More needs to be done by the East African Community (EAC) for the region to achieve universal free movement of goods and people, according to Stephen Ruzibiza, the Private Sector Federation (PSF) chief executive officer.
“We are promoting free movement of labour and services, but if some countries are still reluctant to implement what other partner states have agreed on over the past few years, then it’s far-fetched. Tanzania and Burundi have not yet scrapped work permit fees for regional citizens, which affects free movement of labour across the region,” he said.
He was speaking in a telephone interview from Nairobi Kenya, where he was attending the inaugural East African Business and Entrepreneurship Conference and Exhibition on Wednesday.
The conference, which ended on Wednesday, attracted participants from the five EAC member countries.
Reechoing a call by the participants urging the two countries to implement EAC Common Market protocol that was rectified in 2010, he said reluctance by Tanzania and Burundi to scrap work permit fees is against the spirit of integration.
Ruzibiza said the fees and long procedures of acquiring work permits have made it hard for traders and professionals to operate in the two countries. He added that they “at times have to incur a lot of costs throughout the process.”
According to media reports, the two countries retained the fees due to health, policy and security concerns.
This stand, among others, prompted regional workers and employers’ associations to petition the regional assembly, EALA, last year calling for implementation of protocol on free movement of workers across the region by all EAC countries by 2017.
The region had set a December 31, 2015 deadline for full implementation of the policy on free movement of labour and goods, including abolishing work permit fees as per the EAC Common Market protocol. The countries were also expected to fully liberalise their labour and capital markets by December.
However, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have implemented the resolutions through a trilateral pact, while Tanzania and Burundi are reluctant to come on board.
According to Kenyan government officials, the “dream of a borderless East Africa” can only be realised if all partner states honoured the EAC Heads of State summit deal on free movement of people, goods, services and capital across the region.
Tanzania charges between $6 and $3,000 for work permits, while in Burundi, it ranges from $60 and $84.
Meanwhile, the East Africa Business Council chairman Felix Mosha has said intra-EAC trade could be enhanced if private firms sourced for raw materials within the bloc.
“This can help regional countries reduce the growing trade imbalance, ease import bill and improve money circulation in the region,” he said earlier while addressing the EABC entrepreneurship conference.
The meeting brought together members of the public and private sector decision-makers, business leaders and investment agencies from the region to deliberate on how they can jointly enhance entrepreneurship within the region and beyond.
The conference was organised by EABC with support from the Federation of German Industries.Follow https://twitter.com/Julio_Bizimungu