Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for East African Community, Arid and Semi-Arid Lands and Regional Development Rebecca Miano spoke to Aggrey Mutambo and Luke Anami on why Nairobi is pushing for an integrated neighbourhood
What is Kenya’s agenda for the East African Community?
Right from President William Ruto’s speech on Mashujaa Day (October 20) last year, you will notice that Kenya is committed to an integrated region with a borderless neighbourhood. We want to share prosperity and trade and deal with shared problems. We want to achieve the monetary union and the political federation, the two pillars that lag behind. The President has told us he has a keen eye on integration but also advises that we must be open-minded. We want to eliminate all barriers.
What is the strategy for dealing with trade disputes?
Trade disputes occur because of lack of communication, liaison and sitting together. If you look at Tanzania, for example, two thirds of disputes we had with them have been sorted out, largely because we agreed to talk. We need to disseminate information to the public. Some traders do not bother to find out legal requirements in time, they discover them only at the border. We should equip them with this information and involve technology in sharing crucial details.
Having a bigger market also raises competition. How do you deal with this?
Attracting trade depends on three things: Quality, cost and availability of products. We will ensure we do not lose the competitive advantage. We will make it easier to do business and ensure the products are available to the buyers at best quality.
Some say EAC invited problems when DR Congo joined the bloc, given their conflict. What do you say?
I think we invited an opportunity, not a problem. The DRC is very important to us in terms of markets, resources, population and its rich culture. They have what East Africa should consider value addition. We need to accelerate their admission into the various protocols to reap the benefit. But, as you know, business goes hand-in-hand with peace and security, each complementing the other, not as a sequential progression.
Somalia too wants to join in spite of its problems. What lessons have we learnt from admitting South Sudan and the DRC?
The EAC team will assess eligibility of Somalia and I don’t want to pre-empt their work. But, generally, the bigger the cake, the more the people can partake.
Lessons from partner states who have been there before should lead the way.
The EAC has been criticised of red tape and slow decision making. What would you do different?
Regional integration is a process that involves harmonisation of policies of the various participating states in a way that safeguards the interests of all parties. I will work together with the regional ministers to strengthen cross-sectoral consultations, identify the quick wins and develop a time-bound action plan for roll out of new policy direction.
One of the major decisions in your docket is implementation of the Monetary Union protocol whose institutions are yet to be established. What is Kenya’s proposal?
Assent to the East African Monetary Institute (EAMI) Bill in 2019 formally established EAMI and kicked off a process towards operationalisation of the institute which, according to the East African Monetary Union (EAMU) Roadmap, should have been established by 2015.
However, the 40th EAC Council of Ministers pronounced July 1, 2021 as the commencement date of the operationalisation of the East African Monetary Institute Act, 2019. The Council also directed the Secretariat to initiate the process of identifying the host partner state, in accordance with the procedures of the EAC. However, the 42nd meeting of the Council decided to continue with consultations on hosting the EAMI and decide the matter during the 43rd Council.
The Council also decided to consider the distribution of organs and institutions that are not yet headquartered, including those that are temporarily hosted at the EAC headquarters, and directed the Secretariat to submit to the Partner States a comprehensive analysis of the distribution of institutions in the Community before the 43rd Council.
Kenya is consulting internally and with the other Partner States to ensure that the institute is hosted and fully operationalised.
The EAC held a high-level retreat on the EAC Common Market Protocol in July 2022 and resolved to prioritise the harmonisation of domestic taxes by July 2024. Where are we now?
Harmonisation of domestic taxes is guided by the EAC Domestic Tax Harmonisation Policy, which was adopted by the 38th Meeting of the Council held in May 2019.
The process of implementing the policy is under way. The Tax Policy and Tax Administration Sub-Committee of the Committee on Fiscal Affairs is working on detailed tax proposals and explanatory notes for harmonisation of excise tax and VAT in the region. Experts have been working to finalise the draft directive on harmonisation of excise taxes to be adopted later by EAC Ministers for Finance.