Traders in East Africa endure rigorous customs clearance procedures at border posts which can take several weeks at the country of exit and then be repeated at the country of entry.
Goods are inspected separately by officers on both side of the border, leading to delays in delivery of products, spoiled perishable agricultural products, and broken manufactured goods.
Jaswinder Bedi, chairman of the African Cotton and Textile Industries Federation, said rampant corruption at border posts has been a major hindrance to regional trade.
“There are also instances where I have been asked to meet conditions at one time that were not imposed on another similar occasion,” he said.
Recent developments have raised hopes among business people in East Africa that long lines and delays at border points will soon be a thing of the past.
The East African Legislative Assembly, the law-making arm of the East African Community, passed a bill aimed at creating one-stop border posts for neighboring member states of the East African Community (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.)
The Bill will however have to be signed by the five heads of state to become law.
To promote faster movement of goods and services, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta recently ordered streamlining of operations at the Mombasa port to cut delays. All port workers from various departments were brought under the operational command of the managing director of the Kenya Ports Authority.
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At the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, a similar policy ensured that all staff now operate under the direction of the managing director of the Kenya Airports Authority.
The Kenyan government ordered a reduction in police roadblocks on major highways, ensuring faster movement of trucks carrying goods to various countries in the region.
Roadblocks not only cause delays; they are expensive for trade and business, said Peter Kiguta, East African Community director general in charge of customs and trade. Kiguta blamed numerous permanent roadblocks in the region on corruption. “That is why we need to pay our policemen well,” he said.
The one-stop border posts bill aims to house the border posts of neighboring countries under one roof. This will help trade by ensuring free movement of goods and people. If the bill is approved, it will represent an important milestone toward the realization of East African Community integration. It is expected to solve the huge problem of bureaucratic delays at border posts that businessmen across the region have complained about for many years as hindering trade.
One-stop border posts help streamline exit and entry procedures. Normally, clearance procedures are carried out at the country of entry.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said in November the region had taken steps to not only establish one-stop border posts, but also to monitor the elimination of non-tariff barriers.
Traffic gets snarled when trucks have to queue on both sides of the border. Some border posts may not be located near each other, costing traders money on both sides. Lack of coordinated clearance procedures means demands may be different as one crosses borders of different member states.
By passing the bill, the East African Community member states hope to reduce the cost of doing business in East Africa and encourage investors, as well as open trade to investors from other countries.
There is currently no legal backing for any joint inspection procedures. The bill seeks to seal this loophole by creating a joint legal framework that will allow border control agents to enforce laws of their respective countries at designated control zones beyond a state’s physical zone.
The bill also provides for dispute resolution of border conflicts between partner states. If a dispute is not resolved at the border point, then it can be resolved at the East Africa court of justice.
The East African Community plans to establish at least 15 border posts along its five member states. Already, Kenya and Tanzania have begun work to put up six such border crossings. Several border posts as key in efforts to ease movement of goods and people.
The Namanga, Taveta-Holeli and Lunga Lunga-Horo Horo border posts along the Kenya-Tanzania border are considered priorities. The Mutukulu border post has been proposed to serve the Tanzania-Uganda border, while Busia-Malaba and Isebania-Busia posts will serve the Kenya-Uganda border. The Kanyaru-Akanyaru post will serve the Burundi-Rwanda border. The construction of the border posts is being funded by Trade Mark East Africa and the World Bank.
Analysts say the move will benefit the private sector by providing quick and quality service for transit of goods and services along the border crossing, as well as promoting business transactions between business people from the five member states.
The cost of doing business among these countries is expected to go down with the improved service delivery along the border crossings. Congestion of traders and traffic snarl ups along the borders will be eliminated. The move will also be a big step towards promoting co-operation and enhancing regional integration.