The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), which is sitting in Kigali, on Tuesday, passed the long-awaited One Stop Border Posts Bill, 2012, paving way for it to become a regional law if assented to by the EAC Heads of State.
The Bill will provide the framework for establishing One Stop Border Posts (OSBPs) in the five-member bloc in order to facilitate trade and movement of people through the efficient movement of goods and people within the Community.
Under the arrangement, partner states shall implement one stop border processing arrangements by establishing and designating control zones at respective border posts.
It seeks to extend partner States' national laws relating to border control officers of adjoining partner states permitting their free movement within the controlled zone(s) in the performance of their duties, without producing passports, but by simple and appropriate identity documents.
The Bill makes provision for the application of border control laws and provides for institutional arrangements in the co-ordination and monitoring of the one stop border posts.
However, it does not affect the rights of any adjoining partner state(s) to take temporary measures in the interest of defence, security, public safety and public order.
Common border posts designated in the EAC as OSBPs include the Taveta-Holili border and the Namanga border (Kenya-Tanzania), Busia and Malaba borders (Kenya - Uganda) and the Kanyaru-Akanyaru border (Burundi-Rwanda). Others are the Mutukula (Tanzania-Uganda), Gasenyi-Nemba (Burundi-Rwanda) and Lungalunga-Horohoro (Kenya-Tanzania).
Debate on the Bill was preceded by the tabling of a report of the Committee on Communications, Trade and Investment (CTI) presented by its chairperson, MP Dan Kidega (Uganda).
The report underscores the need for partner States to modernise the required infrastructural facilities and to enhance technological advancement to enable efficient and effective implementation of the Bill.
It was filed after gathering public views in the partner states from customs officials, clearing and forwarding agents and members of the business community.
"It's true OSBPs has been operating on some border points on bilateral arrangements, so the law is critical in providing a regional legal framework," a committee's report says in part, urging the Council of Ministers to conduct awareness programmes on OSBPs to the public.
Legislators speak out:
MP Shy-Rose Sadrudin Bhanji (Tanzania) commended the Council of Ministers for initiating the Bill, which she said would reduce bureaucracies at the border posts.
"This is a major achievement and we want the capacities of the personnel at the borders to be built so as to enhance service delivery," Bhanji said.
MP Kennedy Sebalu (Uganda) said it was necessary for the OSBPs initiative to be rolled out to all borders when finances permit so as to demystify free movement.
"Integration is people-centred and we must make the processes easy to implement the Common Market Protocol," Sebalu said.
MP Joseph Kiangoi (Kenya) said the Bill will enable the region to open up for trade since EAC is a major economic bloc on the continent.
MP Frederic Ngenzebuhoro [Burundi] said the Bill's implementation will be key in checking corruption.
The Chairperson of the Council of Ministers, Shem Bageine (Uganda), said the spirit of working together (EALA and the Council of Ministers) would be the hallmark of ensuring integration.
Bagaine said: "It is our desire and aspiration, for example, that during the implementation of the Act, the terms and conditions of staff working together to facilitate the OSBP are harmonised to retain staff of high calibre."
The agencies currently operate independently thereby causing delays at the borders as traders have to pass through all of them to process documents.
Recent statistics show that it takes a trader importing goods from the EAC member countries an average of 30 minutes to process documents, at the Gatuna border.