Long distance truck drivers have appealed to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) to help advocate for total removal of corrupt officials as well as unnecessary bureaucratic tendencies by officials along the principal Central Corridor route, especially in Tanzania and Burundi.
The truck drivers made their concerns known while interacting with members of the regional Assembly who were recently conducting an on-spot assessment of EAC organs, institutions and facilities on the Central Corridor, from February 12 to 23.
The MPs first heard concerns, including congestion and delays in clearing goods, cited while interacting with stakeholders at the Dar es Salaam Port in Tanzania as well as when they travelled further inland by road to the Vigwaza Weigh Bridge, some 80 kilometres from Dar es Salaam.
But one of the most revealing moments was on their arrival at the one stop border post (OSBP) at the Kobero (Burundi)-Kabanga (Tanzania) border between Tanzania and Burundi where they held a meeting with truck drivers.
Mussa Mabati, the head of the Burundian truck drivers association, urged his colleagues to speak their minds out, openly.
Josephat Masandupwe, a Tanzanian, decried delays at the border crossing which he said cost him a lot of money, unnecessarily, when he should spend less than an hour to get through customs.
Masandupwe said: “I have been here for four days already and I know colleagues who have made six days. The delay here is just too much. The longer I stay here, the more I spend unnecessarily, and suffer unexpected costs yet I have all my papers in good order.”
A clearing agent at the border claimed that they had experienced “network problems” which would be rectified before long.
Hussein Abdu Butoyi, a Burundian truck driver, told lawmakers that he does not understand why, for example, after being inspected and cleared at the Vigwaza Weigh Bridge, a transit goods truck from Dar has to endure more stops further on in different areas up to Kahama.
“On these other roadblocks the police tell us that we have excess loads but when we show them the clearance papers from Vigwaza they just refuse to look at them. We would prefer to go through only two weigh bridges, at Vigwaza and Nyakahura,” Butoyi said.
For trucks to proceed, drivers claimed they often have to pay unnecessary bribes. This kind of corruption, they reported, is more rampant on the Tanzanian section of the central corridor. According to David Nambajimana, drivers also dread the Tanzanian section because in case of road accidents, consignments get stolen as there is no police protection.
Shedding further light on issues, Mabati noted that corruption is more rampant on the Tanzanian section, with revenue authority officials often devising ways to get bribes. In Burundi, he said, corrupt officials will also cause delays seeking bribes.
At some point, MP Ali Ibrahim Fatuma (Kenya) asked if drivers had any positive things to say about developments on the central corridor. In response, Mabati said that they were, first of all, “very happy to be given a rare opportunity” for their voice to be heard at a higher level – by the EALA. One of the positives, he said, was that the number of weigh bridges had reduced from seven to three in the vast Tanzanian territory where trucks pass before reaching Rwanda or Burundi.
“I am an elderly driver who has been here long enough. In the past, we never had such a platform to express ourselves. Drivers are happy the weighbridges reduced to just three. The presence of police officers on the road also reduced,” Mabati said.
‘Harmonise EAC framework’
The truckers also appeal for harmony in regional laws and transport regulations so as to ease trade.
Mabati said: “We would like to request that there be harmony such that what is in Tanzania is what is in Burundi, in Rwanda and elsewhere in the region. In Rwanda, you find that drivers are cleared very fast but here when we are delayed we suffer in so many ways, including paying for food and accommodation. We want a harmonised EAC framework for all truck drivers. The law and regulations must be the same everywhere.”
The Assembly passed several Acts, including one on elimination of NTBs, to facilitate effective implementation of the EAC Customs Union Protocol and lawmakers inspected OSBPs along the corridor so as to, among others, assess challenges met in their implementation and how they can help address issues.
The Customs Union, in force since 2005, is regarded as the first regional integration milestone and critical foundation of the EAC. It means EAC Partner States have agreed to establish free trade – or zero duty imposed – on goods and services amongst themselves and agreed on a common external tariff, whereby imports from countries outside the region are subjected to the same tariff when sold to any Partner State.
MP Muhia Wanjiku (Kenya), who led the central corridor EALA delegation, told the truck drivers at the Kobero meeting that “our trip is not a waste of time” as issues will be looked into and steps taken to improve the situation.
She said: “We appreciate your frank views, the negatives and the positives. Such inputs help us build a stronger EAC.”
More than 80 per cent of Rwanda’s import and export cargo goes through the central corridor.
For two weeks, EALA members – in two teams, one on the central corridor starting from Zanzibar, and the other up north starting from Mombasa, Kenya – traversed the central and the northern corridors and concluded their field tour on February 23.
The Assembly shall consider a joint report of both teams in the House, for debate and adoption before forwarding it to the EAC Council of Ministers, the central decision-making and governing Organ of the Community, for action.