The East African Community (EAC) recently concluded its 5th Inter-Parliamentary Relations Seminar commonly referred to as ‘Nanyuki Series’ in Bujumbura, Burundi.
The five-day interactive session brought together several lawmakers from national Parliaments focusing on giving them a deeper insight into the Common Market Protocol.
Indeed, the meeting exhaustively discussed contents of the Common market and Customs Union protocols with concentration on opportunities and challenges of implementation.
What generated debate and probably food for thought among the legislators, were different opinions and revelations made by some of the discussants.
Participants raised concerns that many of the freedoms in the protocol (like free movement of persons) will be determined by national laws and policies, which question the will to fully integrate the region.
Dan Ameyo, a Common Market consultant, argued that in order for the protocol to be successfully implemented, partner states will have to surrender some degree of policy freedom especially the ability to set independent, fiscal and trade policies.
He added that institutions like the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) and the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) will be required to regulate trade related issues and commerce within the common market to ensure uniform application of rules.
“Although laws and rules regulating trade and commerce will still be administered at national level, member states will be expected to ease individual control in these areas,” Ameyo said.
However, even with such roundtable discussions, it is evident that ceding some power to the EAC institutions may not be realized in the short run unless partner states fully commit themselves to the integration process.
Although sensitization of East Africans on the integration process appears to still be a huge challenge, EAC plans to use a team of experts from each of the partner states to advise how a region wide sensitization campaign can be carried out.
During the meeting, the Registrar of the East African Court of Justice, Dr John Ruhangisa, cautioned that the court’s powers of jurisdiction in handling cases (that may arise from the protocol’s implementation) had been curtailed by provisions in the protocol which he said call for establishment of parallel dispute resolution mechanisms.
“The court is potentially empowered to handle matters of the Common market, but its hands have been tied up,” he said.
On the lack of political will among partner states, a case in point is a question that was put to Tanzania’s Minister for EAC affairs Diodorus Kamara, on why Burundians are required to pay Visa fees for entry into Tanzania yet Burundi doesn’t charge the same for Tanzanians entering their country.
The Minister had no answer for that.
In his presentation, Kamara who is also the Chairperson of the EAC Council of Ministers said that the implementation of the Common Market Protocol has cost implications on the budget of the community.
To this, he said, the community will prepare an indicative budget and communicate to partner states for consideration by the Council of Ministers in April this year.
“In this regard, the Council is expected to carefully prioritise the activities that will require funding,” he said.
However, Kamara’s concern on budgetary constraints comes at a time when many of the partner states are in their election periods and probably having plans to spend heavily on elections.
Starting from July this year, the Common Market protocol will come into force upon ratification by EAC partner states.
EAC broadband and railways
The EAC Deputy Secretary General (Planning and Infrastructure) told participants that the pre- investment study on the EAC broadband infrastructure network had been completed and awaits partner states comments before adoption next month.
He added that the first ever regional railway conference has been organized to take place in Nairobi, Kenya next month and that this will provide vital inputs in the development of a roadmap towards the implementation of the East African Railways Master Plan.
“Partner states have agreed to jointly finance the detailed designs for a standard gauge railway system in the region. A decision on this issue is expected in March/April this year,” EAC deputy Secretary General, Alloys Mutabingwa said.
He told the legislators that the African Development Bank (AfDB) had financed the design of the Isaka-Kigali-Burundi railway project to the tune of US$8.5 million, and that they will be completed next year.
The development will definitely be welcomed by East Africans who have patiently waited to have a solution to the region’s poor infrastructure especially that it is still rendering East Africa less competitive in terms of trading with the rest of the world.