The East African Business Council (EABC) has welcomed Tanzania’s pledge that it will ‘soon’ join the East African Community One Network Area (ONA) which harmonises tariffs on voice calls within the region.
Paying a courtesy call on the EAC Secretary General, Dr Richard Sezibera, in Arusha, a Tanzanian official last week said the harmonisation of mobile call tariffs would come into effect as soon as the existing telecommunications policies and regulations are revised.
No particular timeline was given but the Director General of the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), Dr Ally Yahaya Simba, disclosed that first to be harmonised would be roaming charges on voice calls with data charges to follow later.
EABC chairperson Denis Karera told The New Times that: “We’ve been pushing for it every other month. It is a welcome development that will facilitate and enhance business in the region. It is a very welcome gesture and, as EABC, we celebrate it, even as, the grand picture of doing business, it is a drop in the ocean.”
“Our wish would be that Tanzania also joins other EAC partner states in allowing citizens to use their national IDs to travel within the region as this would make business easier. Being able to communicate yet people can’t move easily creates a bit of a contradiction. Our call is for them to also embrace the single East Africa Tourist Visa (EATV); and remove all the existing road blocks and other non tariff barriers that exist.”
Once Tanzania joins the ONA, it will reduce roaming charges for calls originating from other EAC Partner States as is now the case with Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda which have already harmonised mobile call tariffs, thereby enhancing business between them.
According to Teddy Kaberuka, a Rwandan economic analyst, by joining the ONA, “Tanzania will benefit as well as the rest of the EAC partner states” because the cost of communication will reduce.
“It will also have quite a positive effect on regional trade for Tanzania because countries like Rwanda, Burundi and the DR Congo use the central corridor more to import goods,” Kaberuka added.
The ONA is among 10 ambitious development clusters that Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and the DR Congo have agreed to jointly implement under the Central Corridor infrastructure projects development initiative.
In July, top technocrats from the five Central Corridor trading partners held a two-day meeting in Kigali, to set up a mutually acceptable implementation framework for the projects.
Rwanda is leading coordination efforts for all projects under aviation and ICT under which it will seek to extend the ONA to Burundi, Tanzania and DR Congo.
The EAC Heads of State Summit directed the Council of Ministers to expedite the implementation of the framework for harmonised EAC roaming charges, including the removal of surcharges for international telecommunications traffic originating and terminating within the EAC, by July 15.
According to Dr Sezibera, the Community had prioritised four main areas, where progress must be made to drive the EAC integration process forward, namely Communications (harmonisation of roaming charges); civil aviation (high air travel fares); one stop border posts (transit charges), and; actively engaging the private sector in the integration process.
The EAC is also negotiating with South Sudan on the possibility of extending the region’s broadband networks to the world’s youngest nation as a way of reducing voice and data roaming charges.
Meanwhile, Sezibera hailed the EAC Electronic Transactions (e-Transactions) Bill currently before the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), saying it would provide a legal framework to govern online transactions which he said is a fast growing sector in the region.
Debate on the Bill in EALA was deferred last month after Dr Abdallah Saadaala, Tanzania’s assistant Minister for EAC Cooperation, as Chairperson of the Council, pleaded with the Assembly to accord the standing committee on Communication, Trade and Investment (CTI) more time to conduct consultations and enrich the Bill.
The next plenary in Nairobi, in October, is expected to debate and pass the Bill which is supposed to make provision for the use, security, facilitation and regulation of electronic communications and transactions.
Last December, while meeting for the Northern Corridor Integration Projects Summit in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, called for speedy implementation of the ONA to have the cost of calling around the region dropped.
The Summit, at the time, directed concerned ministers in those countries to operationalise the initiative for SMS, Data and Mobile Financial Services.
The ONA mandates member countries to exempt regional calls from surcharges applied by member states on international incoming calls and remove any additional charges to subscribers on account of roaming within the region.
Subscribers in the three countries are no longer charged for roaming while travelling within the member states, but are charged as local subscribers in the visited country network.