Members of the East African Legislative Assembly last week began a wearing road trip in their two-week on-spot assessment of institutions, installations and facilities of the EAC on the Central Corridor and the Northern Corridor. While in Kahama, north western Tanzania, Sunday Times’ James Karuhanga who is part of a media team traveling with the MPs interviewed the Central Corridor team led by MP Wanjuki Muhia (Kenya) before they headed for Ngara town, 300 kilometres away. She explained why the newly sworn in fourth Assembly embarked on the trip and what is expected of them.
Below are the excerpts:
After getting to Kahama last night, you covered exactly 1,509 kilometers from Zanzibar, please shed light on why two teams of regional lawmakers are traversing the central and northern corridors.
We embarked on this journey from Zanzibar all the way through the central corridor to Rwanda so that we can identify and appreciate East African institutions. We found it fit for members of parliament to come out of the comfort zone and go face the reality; where are these institutions, what does the public want, how does the public perceive the Community and how much can we do for the Community?
In this journey, we are meeting stakeholders such as clearing agents, government officials, and operation managers be it at the port of Dar es Salaam, or the transporters you saw at Vigwaza weigh bridge. We interviewed truck drivers to understand their story and the main agenda is to first, appreciate the institutions of the Community. Second, to plan for our strategic plan 2018-22.
After this trip we are supposed to have a good report and discuss it in parliament and I believe it will further be delivered to the Council of Ministers and even further to the Summit, with candid recommendations of how we can improve the Community. We are also going to recommend some committees go back and visit some specific institutions so, they can go with an informed idea on what they are going to do.
How does the trip actually inform your strategic planning?
It means we shall put a report and this report shall inform various committees about where they are supposed to go back and what they will do. It is also to make recommendations to the Council of Ministers regarding what is happening on the ground since our role as parliament is oversight.
During the stop in Dodoma, you paid a courtesy call to the Tanzanian foreign affairs ministry, and also held a press conference in which you told us that so far, from Zanzibar to Dodoma, you are very impressed by what’s happening on that section of the central corridor. Aren’t there hitches that you also noted?
May I say that everywhere we have gone, even at the East African Kiswahili Commission [in Zanzibar] we were impressed due to the fact that they have worked even with few staff and financial constraints.
They refurbished the place and made several policies and have a strategic plan. However, we may have spotted some issues that we shall put in the report which is not very good for me as a leader to discuss because it will preempt the debate. These are issues we shall put as recommendation for discussion in parliament.
When we left the Kiswahili Commission, we went to Zanzibar main port and the other place called Maruhubu port where the people of Zanzibar intend to decongest their main port, a place where they intend to put up a better port facility. We saw this as a very good plan but we also noted some issues of concern that we shall also put in our report.
If I may mention a few, in my own thinking, though they said this is to be phase one I note it may really not decongest because we considered the size of the land we were shown from beacon one to beacon two, it may be more or less the same. So, if you are going to decongest you must have a future plan of 50 or 100 years to come and I expected very big land. However, they indicated they are going to do it in phases.
And also, the time frame. This port was supposed to begin by 2013 and now we are in 2018 and that is a long time for any infrastructure development not to have kick started. Even at the Vigwza weigh bridge where we were honestly very impressed because of interviews we conducted with drivers.
The drivers are the consumers and they are impressed and so who are we not to be impressed? However, we also noticed that there are other issues which we may also not want to disclose at this point because we shall put them in our report and once it is debated then it can be put direct to the media and any other person.
Did you share with the minister the same issues during your courtesy call?
We briefed the minister when we came to the capital [Dodoma]. Now we are headed to Ngara and then to the one stop border post on the Burundi border and so far, we have covered 1,500 kilometers by road. We’re going all the way to Kigali through Burundi. So, basically, we are impressed but there is some feedback we shall take and make recommendations.
Don’t you appreciate the fact that I am an invited guest on your trip and I too have my eyes and ears open? For example, while you talked to truck drivers at the Vigwaza weigh bridge, I also interacted and I heard that even if drivers go through the weigh bridge with ease, after that point, later on in other places, they are often stopped by the police for, allegedly, no good reason…
[Laughs] In this mission, you are also a stakeholder. And if you are very keen, in every press conference where we are speaking, I am inviting the media because they are partners and they are going to partner with EALA.
We are doing these activities jointly. So, for what you may have observed, you have the freedom to speak but me I am limiting myself as a member [of parliament] following the rules of procedure which guide the members that we don’t preempt a debate before it is discussed and agreed because I could even have observed it that way but when we go to write the report, other members say ‘no, maybe I was wrong.’ But for you in your case if you have seen something you are free to mention it. But as lawmakers, because we want to be responsible lawmakers, we want to bring a conclusive report which is officially debated.
Again, from my own observation, I note that right away from Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam up to here in Kahama, and the remainder of the trip, we have police escorts and our way is cleared. We have easy entry and access. Don’t you think this somehow limits your observation of realities on the ground? When we come to a place and the police is clearing the way for you I think perhaps there are important things you miss out …
Not at all. Remember, we are EAC residents. We are not visitors and we have members from Tanzania who hail from this place. The police are here basically to make our work manageable. First, such a delegation comprises members from different partner states and, honestly, it is wise to have security because as you can see, sometimes we are travelling past six o’clock in the evening and so, the police is very necessary for security.
Secondly, clearing the way for us is for our interest to complete this trip in the shortest time possible. We are used to the jam and we know how it is in east Africa. We have to bypass the jam very quickly so that we don’t stay in the trip forever, considering that we have a lot of work in the plenary.
But don’t you understand where I am coming from with such a question?
I understand where you are coming from. But I want to answer this very candidly; that we cannot make the journey longer so that, for example, we experience the jam. We are very sure of the jam in all our cities and that’s why we are considering the standard gauge railway from Mombasa to Kampala and Dar es Salaam to Kigali as a very immediate need.