Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza on Tuesday said greater attention is needed on the drivers of regional integration as he opened the Fourth Meeting of the First Session of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) at the Burundi National Assembly, in Bujumbura.
The EALA Plenary ,running from Tuesday through to February 1, is the first one to be held in Bujumbura by the current third EALA Assembly.
Over the next two weeks, EALA will receive and debate reports of the Committee on Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources on Climate Change, the Report on Good Governance in Natural Resources, and the Report of the Committee on Communication, Trade and investment on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs).
Nkurunziza urged the region to maintain the momentum of integration gathered, according to a statement e-mailed to The New Times.
President Nkurunziza remarked that a greater internal market was necessary to increase the share in global trade and economy and to spur new jobs for citizens of the region. He urged the region to embark on value addition initiatives in agriculture, noting that it would boost up to 95 per cent of the region's population who thrive on the sector.
"This move will certainly boost higher intra-regional trade and raise the standards of living of our peoples," President Nkurunziza is quoted as saying.
Call to re-focus:
The Burundian Head of State called on the EAC to re-focus on the opening up of its borders, the removal of Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) and the enhancement of trade facilitation initiatives. He said the implementation of a single Customs Territory was 'key in making a difference' for the region.
"The EAC integration is in the eyes of analysts, one of the best models of integration. We must commit to keep the standards and the records high," President Nkurunziza added.
On infrastructure, the Head of State underscored the importance of ensuring timely upgrades, especially as there is need to get agricultural producing regions connected to markets and industrial centres.
"In the same vein, there is need for our region to concentrate on energy generation on the one hand and consider the railway as the means of transportation of tomorrow for heavy goods and persons on the other hand."
EALA Speaker Margaret Nantongo Zziwa said the Assembly would continue to prioritise bills for debate in the August House and added that the Council of Ministers had likewise finalised its legislative calendar.
"I am pleased to realise the progress in terms of proposed Bills to EALA after touching base with the Chair of the Council of Ministers. This is a positive development and lays emphasis to the fact that the Legislature and the Executive are partners in development who must work together," the Speaker noted.
Zziwa lamented existing challenges to integration, citing NTBs, lack of adequate funding to run the EAC programmes and projects and lack of awareness. She called for concerted efforts in finding solutions.
The Speaker of the Burundi National Assembly, Pie Ntavyohanyuma, called on EALA to engage more deeply with citizens of the region to spur integration.