As the year comes to a close, The East African Community can be said to have attained some progress while in other areas progress seems slow. A case in point being the stalled Economic Partnership Agreement between the EAC and the European Union (EU) that has since been revived. The New Times’ Senior Reporter GASHEGU MURAMIRA sought out the views of EAC Secretary General Dr. Richard Sezibera about the integration journey.
Below are the Excerpts:
Q: There has been a lot of talk about the need to transfer more sovereignty powers from national to regional centres and lack of political will on the part of some partner states. Do you agree that this is affecting the fast tracking of regional integration?
A: First, I think the partner states have transferred ample and by extension enough powers to the regional bodies especially if you look at the treaty and the protocols that they have signed. These include the Customs Union and the Common Market protocols and currently, negotiations on the Monetary Union, and the many protocols of cooperation in many fields from education to Defence.
To be more precise, when one talks about the protocol and the treaty, I think it is transfer of sovereignty to a supra national body because the sovereignty still resides with the states but they transfer some of it to be exercised on their behalf by a supranational body. They have done that, and now as we integrate, as we go into a common market and implement it, there is a need for more of that to happen, not less.
It is true that some people are comfortable with the status quo, they want to hold on to what they are doing, but if you are going to implement a common market, let alone a monetary union of course, you have to do things differently.
Q: Are there efforts in place to change this and give organs of the community more powers?
A: Yes, we are now involved in an institutional review of the Community, the Council of Ministers will be considering this in their forthcoming meeting this November. Part of that institutional review is to see which institutions will drive the integration agenda forward. What powers, for example, should the Secretariat have in order to help drive the agenda of the Common Market and have a role in rule making and so on.
Another question to consider is the kind of court we need, because you cannot have a court operating on ad hoc basis implementing a Common Market. We need to strengthen the court, and we need to strengthen the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) by, probably, getting its members directly elected.
We are reviewing the institutions of the Community to make sure they can move this integration agenda. Therefore, partner states will, I think largely, understand what this agenda means.
The decisions taken on institutional review is that we approach it in a phased manner. Phased because of the budgetary implications, but also phased because I think some partner states want to be comfortable about the pace of letting go of some things, but I think they all agree that they have to cede some sovereignty.
Q: What is the secretariat doing on complaints about the limited jurisdiction of the East African Court of Justice and the fact that a permanent regional court still has judges operating on an ad hoc basis?
A: I need to clarify a few things. The complaint is not that the court has limited jurisdiction. The court has its jurisdiction. The treaty is very clear on what that jurisdiction is. However, the main issue lies with the interpretation of the treaty.
What the court has is very clear, but the treaty made a provision for extending that jurisdiction. The treaty states that the court may be given an original appellate, human rights and other jurisdictions as the Council of Ministers may so require.
What it has is enough but it may be given more if the ministers decide. Now, there is a protocol on extended jurisdiction of the court, which has taken a very long time, but it is moving through systems and it is now before the Attorneys General.
Q: So, are we looking at having permanent judges at the regional court in Arusha?
A: Since the court did not have enough cases to begin with, the treaty made the provision that the services it offered would be on ad hoc basis. The court is not ad hoc, the court is fully functional and the judges are not ad hoc, it is a permanent court and the judges are permanent. The difference is that they offer services on an ad hoc basis because they did not have enough cases to hear. Now that the cases have increased, we are working to ensure that some of the judges are permanently resident in Arusha, and I hope that the Council of Ministers will agree to this when time comes.
Now, on arbitration, which is a separate matter, the court has a role to play in arbitration of contracts. The treaty gives it the possibility; however, it is not automatic serving as an arbitration centre for contracts entered into by partner states of a commercial nature.
This part has not been implemented because they have not received a single case of arbitration. Governments now conclude agreements, they agree for arbitration to be heard in London, Hong Kong or anywhere else, and we are now encouraging them to put into their clauses, arbitration by the East African Court of Justice. However, that is not something the Secretariat does; governments are the ones that enter into contracts with third parties.
I know some partner states have done that, they have some contracts but those contracts have not yet necessitated arbitration and, so, those clauses have not yet been operational.
Q: You are planning a single customs territory for the region, how far have you gone in this regard?
A: As you know, the next stage in consolidating our Customs Union is the setting up of a single customs territory. This means briefly that customs collections will be centralised. Already, a mechanism for revenue sharing or transmission of the revenues worked out.
It is a directive of the Summit, and there is now an ongoing study at a technical level, which we have commissioned. This study will inform the decision that the EAC will take. The study has started and I am hoping that we will have made substantial progress by the end of this month, and then we see what to do about it.
Q: What is the status of the EAC-EU Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs)
A: The Economic Partnership Agreements as you know had stopped and stalled for almost a year, and they have re-started. There was a meeting held in Zanzibar in July with the EU and we have worked out a roadmap that takes us to December. There have been a number of consultations among the five partner states on the issues still outstanding, including agriculture, the development matrixes, rules of origin, phytosanitary conditions and so on.
These consultations have taken place and the last ones ended between 15th and 21st October in Nairobi. There will be a Sectoral Council of Industry and Trade this month, and then we expect negotiations at a technical level with the EU to continue mid this month, and are likely to conclude in December. Therefore, by December, this year, I expect we will have made some good progress with the negotiations.
The last time something regional happened was when the Arusha–Namanga–Athi River road was commissioned by all the five EAC Heads of State.
Q: Are we looking at a similar regional project in future?
A: Yes, they are many. Along Namanga-Athi river, we are beginning the construction of a One-Stop border post, actually next we shall complete six One-Stop border posts, and we probably shall commission them at the same time.
We also have the Holili-Voi road, as well as the Central corridor railway. The designs will be complete within twelve months and, next year, we shall have detailed designs.
We also have the expansion of the port of Mombasa and Dar-es-Salaam, which is ongoing. The nationals do it but there are inputs from the region and interconnectivity in the energy sector. Interconnectivity between Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia and Kenya is ongoing which I hope by next year will be complete. Therefore, there are a number of projects ongoing, which we shall commission once they are completed.
Q: In your view, a year down the road after the Common Market Protocol came into force, has there been any impact created on the ground?
A: I have to say that one year later, a lot of the work has been done especially on domesticating the components of the EAC protocol. We have identified the laws, which need to be changed by all partner states. This is not yet complete as it takes some time.
There has also been negotiation of additional annexes, you know that the protocol is negotiated but it had to be implemented by annexes like free movement of goods, free movement of persons and capital; this work is still ongoing. That is why there has been an apparent delay in operationalising the protocol. It has not moved as fast as it should have and we are trying to push on to see that it is implemented as quickly as possible.
However, that said, four countries have agreed for example, to use national identity cards as travel documents. These are; Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya—some of them are moving towards this at bilateral levels, others are still at the preparatory phase, which is good. There have been a number of mutual recognition agreements among professionals such as lawyers, doctors, architects, and accountants.
These have been mutual recognition agreements that are allowing people to move. As a result, capital movements within the region have been eased substantively including within the United Republic of Tanzania, which is liberalising its capital account.
Therefore, there has been progress on the common market.