By Philip Buda Ladu
The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) has blamed the South Sudan’s Minister of East African Affairs, Deng Alor Kuol for delaying the full integration of South Sudan into the six-member EAC economic bloc.
Minister Alor has been accused of nearly two years’ absentia from attending the House business sittings since his appointment by President Salva Kiir as South Sudan Minister of EAC Affairs in 2020.
The EALA members said Alor has never participated even once be it physically or virtually.
On Tuesday, EALA resolved to adjourn a debate on a report on the progress made in integrating South Sudan into the six-member bloc’s Customs Union.
The decision was reached by the EALA lawmakers in order to send a strong message to Juba that its Minister in charge of EAC Affairs failed to appear in the House for nearly two years.
Lawmakers decided that they adjourned the debate on the report till Wednesday with the hope that Deng Alor Kuol, South Sudan’s Minister in charge of EAC Affairs shows up, either physically or virtually.
Abdullah Hasnuu Makame, a Tanzanian MP was quoted by The New Times Rwanda’s leading daily as saying, the Minister had “consistently” not appeared despite the fact that “we’ve been flexible; amended our rules and we have virtual procedures whereby a member who cannot be here physically can attend virtually”.
South Sudan was admitted into the EAC bloc in October 2016, becoming the sixth partner state.
“The business here is to discuss how we can integrate our newest member in the Community and I think the front-line person in that discussion should be the Minister from that country” said EALA’s Speaker Martin Ngoga.
“So, what is the message he is sending to this House? Should we start with the process of integrating the Minister before we integrate the Republic of South Sudan? It is a very unfortunate situation. If it was a one-off incident, it wouldn’t be an issue but this is someone we’ve never seen,” Speaker Ngoga reiterated.
Kuol was appointed to the post in June 2020 then became ex-officio of the regional Parliament.
Article 48 of the EAC Treaty requires Ministers in charge of EAC Affairs to attend and follow proceedings in the House and due to the Covid-19 pandemic, amendments were made to House rules to permit members who cannot attend physically to at least attend online.
Technically, though South Sudan has nine lawmakers in the Assembly, if a question is raised on the floor about matters pertaining to the country, none of its MPs can competently or legally answer.
Ngoga stressed that the absence of the South Sudan EAC Affairs’ minister was offending them and also offending the purpose for which they are sitting at the assembly and the purpose for which the Republic of South Sudan is a member of the East African Community.
Mary Mugyenyi, a Ugandan EALA lawmaker thereafter moved a motion that the Assembly postpones the presentation of the report by EALA’s committee on communication, trade and investment until Kuol shows up and the South Sudanese lawmakers also voted for the motion.
Meanwhile, No. 1 Citizen Daily Newspaper’s efforts to reach the South Sudan Minister of Cabinet Affairs, Dr. Martin Elia Lomuro for comment on Minister Deng Alor’s inactiveness in the EAC’s activities were not immediately successful as he couldn’t pick calls and only texted that he was out of the country.
The New Times highlighted the issues hindering South Sudan integration.
In the course of their oversight activity, the EALA Committee on South Sudan integration process noted several challenges hindering the country’s progress towards integrating the administration of its Customs into the EAC Customs Union.
The Republic of South Sudan’s shift in priority activities which has been geared towards peace and national building as opposed to integration initiatives was one of the elements, the Committee report indicated.
Then there are disparities in policy, legal and regulatory frameworks in South Sudan with EAC, as well as the fact that the country’s judicial system is based on the Arabic system “which makes it challenging” for the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to incorporate the laws and regulations of the EAC.
Lawmakers also observed, among others, that the grace period requested by Juba to commence the implementation of EAC protocols – particularly the EAC Customs Union instruments – ended in October 2019 but “South Sudan has not formally communicated its request for an extension of the grace period, The New Times, Rwanda reported.