Experts during a past EAC meeting. The New Times

Dr Nicholas Charalambides, a senior consultant with Imani Development, an international consultancy firm, told The New Times this week that EAC partner states need to phase out the Arusha-based secretariat and instead set up a commission that is built on the model of the EU commission.

He said, with the commission, member states would be obliged to implement the decisions agreed upon by the community, or be reprimanded as is the case with the European Union. Otherwise, he said, the EAC secretariat will remain without teeth to bite.

“In the European Union, if a partner state doesn’t do what was agreed upon, the commission will fine it, which is not in the East African Community. What is the use of having laws without police? Where is the police in the East African Community?” posed the expert.

He blamed the difficulties currently experienced in the implementation of both the Customs Union and the Common Market to lack of mechanisms to enforce these protocols.

The EAC region is currently grappling with endless trade barriers, despite the countless meetings and sensitisation campaigns that have been carried organised by the secretariat. Rwanda’s Dr Richard Sezibera currently holds the rotational Secretary General position.

“If the EAC is to achieve its goals then it must have a strong secretariat, and that can only be possible if it is turned into a commission,” explained Charalambides, also a specialist in trade policy and macro economics.

He added: “Corruption is a cancer in the region, people are greedy and political commitment is not enough. Where will countries report each other…at the secretariat? This is a very big problem in the integration process”.

Charalambides was one of the facilitators at a workshop for members of National Monitoring Committee (NMC) on EAC Customs Union and Common Market protocols in Gashora, Bugesera district. The workshop was due to end yesterday.

Imani Development operates in the UK, Australia, Rwanda and several other African countries.

NMC were recently established in all partner states to identify the trade barriers in member countries.

Calls for the conversion of the EAC secretariat into a commission have not come for the first time; a group of lawmakers who met in Kigali recently raised the same issue.

Observers say the block has achieved little since the Heads of State signed the Common Market Protocol on November 2009 to facilitate the free movement of goods, labour and capital, with a view of creating a more favourable business atmosphere.

John Bosco Kalisa, the programmes manager at Trademark East Africa, observed that individual partner states cannot register a drastic increase in their exports to the region if the challenges impeding free and faster movement of our traders were not adequately addressed.

“NTBs (which include corruption and roadblocks); constitute a major block; we need strong political commitment to address such issues if the region is to achieve its vision”, he said.

Recent statistics from the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) indicated that the country’s exports to the other EAC partner states had increased by 68.3 per cent, to $24.19 million in the same quarter of 2011, up from $14.38 million in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Kenya is the main destination of Rwanda’s exports, with a share of 78.5 per cent of the country’s total exports to the EAC region, followed by Burundi and Uganda, at 10.8 per cent and 9.3 per cent, respectively.

However, government bureaucrats believe the bloc can still move forward even in its current state.  Karuretwa Kaliza, the director general in charge of trade and investment in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, said member states were exploring ways of enforcing agreed decisions.

“We are a landlocked country and we have to depend mainly on the other countries in terms of trade; however, members will be considering mutually beneficial binding mechanisms to ensure the implementation of  the agreed protocols”, she said.

Gerald Nkusi Mukubu, the deputy CEO of Rwanda’s Private Sector Federation (PSF), who attended the Gashora workshop, expressed optimism that EAC member states will do away with the issues that continue to undermine free trade across the region.

“It’s good that we have identified the problems that slow down the integration process, but we hope such meetings will result into concrete action,” he observed.

Critics say the number of meetings on the EAC integration do not correspond the progress on the ground, with suggestions that prices for essential products have hardly reduced despite initial expectations.

By Eric Kabeera, The New Times

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