EABC DIRECTORS ENGAGE H.E PAUL KAGAME ON ADVANCING THE ROLE OF THE PRIVATE SECTOR IN THE EAC INTEGRATION PROCESS

Mr. Denis Karera, EABC Vice Chair, Mr. John Bosco Rusagara, EABC Board Directors and Hon.Peter Mathuki, EABC CEO engage H.E Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda & the Chairperson of the Summit of EAC  Heads of State in a bid to chart ways to accelerate regional integration. This took place during the strategic retreat of the EAC Council of Ministers and Heads of EAC Organs and Institutions held on 29th March 2019 at the Kigali Convention Centre.

 

The Chairperson of the Summit of East African Community Heads of State, H.E. Paul Kagame, urged EAC Partner States to urgently address all matters impeding the swift implementation of the various regional integration projects and programmes.

 “There is an urgent need to take ownership of this integration agenda, and this includes the Partner States remitting statutory contributions on time,” said President Kagame. “As the African continent is coming together, the EAC has all that is needed and all that it takes to lead this process at the continental level,” he added.

President Kagame was speaking when he officially opened a Strategic Retreat of the EAC Council of Ministers and Heads of EAC Organs and Institutions at the Kigali Convention Center in Kigali, Rwanda. The 29th  March, 2019 Retreat was held under the theme: “Renewing our commitment to the objectives of the Community, accelerating our integration agenda.”

President Kagame noted that the Retreat offers an opportunity to focus on the EAC vision, and to make concrete plans on how this vision can be achieved.

President Kagame further said that that the EAC regional integration agenda should be focused on the people and the business community.

“We have to listen to the people and to the businesses and it is only by working together that we will be able to spur economic growth in our region,” he said.

In his remarks, EAC Secretary General Amb. Liberat Mfumukeko, said that the Retreat presented a key platform to not only celebrate the achievements registered by the Community in the past 20 years but also an opportunity to collectively address the challenges in implementing the EAC integration agenda.

Amb. Mfumukeko said that since the Treaty for the Establishment of the EAC was signed 20 years ago, the EAC had registered great achievements. These include the implementation of various projects and programmes under the Customs Union, Common Mark, Monetary Unions and Political Federation Pillars.

“Besides the multiple achievements registered, there are several challenges that hinder the effective implementation of the EAC integration agenda,” said Amb Mfumukeko, adding that non-compliance to signed Protocols by the Partner States remains a crucial hurdle for the Community.

“In July 2019, we will be marking nine (9) years since the Common Market Protocol came into force. Unfortunately, some Partner States are yet to approximate or harmonize their national laws, policies and systems. As a result, the full implementation of the Common Market protocol remains challenging. Subsequently, the free movement of persons and factors of production anticipated to spur regional economic growth remain restrained,” said the Secretary General.

Amb. Mfumukeko said that Secretariat often times receives many complaints from the citizens on the various challenges they face at customs and immigration desks. These include: the denial of entry into a Partner State without being furnished with the reasons for the denial; the confiscation of travel documents by immigration officials upon arrival into a Partner State followed by the requirement to report to a police station daily, similarly without due process. Students enrolled in Universities different from their Partner State of origin were also still being charged tuition fees as an International Student.

“These not only restrict the free movement of persons as enshrined in the Common Market Protocol, but also water down the achievements of the Community,” added the Secretary General.

Amb Mfumukeko further reiterated that while the late disbursement of statutory contributions by the Partner States to the EAC affects the implementation of EAC activities,  50% of the EAC main budget was currently donor-funded and appealed to the Partner States to establish an alternative financing mechanism for the Community.

The Secretary General also urged the Council of Ministers to review the decision making process of the Community to ensure efficiency and timeliness.

“There are issues that have been on the table for more than eight (8) years, such as the Institutional Review and the Alternative Financing Mechanism for the Community”, he said.

“Several Sectoral Councils have been established to better facilitate the implementation of the various EAC Sectoral projects and programmes. In addition, several committees have also been established. While the initial intent was to create an avenue for quick decision-making and speedy implementation activities, this is not necessarily the case today. With time, the EAC is witnessing several Sectoral Councils whose mandate overlaps with other Sectoral Councils, and the same applies for Committees,” said Amb. Mfumukeko.

The Secretary General, therefore, urged the Council of Ministers to revisit the roles, composition and functions of various Sectoral Councils and Committees.

In his welcoming remarks, Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs and EAC Cooperation, Hon. Dr. Richard Sezibera said that the Retreat comes at a time when there was a need to assess fundamental issues affecting EAC integration.

“While we have achieved much, there is always room to assess our progress and plan on ways to better deliver our agenda,” said Dr. Sezibera, who is also the Chairperson of the EAC Council of Ministers.

During the retreat Hon. Mathuki, EABC CEO presented on the role and expectations of the private sector in the EAC integration process. He emphasized that based on EAC Treaty principle of “ a people-centered and market-driven co-operation” the private sector is the recognized engine of growth is supposed to play a critical role in wealth creation, employment generation and contributing to government revenues. He noted that businesses play a significant role in improving and increasing EAC product competitiveness, especially in the export of locally manufactured products.

Sustainable economic development of EAC depends on the vibrancy of its business community, which in turn requires a business climate conducive to trade and investment, demonstrated in a range of private sector development policies and institutions, infrastructure, access to services and supporting laws and regulations.

He shared private sector perspectives on the achievements of the  EAC protocols and commitments such as larger market with the expansion of EAC membership, easier of cross-border movements through the introduction of an EAC passport & interstate passes, One Stop Border posts & reduction of time to clear goods, harmonization of standards, reduction in work permit fees. He shared private sector concerns while doing business across the region as follows:

  • Failure by Partner States to fully implement commitments under Customs Union and Common Market e.g. under CU –many exemptions, none uniform implementation of CET, NTBs related to RoO, charges of equivalent effect etc.
  • Under Common Market –restrictions on the movement of agreed 7 services sectors,      temporary movement of services suppliers, movement of workers etc.
  • Failure by Partner States to implement the agreed commitments
  • Failure by EAC Partner States to have a common stand on issues related to EAC engagement with the Rest of the World e.g. EAC-EU-Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA)
  • Preference of national sovereignty to regional integration
  • The reluctance of EAC Partner States to cede power to regional organs i.e. EAC Secretariat. Much of Power is still at national level hence the challenge to enforce regionally agreed decisions/agreements.
  • Decision-making process at EAC is too long because of the Principle of Consensus). Private Sector would like decisions to be made and implemented at a faster speed.

The strategic retreat of EAC Council of Ministers and Heads of EAC Organs and Institution made the following resolutions:

State of implementation of the EAC integration pillars

  • Enforce the common external tariff and stop granting stays of application to facilitate trade in the region by 1st July 2019.
  • Facilitate the development of common standards in the region by:
  • Building the requisite capacity of the national standards bodies across the region to deliver their mandate.
  • Direct National standard bodies to conclude mutual recognition agreements to ensure disputes on standards of goods at border points are eliminated.
  • Direct the EAC secretariat to develop an enforcement mechanism for the purpose of implementing mutual recognition agreements.
  • Ensuring the interconnectivity of the national standards bodies to fast track conformity assessment and product certification across the region.
  • Conclude the harmonization of tax regimes to support industrialization, regional value chains and trade.
  • Fast track the implementation of the East African payment systems and harmonize statistics across the region to inform the implementation of the monetary union.
  • Take a lead role in the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA)
  • The secretariat to play a key role in settling disputes arising during the implementation of the common market protocol and the customs union protocol

Role and expectations of the private sector and civil society in the EAC integration.

  • Convene a dedicated session of the council and private sector before the summit of EAC heads of state to discuss matters affecting the business community.