunded.
From money contributed by partner states, EAC allocated in FY2020/21 a paltry of $201,170 to critical sectors.
For example, agriculture, food security and rural development took $21,250 while health sector was allocated $21,250 and industrial development settled for $25,000. The education sector was given $121,670 and $12,000 for the environment and natural resources.
Yet, in one month (21 days of meeting), EALA MPs are paid a total of $635,040 in sitting and daily subsistence allowances.
MPs increase number of meetings
The Extra Ordinary Council of Ministers is this Monday morning expected to consider and approve an additional fourteen (14) days per annum for EALA sessions to “cater for increased workload of the Assembly, leading to a revised total of eighty four (84) days for all the four (4) sessions of twenty one (21) days each.”
The Cost implication to the budget of the FY’2021/2022 would be (USD450+200) x14 for speaker Martin Ngoga and (USD400+160)x 53×14 for elected Members, and USD160x14x7 for ex-officio members, leading to an increment of USD440,300.
The EAC Ministers are also expected to approve an additional ten (10) days per annum for sessions of both the first instance and appellate divisions of EACJ to cater for increased number of cases handled by the Court.
The Ministers will also adopt additional budgets for FY’2021/2022 amounting to USD977,800 and USD104,500 respectively for EALA and EACJ, to be drown from the EAC General Reserve to fill the funding gap on some activities of EALA and EACJ, and refer the same to EALA for debate and approval.
As if this is not enough, the MPs claim the Assembly’s budget for sensitization was understated to only 4 days.
“There is need to add 10 days i.e. USD400x53x10 for elected members, USD450x10x1 for the speaker, and USD350X10x6 for staff facilitating the activities, leading to an increment of USD237, 500,” reads an internal memo seen exclusively by ChimpReports.
“The budget adopted by Council omitted the inter parliamentary games which are a critical activity for the Community. A budget amounting to USD300, 000 is requested,” the memo adds.
According to EALA, the Registrar of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) expressed the need for funding extra 10 days for the sessions of both the 1st Instance and Appellate divisions.
The cost implication is (USD450+250)x10x11 as DSA and seating allowance, as well as Transport cost of 250x10x11, bringing to a total of USD104,500.
Several lawmakers who talked to ChimpReports this Monday morning called on the Council of Ministers to reign in on the MPs’ “blatant greed” for money paid by poor taxpayers in their states.
“We have never seen such greed in the history of EALA,” said a retired lawmaker, adding, “The ball is in the courts of the Council of Ministers to do the right thing – stop the greed.”
Ugandan EALA Lawmaker Mukasa Mbidde reached out to ChimpReports to defend the contested ‘arrears.’
Mbidde said “these resources are not fresh earnings, they were budgeted for and spent in absentia.”
He added: “That’s why they are termed arrears.”
The audit of EALA for fiscal year 2018/2019 showed that travel expenses in excess of 6 million US dollars were made without supporting documentation.
“During the review of expenditure incurred by EALA in the year ended June 30, 2019, we noted that payments totaling USD 6,960,975 were not supported with sufficient documents,” reads the Audit report seen by ChimpReports.
Audit reports also showed that during fiscal years 2019/20 and 2020/21, EALA has already paid more than $2 million USD in travel expenses, still without sufficient supporting documents.