5 April 2014

East Africa: Regional Business Leaders Upset By Slow Integration

The private sector has expressed frustration at the slow pace at which critical aspects of regional integration are being implemented. This, members say, continues to keep the cost doing business in the region very high.

The concern was voiced by the out-going chairman of the East African Business Council (EABC), Vimal Shah during the Council's annual general assembly in Arusha, yesterday.

Shah said that the private sector is becoming impatient with the rate at which some important business principles are being negotiated and implemented. "We will not get any better results if we continue doing what we have always done. The time to do things differently and faster is now if we must deliver on the hopes and aspirations of our people and compete with the rest of the markets," Vimal said.

He added that many local and international investors had put on hold plans to invest their money in the region because some partner states are still reluctant to embrace important aspects of integration.

"We need to create jobs, transform our export sectors, turn agriculture into a profitable agribusiness; but how then shall we be able to achieve this if we decide to maintain the slow pace.

The EABC, he said, will continue pursuing harmonisation of domestic taxes, ratification of the EAC agreement on avoidance of double taxation by all partner states, removal of non-tariff barriers and the harmonisation of work permit regimes among many others, Vimal said.

Hanington Namara, the chief executive officer of the Rwanda Private Sector Federation, noted that fast tracking integration does not only benefit the private sector, but will also bring about economic growth and development for the region.

"Facilitating speedy integration means stability and more efficiency in the way the private sector conducts business. This will not only make the sector more attractive in terms of investments, but also more profitable," Namara told The New Times in Arusha,

Meanwhile, a report released by the EABC, has indicated that lack of harmony in certification marks, is hindering free movement of goods, and especially exports within the region.

High roaming charges, taxes on exports, poor adoptions of East African standards by partner states are some of the things pushing up the cost of doing business in the region, according to the 2014 EABC annual report.

The report also highlights how inadequate awareness about critical business issues such as taxation systems, market and product diversification, information on the already signed protocols affect private sector growth.

According to the report, despite financial challenges and constraints, the East African Business Council registered satisfactory progress.

Notable achievements were recorded in strengthening institutional capacity and advocacy with emphasis on regional private sector dialogue. Other achievements include establishment of the business development unit that is playing a critical role in enhancing product diversification, competitiveness as well as involving small and medium enterprises.

The study also indicated that liberalisation of the telecommunications sector has fostered competition and brought in significant investments-a development that has brought about the need for significant reforms in the sector.

Despite these achievements, the thorny issue that hurts all business people-that is the cost of doing business still remains high.

New leadership:

Fast tracking policy implementation and the use of information communication technologies were among recommendations put forward in the report to help bring down the new leadership cost of doing business.

Felix Mosha from Tanzania has been nominated the new chairman of the East African Business Council for a one-year term. Olive Kigongo from Uganda was nominated vice chairperson.

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