Regional lawmakers have called for more collaboration on the construction of the standard gauge railway (SGR) in the East African Community.
The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) said there is no need for countries to withhold information from each other about the project. The issue came up last week as the regional legislators received a report by the committee on Communication, Trade and Investment after its oversight activity on railway infrastructure development in the region.
MP Fred Mukasa Mbidde, (Uganda) the committee chairperson, said there is no information sharing about SGR, especially on the timelines by partner states.
“Construction of the railway among partner states is at different levels. Whereas some partner states are in advanced stages, others are still lagging behind,” Mbidde said.
“It was also observed that there is minimal collaboration between the regional railway projects on the Central and Northern Corridors.”
As provided for under the EAC Treaty, countries agreed to establish and maintain co-ordinated railway services that would efficiently connect the partner states and, where necessary, to construct additional railway connections.
The committee recommended that partner states set aside annual budgets to sustainably fund the implementation of railway projects in the region, and that the Community should create a regional infrastructure fund.
It further recommended that railway projects on the Central and Northern corridors complement each other in terms of sharing information, skills and expertise.
The regional lawmakers also advised that training schools for railway technology be established, in addition to improving on already existing ones to enhance skills and expertise in the region.
To develop the region, Uganda’s second deputy prime minister and minister for EAC affairs, Kirunda Kivejinja, who represented the Council of Ministers, said complementarity is the way to go as opposed to competition among countries. He said “the question” as presented by the committee was accurate.
“There is a general worry that there hasn’t been coordination. Secondly, they [countries] are negotiating individually and therefore not benefiting collectively. Last time we learnt that President Magufuli has been able to negotiate a similar standard gauge railway at $1.5 million per kilometre while the other one in the Northern Corridor is $7 million per kilometre,” Kivejinja told The New Times.
“Of course, the terrain is different but then, I am sure if we joined hands, we would have had a better deal so that we don’t overburden the next generation with unnecessary costs that can be avoided.”
Kivejinja reiterated the position that countries do not need to compete because they are all aiming for development. He hopes that in the next infrastructure summit, regional leaders will take steps to ensure the situation is reversed.
He highlighted “the danger that we don’t have a centre that holds and the burden is left to individual governments to implement their parts through their own strengths” as a matter of consequence.
The regional railway master plan proposes rejuvenating existing railways in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and extending them to Rwanda and Burundi and, later, to South Sudan, Ethiopia and beyond.
MP Martin Ngoga (Rwanda) said: “When partner states with access to the sea get it right in their planning and organisation, land locked neighbours benefit immediately. We are as inconvenienced as are their own hinterlands when we get priorities wrong.
“The projects on Railway lines are a major step to fix our failures of the past. We have put up with shame for some time when we let these infrastructure deplete in our hands. We are now getting our priorities right.”
In April 2004, EAC Heads of State directed that a railways master plan be developed. In July 2007, the EAC Secretariat engaged a consultant to undertake the master plan.
The vision for a transformed regional railway sub-sector identified a number of key issues with respective strategic objectives, including reducing transport cost by improving economic efficiency.
Low freight volumes, reduced market share for railways, congestion and destruction of roads is another key issue, whose strategic objective is increasing freight volume and market share.
Despite the difficulties, considerable progress has been made in Kenya – on the Mombasa-Nairobi section of the project, which is now complete.
The railways master plan developed and approved by the Summit in 2010 estimated investment requirements in railways in the region of $29 billion for upgrade.