By Eric Kabeera
East African Community Secretary General Dr. Richard Sezibera in an exclusive interview with The Independent’s Eric Kabeera about the regional integration process.
How far is the implementation process of some of the regional projects that have already been ratified?
The implementation process in on track, the single custom union territory is moving on well. We have seen the intra-regional trade grow to over $5.5 billion in 2012 and it’s growing at 26 percent per year. Non-tariff barriers are coming down and this year we begun the implementation of single customs territory which consolidates the customs union. It started on the northern corridor, its beginning on central corridor now.
Implementation of common market is ongoing; we have work on financial integration which is going on well; integrating capital markets, financial markets, and introduction of EAC payment system which allows East Africans to trade with local currencies without the need of dollars. Ministers of finance continue to meet and harmonise fiscal policy and also central bank governors are in harmonization of monitory policy as well. There is a lot of harmonisation in education standards, curriculum qualification framework, and we are seeing mutual recognition agreements being signed between professional bodies, accountants, lawyers, doctors.
As you know three of our five countries Rwanda Uganda and Kenya are now using IDs as travel document as I expect Burundi to join soon and we are working towards East African passport which will be launched by heads of state in 2015.
Work on infrastructures in going on well in railways roads, energy, the ports have improved efficiency; especially Mombasa port now has the charter which allows them to clear goods in less than ten days. One Stop Border Posts (OSBP) are working and finally people are getting involved, for example private sector, religious leaders, and youth. The momentum is high.
What do you think has caused the slow pace of implementing decisions among the partner states?
I don’t agree with the idea that the implementation is very slow because this community has been in existence for fourteen to fifteen years and in this period we already have monetary union, and an integrated political system; the fastest in any such thing in the history. In the European Union, it took them almost fifty years and yet it’s not yet done. I think we need to move faster and there some areas which we need to accelerate progress and to agree for example the things that people benefit from like the IDs, the free movement of labor, and infrastructure projects. These must really be embarked on first.
Tanzania and Burundi are not part of the projects that are being implemented on northern corridor especially the use of IDs to travel, Mombasa –Kigali railway, single tourists Visa and others. Don’t you think this hinders the integration process?
No, they’re coming together. The three countries are implementing the East Africa community plans. The single tourist visa is an agreement for all East African countries , the national IDs is an agreement that four countries excluding Tanzania would use the ID as a travel document and Tanzania would join later if they’re ready and I wish to thank the heads of state for spearheading this. The treaty allows this under what we call variable geometry. It means the major decisions should be taken together but the implementation can be at different speed. Some countries implement faster than others. Rwanda has for the long time been the lead for example in implementing our decisions on the work permit. The decision was taken together and Rwanda was the first eventually Kenya joined and the three members are coming on board in some areas. So this is something that is provided for under our treaty.
Do you see Tanzania coming on board to join Northern corridor initiative?
Tanzania will come on board on some projects because some of them are along the Northern corridor; for example the railway line from Mombasa to Kigali is on Northern corridor but then we have another East African rail from Dares Salaam to Kigali and Bujumbura and the three countries have the secretariat to manage this. So what is happening on northern corridor can also happen on central corridor but Tanzania doesn’t have to join all the projects. The Oil pipeline from Eldoret to Kigali is an east African project but it concerns Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda and Burundi.
You recently attended the Africa –US summit alongside the regional heads of state. What trade and investment opportunities did you identify?
The delegation of members of East African Business Council visited their colleagues in the U.S. and I am sure they are now striking deals. The U.S. is the biggest market in the world and so there are no doubt opportunities in trade and also for U.S. investment in our region either alone or partnership with our business people. We are trying to develop a partnership with the U.S. under President Obama’s trade Africa Initiative which focuses on the East Africa Community. We are looking at commercial dialogue which is already going on, we are looking at trade facilitation within us, and eventually we shall negotiate an investment bilateral treaty.
Tell us about EAC-EU EPA negotiations
The negotiations are going on well. We have completed the bigger part of it but we still have some few issues pending which I think we shall be able to resolve soon and conclude the negotiations. We are talking to European colleagues to see that we close the negotiations.
What is your opinion on changing the EAC secretariat into a commission?
My opinion is very clear; with the institutions of the community; not only the secretariat, EALA, the East African Court of Justice, other institutions, and new ones that are coming up, there is a need to review of our institutions to have a different institution to manage the monetary union. Because the institutions we have now were established in early 2000, to run a small integration project and run the beginnings of Customs Union. Now we are moving into Monetary Union and institutions have to change. That includes the secretariat. I think countries need to pull out more of their sovereignty to the center so that their integration process can run faster.
How negatively is the integration impacted due to lack of a commission?
Well, if you don’t have institutions to manage anything then the implementation is slow inevitably. Therefore, it disrupts work. For example, you cannot run a Monetary Union unless you have an independent fiscal surveillance body, an independent monetary institute, an independent statistics body. If you don’t have those, then your Monetary Union will not work. So I think there has to be some power given to the center. As we run the Single Customs Territory we will soon realise that there is a need for a more centralised management of the process and the procedures around the territory because you can’t create one territory and run it by five localised institutions. It works for some time but at the end you have to change. That is something many people don’t understand as well as they should. But that’s how it’s supposed to be.
We have insecurity, especially the terrorists, threatening regional economies. What could be the best way to address this problem?
We must fight them in a collective fashion which is why the ministers of Defense have agreed on a counter terrorism regional strategy which is now being implemented in our law enforcement agencies. Intelligence agencies are all working together. We are trying to involve civil society, religious leaders. To fight insecurity better, we have to be more integrated and I think those who want terror will prefer us not to be integrated. We are very difficult to defeat when we are together.
There are some issues between the EALA speaker and members of the House trying to impeach her and the issue continues with members threatening to take back the case to the East African Court of Justice. Don’t you think it’s negatively impacting the operation of the regional assembly?
These are matters for the House. I think talk to the Speaker and the members themselves. I wouldn’t want to be involved in that. On EALA, no; I cannot comment.