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EALA: $2m COVID-19 Zoom Allowance Scandal Deepens

East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) MPs who are demanding a refund of $2m in allowance arrears for virtual meetings held during the COVID-19 pandemic break usually met for less than one hour.

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.

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This means EAC taxpayers who foot the regional assembly’s bill will pay $80,000 for every hour of each virtual conference held by EALA MPs in the last five months.

Interestingly, the 5-month MPs’ zoom meetings focused on discussing Rules of Procedure for virtual meetings and sittings of the Assembly and appointment of standing committees.

An investigation by ChimpReports has 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.

Additionally, most government buildings such as Ministries were literally closed with only essential staff allowed to work.

“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.

Tanzania furious

ChimpReports understands this greed has angered Tanzania which recently blocked EALA’s plan to borrow money from the General Reserve Account to pay allowances for the lawmakers.

“With regret, I wish to inform you that the United Republic of Tanzania was not consulted and in that respect has not consented to the borrowing of $1.5m and $165,339 from IUCEA and LVFO, respectively,” said Tanzania’s Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson, Amb Wilbert Ibuge in a letter to EAC SG Liberat Mfumukeko dated Sept.10, 2020.

Amb Ibuge said while Tanzania was fully committed with ensuring EAC secretariat delivers on its mandate, “it is imperative that efforts be redoubled to ensure a sustained flow of partner states’ contributions, including by way of direct engagement with concerned partner states to as to allay the recurrent practice of borrowing funds elsewhere, a situation that is essentially unsustainable.”

Tanzania’s resistance to EALA MPs’ self-indulgence has since sparked anger among the lawmakers who have vowed to block the passing of EAC’s budget unless their allowances are paid.

On September 14, Denis Namara (Uganda), who chairs the Committee on General Purpose said his group “resolved to suspend the consideration of Budget estimates” until “payment of all arrears owed to the Members and staff for the activities undertaken between the months of March-June, 2020”

In a letter to EALA Speaker Martin Ngoga, Namara said the EAC budget would only be approved after “payment of members for all activities related to the consideration of the vote-on-account and the budget estimates for the Financial Year 2020/21.”

Officials on Thursday told this investigative website that the main reason why MPs are delaying the passing of the budget is to “add meetings days (thus money) during the time they are supposedly considering the budget.”

Yet, this budget was approved by the EAC Partner States through the Finance and Administration Committee meeting held in March 2020 with Senior Officials from all Ministries of Finance and EAC Affairs, and was adopted by the EAC Council of Ministers meeting held on August 4.

“One wonders what the MPs are now examining … what expertise they are bringing that the EAC and Partner States do not have. And they don’t care whether EAC operates or not,” said a senior official at EALA.

Efforts to reach EAC Secretary General, Liberat Mfumukeko were still futile when we posted this article.

In Kampala, this website is informed that Presidents Yoweri Museveni and Tanzania’s John Magufuli have been informed about the MPs’ decision to block the EAC budget which could undermine efforts aimed at achieving regional integration.

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