20 March 2013

East Africa: Experts Call for Caution On EAC Monetary Union

The east African Community (EAC) member states could sign the Monetary Union Protocol by the end of this year, but experts are cautioning against rushing the process.

So far, a feasibility study on the establishment of a regional central bank is ready, a monitory committee to oversee the implementation of the protocol is in place and a debt ceiling policy for each of the partners to ensure financial stability has been set.

Regional bureaucrats and politicians argue that the Eurozone crisis should not be used deter the process, but should be seen as a lesson to do things correctly.

Maria Kiwanuka, the Ugandan finance minster, noted that EAC was monitoring the situation in the Eurozone closely to avoid mistakes they have made.

"We are watching the Eurozone carefully to take note of the mistakes they have made and to ensure that we have mechanisms to prevent the same from happening to us," she said at a recent meeting in Entebbe, Uganda.

Though policy-makers are optimistic that they would be ready for the single currency, experts are skeptical, calling for a cautious approach to avoid potential future crises.

Paul Collier, a professor of economics and director at the Centre for the Study of African Economies at the University of Oxford, advised the EAC to first complete trade integration before implementing the monitory union.

"The region should, for example, first have a decade of independent national central banks with the same mandates of moderating inflation," advised the economist, who has been attending a regional conference on the integration of the EAC financial sectors.

Prof. Sam Tulyanamuhika, a member of the committee of experts in charge of fast-tracking the EAC federation, supported Prof. Collier's argument, saying countries with low inflation rates, such as Burundi and Rwanda, were likely to raise inflationary concerns in relation to Uganda's oil discovery.

Henry Makmot, another member of the committee of EAC experts, said a monetary union was simply not feasible under the current EAC Treaty as found by a study carried out by their committee. He added that the the EAC Treaty does not address key issues that are core to the operation of the union.

He revealed that the experts would table a proposal at the summit of EAC presidents at the end of this month in Bujumbura, calling for another treaty.

The EAC experts argue that the current EAC treaty was silent on what they call salient issues, including matters of fiscal convergence, which are necessary for the dream of a monetary union to be achieved.

The Monetary Union Protocol was initially set to be signed by 2012.

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