The East African Legislative Assembly MP Peter Mathuki is on record having accused the Minister for East African Community Musa Sirma of showing little interest in the affairs of the community. He accused the minister of failing to introduce the Kenya chapter of EALA to President Kibaki, who is the chairman of the summit of heads of state. In this interview, he explains why he was furious with the minister and proposes that EAC ministers should reside in Arusha to give political backup to integration.
You recently kicked up a storm with other members of EALA. What was it all about?
It was not a storm. It was my attempt to bring to the attention of the public the importance of the East Africa Community and the role of the integration process.
There is little interest in the process from all those concerned in its implementation. The ministry of East Africa Community has done little to discharge its mandate in this regard. It has not done the necessary sensitisation and ensure the process is citizen-driven.
What are your concerns about integration?
Integration is the in-thing in the global world order. Larger markets mean access to jobs for our people. If the EAC integration is successful, we shall have over 140 million people.
It will help Kenyans. My interest is to see our youths get the opportunity of doing business across the border. This is the only way to sort out conflict and joblessness.
Integration will empower our youths through job opportunities. At macro level, it will make it easy to negotiate with other regional blocs and even lobby for a permanent seat in the UN. We must embrace integration. We need to do more to bring all stakeholders together to do their part.
What are you complaining about then?
All I want is the people to know that EALA is a public institution. The people must engage us and drive the integration agenda.
It is their agenda. They must hold us accountable for our actions while serving there. Issues concerning the regional assembly are not ours, but the people's.
We are messengers. I want the people to know the assembly exists and they should interrogate us on what we are doing for the public good.
We need periodic public sessions so that we can engage on issues that reflect the public will. It is incumbent upon the ministry to facilitate this.
And it is you contention the ministry is effective in playing this role?
Absolutely. The ministry has great opportunity to assist the people see the importance of integration. It has the capacity to facilitate public awareness of the process through collaboration with EALA, EAC and the media.
This is the only way the people can fully understand and appreciate the need for integration so that we can move together. The ministry is the one mandated to do all these. And, yes, it needs to pull up its socks.
How is Kenya fairing in the integration generally?
The truth is that Kenya is being left behind in the integration. This may sound unpalatable, but unfortunately it is the bare truth.
We've just completed a tour of all the border entry points of the five partner states and I can tell you that Kenya is the worst in facilitating the movement of goods.
Malaba and Busia entry points are the worst in terms of efficiency. Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are looking for alternative routes to get their imports. Dar es salaam has become strategic in this.
Uganda is working hard to ensure that the entry point at Mutukula is functional. A a matter of fact it is nearing completion through the help of the Chinese government.
Few logistics are remaining on the Rusumo entry point between Rwanda and Tanzania. Rwanda desperately wants this point opened to link it to the port of Dar es Salaam.
On the Rwanda and Burundi border, Gatuna post is fully computerised and goods are checked electronically. Because of issues of inefficiency and unpredictable political climate, Kenya is being isolated.
What will happen to the port of Mombasa or the Lamu port under construction when the clients are running away? That is the problem.
And it is frustrating for me as a member of EALA to experience this kind of things happening and just sit there and do nothing.
The third EALA has been around for about four months. What in your opinion is the greatest challenge to the integration process?
The challenge is that there is no legal framework in any of the partner states to implement the protocols that have been signed.
This is a challenge for EALA because it must engage the partner states to put in place the necessary legal and institutional frameworks that will recognise the protocols and put in place the enabling laws to implement the same. This is one area that requires unequivocal political will.
What has EALA done to address the fears you are expressing?
We have so far had two sessions and a number of departmental committee meetings. We have adopted a couple of motions and reports.
The assembly is unanimous that non-tariff barriers must be eliminated if the integration process is to be fasttracked. We want to put up a legal regime that will facilitate the implementation process.
We are also pushing for one regional language. This is critical in the integration. We are putting up mechanisms to develop a East Africa Community brand award.
This is to honour and reward partner states that are at the forefront in the integration process. We believe this will motivate states to pull up their socks and do their bit in the integration process.
We also want to push the states to start commemorating the International Democracy Day. We want to encourage the partner states to start observing the day as a bloc because we believe this is the first step towards promoting good governance.
We want each member to take stock on the rule of law, democracy and governance issues. In this case, we believe that other states have something to learn from the judiciary in Kenya and Rwanda.
So far the Customs Union Protocol, the Common Market Protocol have been signed. We are negotiating the Monetary Union Protocol. In your opinion, what is holding back the integration process?
What we need is the political will at the national level. The success or failure of the process will start and end with the heads of state.
They must give the political directions. There is no doubt that there is high level political commitments within the summit of heads of states.
When the Kenya chapter of EALA met Kibaki, he was wild in his supporter for the integration. Paul Kagame of Rwanda has been at the forefront in his support. We were encouraged to hear and see that kind of feeling from the head of state.
Where is the challenge then?
The challenge is at the technical level. My experience has taught me that the summit and the ministry in charge of EAC don't read from the same page.
The Council of Ministers is very slow in implementing decisions of the summit of heads of partner states. This is very unfortunate.
It is important that the council moves fast to do their job because the implementing functions is with them. If they don't then it becomes embarrassing to the summit. This in turn frustrates the integration process.
Secondly, none of the partner states has put in place the legal framework to implement the protocols so far signed. We must push members to put up legal frameworks that recognise these protocols as a matter of priority.
Enabling laws must be put up and there must be a political will in this. This, I daresay, is one of the key assignments of the third assembly.
How best can the council implement the summit decisions?
The answer in this lies with all the five ministers residing in Arusha. It is time the EAC should be given a political backup.
This will easen decision making and facilitate consultation between different organs of the state. The chief judge of the EA Court of Justice, the Speaker of the Assembly, the secretary general of the community all reside in Arusha.
The missing link in this mix is the council, which is the executive authority of the EA Community. To this point, the EAC lacks the executive authority in Arusha.
This poses an implementation challenge. With the five ministers in Arusha, it will hasten the process of consultations and ensure that decisions are made for faster integration.
EAC ministers residing in Arusha will facilitate the process because they will be briefing the heads of state on a regular basis.
What is the link between EALA and national assemblies of the partners states? Do they have a role in the integration process?
The EAC treaty provides linkage between the two institutions and how they should engage. When he opened the second session of the assembly, President Kibaki was categorical the two must work together to fasttrack the process.
There has been a push for the two sides to have interactive sessions as a way of appraising each other on regional issues. EALA has passed a motion which essentially strengthens relations between the two.
The motion says that all motions, reports or bills passed in EALA should be submitted to national assemblies of partner states for adoption.
The purpose of this is to make it easy to pass legislations that will inevitably be accepted by all people in the region. Rwanda has already implemented this motion and all laws passed in EALA to be tabled in their national assembly for adoption.
This is the only way to close the gap in the integration process to ensure that whatever laws, motions and reports passed by EALA are submitted to national assemblies for approval. This will help in facilitating implementation.