Non-tariff barriers, bureaucratic processes in decision making and the misuse of Rules of Origin are the main challenges that continue to undermine the integration agenda in East Africa, Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete has said.
While opening the Third Meeting of the First Session of the Third East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) at the EAC Headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania, President Kikwete also announced that the region had taken steps to establish One Stop Border Posts, which is expected to facilitate ease of clearance of goods and monitor the elimination of NTBs.
He however pledged the commitment of the EAC Heads of State Summit to addressing the various challenges facing the integration process so as to enable citizens to reap its full benefits.
President Kikwete called on the region to delicately address matters of the Monetary Union to avoid making mistakes. "We must learn from history, where the first Community was bedeviled by the Monetary Union leading to its eventual collapse," he said.
The president challenged the Partner States to rise to the occasion and to domesticate their laws to ensure the uptake of the Common Market Protocol. "To date none of the Partner has fully embraced the Common Market Protocol and there is need to do so expeditiously."
The President's speech was anchored on three key messages: comparative advantage, synergy building and effectiveness, highlighting the rational use of resources.
Kikwete cited the consolidation of the Customs Union towards a single Customs Territory, implementation of the critical activities of EAC Food Security and Climate Change Master Plan and the implementation of grand Community oriented projects such as those under the Lake Victoria Basin Commission as priorities of the Summit of EAC Heads of State.
He called on EALA to harness the synergies between itself and the National Assemblies of partner states so as to strengthen the integration dispensation. He further asked the regional Assembly to regularly hold public hearings and consultations with key national leaders as it espouses its mandate to the citizens.
It was imperative, Kikwete said, for the region to determine how the Assembly could utilize legislation to harness, mobilize and leverage the participation of the people in the integration process.
"The principal responsibility to sensitize the public lies squarely on the head and shoulders of the political leadership in the region. We must address questions that arise including legislation necessary to support the private sector and media," he said.
In attendance were Members of EALA, Speakers of National Assemblies and their Representatives, former Speakers of EALA, Parliamentarians, the EAC Secretary General, government officials and other stakeholders. The EALA Plenary runs until December 6, 2012.
The Speaker of EALA, Margaret Nantongo Zziwa, urged the region to speedily implement the Common Market Protocol which, she said, spelt a number of benefits for East Africa's citizens.
EAC gets new ultra modern office
On Wednesday, the heads of EAC member states officially inaugurated the new 14.8m Euro Headquarters in Arusha.
Germany, which financed the construction of the new elegant building in the centre of Arusha, was represented by a high-ranking delegation.
EAC Summit chairman President Mwai Kibaki said that the headquarters demonstrated the Partner States' unity and commitment to the integration process.
"Our presence here symbolizes our unity," he said at the colourful ceremony.
The construction of the new EAC Headquarters' building was financed through the German Kreditanstalt Wiederaufbau (KfW).
Designed by Archis Architects of Germany, the office complex covers a total area of 14,925 square metres comprising three four-storey wings.
The simple and free flowing buildings combining tradition and modernity blend nicely with the urban environment.
"Germany has been supporting the East African Community for 13 years now, since its beginnings. The new Headquarters building is an outstanding and visible sign of the close ties between EAC and Germany. We hope that the new home of the EAC will be a tool for further regional integration," said Dr Ulla Mikota, Director for Africa of Germany's Federal Ministry for Development Cooperation.
At the ceremony, the EAC Secretariat and Germany signed financial support agreements of 26 million Euros for three years.