WEDNESDAY, March 2 2016. Leaders from the then five East African Community (EAC) Partner States are anxiously waiting for the start of the 17th ordinary EAC Heads of State summit inside the erstwhile expansive Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge.
One leader from the bloc couldn’t help but wonder why such a high profile meeting could have been convened at such a venue. Many didn’t seem to understand; after all he had hardly clocked six months since assuming the country’s top most office.
President John Magufuli, who was to assume the EAC Chairmanship, openly put the Secretariat on notice that the days of wanton spending are past. For instance, he questioned the rationale of holding the summit at an exclusive resort when the Secretariat boasts of modern conference facilities.
“The EAC Secretariat should understand that the partner states are poor countries. I don’t want it to be a parasite,” warned the President. He also lashed out at the Secretariat on its lavish spending on meetings and travels, accusing it of reaping off the region’s poor instead of working for them.
“The budget the Secretariat is spending per head in this hotel to host us for this Summit could have been saved to do other important things for the poor people in the EAC,” said President Magufuli. He also accused the regional office of only drafting positive proposals to make money and not those that benefit the poor people in EAC.
Dr Magufuli wondered why the summit was being held at a venue where up to 104,355/- (45 US dollars) was paid for each delegate per day. President Magufuli called for austerity measures as the guiding principle of the Secretariat’s expenditure, given the financial challenges facing the economic bloc.
Five years on, his message has had a spiraling effect on the regional intergovernmental organisation of the six Partner States. The EAC would then reduce its travel expenditures by 28 per cent between May and November of 2016.
While the secretariat’s travel expenditure between the period of May and November 2015 stood at 9.9million US dollars, the same expenditure during May-November 2016 was shelved down to 7.1million US dollars, which is a 2.75million US dollars reduction. The secretariat had already reduced its budget by 23 per cent in the 2016/2017 financial year.
In his 2017 New Year message to the staff of the EAC organs and institutions, the outgoing community’s Secretary General, Ambassador Libérat Mfumukeko urged the staff to be ready for many other such financial reforms within the secretariat. The EAC boss said his office would continue to strengthen the financial controls and undertake further critical measures.
“When I was appointed in March last year, the Chair of the Summit gave me a clear directive to institute reforms that would contain our expenditures and improve our way of doing business…I can tell you that I know some of the measures will be stringent and painful but we shall all celebrate the end results. I therefore call upon all of you to adjust and cooperate as we implement the same,” insisted the diplomat.
Ambassador Mfumukeko would later reveal that in October 2016, the EAC Secretariat had saved 588,768 US dollars in travel expenditures alone.
According to Mfumukeko, the reforms focused on cutting any wastage, containing and reducing travel where all EAC staff must spend 50 per cent of their time in Arusha and also hold 25 per cent of their meetings via video conference facilities.