Lack of emergence services including fire hydrants at one stop border posts in the region is a major risk, members of the East African Legislative Assembly and border officials said.
The lawmakers conducted an on-spot assessment of EAC organs, institutions and facilities on the Central Corridor at the end of last month, and the Rusumo One Stop Border Post (OSBP) which started operations in March 2016 was one of the facilities they toured.
Besides their own observations, during a meeting with stakeholders at the Rwanda-Tanzania border, Moses Kalisa, the Rwandan border manager told the MPs that firefighting equipment which is not readily available at the border was a major concern.
He pointed to the potential risk involved due to "the material that crosses the border including highly inflammable gas."
Kalisa said: "That is a challenge. Not only for Rusumo, but you can take it as a policy [recommendation] regarding the design of the OSBP Act for other facilities that are going to be constructed to have special parking for fuel and gas trucks as well."
"Let them also have quarantine areas for animals and persons. Let all OSBPS have a way to fight fire because, for example, at the Rusumo OSBP we don't have any equipment like a fire hydrant or any other to deal with fire. In case of fire, it would be disastrous."
Sitting in Kigali, in March 2013, the third Assembly passed the OSBP Bill, 2012.
The resultant EAC One Stop Border Posts ACT, 2016 only states that countries shall ensure that adequate and appropriate facilities are provided within their respective control zones to the public that use the OSBP, including without limitation, special facilities for persons with disabilities, washing facilities and toilets, food, banking "and other essential facilities."
In October 2017, the Rusumo OSBP started operating 24-hours. Another request is for such OSBPs to have staff accommodation.
The OSBP at Rusumo which lawmakers said was "a model" to others given the ease of movement they observed plays a big role in improving the flow of goods and people along the Central Corridor of the East Africa region.
More than 170 vehicles and 1,800 people reportedly move through the border every single day. Border communities from each end easily access a simplified travel document - jetton - valid for a day.
For two weeks, two teams of EALA members, one on the Central Corridor starting from Zanzibar, and the other on the Northern Corridor starting from Mombasa, Kenya, concluded their field tour on February 23.
The Assembly shall consider a joint report of both teams in the House, for debate and adoption before forwarding it to the EAC Council of Ministers, the central decision-making and governing Organ of the Community, for action.
MP Aden Abdikadir (Kenya) who was on the Central Corridor team told The New Times that during their tour "we were encouraged by the smooth process and functioning of many of the OSBPs while we also observed a few that need to be improved for better service delivery."
Abdikadir said the OSBP notion is a brilliant concept which is a great enabler to faster movement of goods and people in the region. With great concern, however, he said, "we noticed the lack of emergency response facilities such fire engines and ambulance as well as lack of health centers and quarantine areas in case of health emergencies."
"One example of a border point which needs urgent investment in the emergency services particularly firefighting engines and ambulance is that of Rusumo [OSBP] between Rwanda and Tanzania. This a very busy and strategic border post with many fuel tankers parked in its yards awaiting clearance at any given time thus posing high risk of fire.
"Additionally, the ongoing construction of the regional Rusumo hydropower station adjacent to the one stop border post is yet another safety hazard with potential risk. Despite all these potential threats to safety, there is not even one firefighting engine or ambulance services on standby. This in my view is very risky and a potential disaster in waiting. We will recommend the immediate deployment of such equipment at all the border points in the near future."
The Rusumo OSBP project was developed by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) through a grant from the Japanese government to Rwanda. The Japanese injected in 1.86 billion Japanese yen (about $24 million) in non-reimbursable grant aid.
Placide Nkunzwenimana, the JICA Rwanda office programme officer in charge of the economic infrastructure sector, said "If the firefighting or any other equipment has been duly requested by the government of Rwanda this will be assessed and approved by the government of Japan through JICA headquarters in Tokyo."
"The initial design was done by RTDA [Rwanda Transport Development Authority] engineers. May be they didn't know about its importance at the beginning. The issue was raised recently when we were about to close the third phase [of the project] and it was mathematically impossible to include it. Of course if this is requested JICA may, under approval of the government of Japan, finance it. Or the government of Rwanda can finance it using its own budget."
The OSBP enable goods, people, and vehicles to stop in a single facility where they undergo controls following applicable regional and national laws to exit one state and enter another neighboring state.
By eliminating the need for travelers and goods to stop twice to undertake border crossing formalities, the OSBP promotes a coordinated and integrated approach to facilitating trade, movement of people, and improving security.
Currently, several OSBPs are operational in various parts of the community as a means of reducing the time and costs of delays at border crossings along major corridors.