East African Community laws on the one-stop border posts (OSBPs) and the vehicle axle load control will not take effect until January over a technical lapse.
The laws were due to take effect on October 1 but for a failure to secure the signature of the new Heads of State Summit chairman, Tanzania President John Pombe Magufuli, in time.
Alfred Kitolo, director of infrastructure services at Kenya’s Ministry of East African Community Affairs, said the EAC Council will now have the gazette notice with the two laws signed during the EAC Summit in January, whereupon implementation can start.
The two laws were passed in 2013. Previously, after passage, a law would be moved to each of the five capitals (minus South Sudan which joined recently) to be signed by the president of the each member country.
As the EAC partner states wait for the January meeting to get the gazette notice signed, stop-gap measures are being implemented.
“The delay did not affect business because the partner states were operating OSBPs based on bilateral agreements which were consistent with the OSBP Act,” said Dennis Kashero, the communications director at TradeMark East Africa (TMEA).
The existence of these OSBPs has made it possible for TMEA’s investments in the electronic single window and tracking system to become operational. These mean the Single Customs Territory (SCT) is also working in the EAC.
“As a result of SCT implementation and OSBP clearance process, transit of cargo destined to Uganda from Mombasa has been reduced from 18 days in 2012 to 4-5 days,” said Mr Kashero.
Mr Kashero added that OSBP infrastructure made it possible for immigrations officials to be in one office. Thus, immigration officials are able to clear passengers once and much faster on either side of the border.
The assertion that there are bilateral agreements temporarily working, as the countries wait for operationalisation of the EAC laws is backed by Mr Kitolo. He highlights the case of Kenya, where the national laws that puts the maximum axle load at 48 tonnes have been repealed.
Before the passing of East African Community Vehicle Load Control Bill in 2013, Kenya’s axle load limit was 48 tonnes. But according to Mr Kitolo the vehicle load limit has been increased to the Tanzania and Uganda standard of 56 tonnes.
“It is just that the transporters have not yet adopted the new rules,” says Mr Kitolo.
While the axle load limit appears not to have changed, the existence of OSBPs has eased the movement of goods and services in East Africa. There is however a challenge for non-customs officials. The OSBP project only covered the integration of information and communications technology for customs systems like Asycuda (for Uganda and Rwanda) and Simba (for Kenya).
According to Mr Kitolo, in this case, an immigration official will have to physically move with the documents he worked with across the border, and feed them into the computers of the respective countries.
Ronah Sserwadda, the director of trade and integration at Uganda’s Ministry of EAC Affairs added that time is lost when government officials have to ask each other what the other has done.
“We want systems to talk to each other, so that officials from the different countries don’t have to spend time asking what the other did,” she said.
Currently, added Ms Sserwadda, the EAC countries have different border control systems.
But TMEA officials say these challenges won’t be solved by operationalisation of the laws.
According to Mr Kishero, immigration is independent of the OSBP arrangement. TMEA is only handling customs related systems and immigration departments would have to look elsewhere for support.
This is the same problem with the agriculture ministries. Since most of the exports are agricultural products, having agriculture officials actively talking each other would ease trade.
Mr Kitolo said implementation in this area has been slow, the exception being with the traders who cross with goods worth less than $2,000. For such traders, the rules of origin forms are found at the border. Traders with a lot more goods are forced to go to the different capitals of the EAC to confirm the origin of the commodities.
Ms Sserwadda however said that having presidents sign the laws represents acknowledgement, and this can set the stage for starting the implementation and national investment in the case of each partner state.