The private sector is a key player in job creation and development of the region and should therefore take centre stage in the regional integration agenda, John Bosco Kalisa, the new CEO of the East African Business Council (EABC), has said. Kalisa who recently took over at the regional private sector body noted this Wednesday, July 7, after paying a courtesy call on his predecessor, the current East African Community (EAC) Secretary-General, Peter Mathuki, at the EAC Headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania. The two officials agree on private sector development and resolution of trade barriers being top priorities for the EAC, so as to increase Intra-EAC trade and promote the region as an investment destination. Receiving Kalisa and the EABC delegation, earlier on Wednesday, Mathuki noted that the private sector is key to fast-tracking regional integration. The Secretary General reiterated his commitment to collaborating with EABC to strengthen private sector development in the region. Among others, Kalisa seeks to re-energize the EAC-EABC Private Sector Technical Working Groups so as to create a platform to deliberate on sustainable solutions to issues hampering regional trade. “The private sector is a key player in job creation and development of the region and should thus take center stage in the regional integration agenda,” he said. Technical working group Meanwhile, during a virtual meeting on Thursday, July 8, the two institutions launched the EAC-EABC Technical Working Group (TWG). The team will strengthen collaboration and partnership between the two institutions in order to improve the business environment. The new initiative is chaired by Kenneth Bagamuhunda, the EAC Director General in charge of Customs and Trade and co-chaired by Kalisa. At the launch, the Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), Martin Ngoga, assured them that the regional Parliament is ready to support any idea from the new initiative. Ngoga particularly commended Mathuki for the good work he did during his time as EABC CEO in the past few years before he became Secretary General. What we are doing today is the product of the hard work you did while still there (EABC). What is happening today is in line with the provisions of the EAC Treaty that places the regional private sector at the center of our integration process. We have not done this very well in the past,” he said. Ngoga, for example, wondered how the private sector can be considered the backbone of integration when we cannot have a slot for the chairperson of the EABC to address the Summit about issues affecting business in the region. The Assembly has a strategic plan which Ngoga noted has huge deficits in terms of how we engage with our private sector. The launched initiative, he said, comes at the right time as it will reinforce what EALA already planned. The private sector, through EABC, should drive things - show challenges and challenge the Assembly to provide a legal framework that is desired to ease business. The Assembly pledges we shall participate fully in this initiative. The new Technical Working Group will meet every month. Kalisa also seeks to revive EABC- EAC roundtables at national level as well as engagements of the regions private sector with the EAC Council of Ministers. “Intra EAC trade is still below 20%. It’s only through collaborative efforts and working in harmony that we can propel the region to attract investment,” Kalisa said. “Following my engagements with EAC Heads of State over the past two months, a strong private sector and public sector partnership is the engine in driving the Community to prosperity,” Mathuki said. Under the Treaty establishing the EAC, the integration process is private sector-driven and market-led.