The Secretary-General of the East African Community Libérat Mfumukeko spoke to Moses Havyariman in Bujumbura about the pace of regional integration.
Burundi says it has not been treated fairly at the EAC, and some of its issues with Rwanda are yet to be addressed. Is your office doing anything to address these?
As a Secretariat, we do not focus on bilateral matters. However, we trust that relations between the two countries will soon normalise.
They are both part of the EAC family and Article 6 of the EAC Treaty has set peace co-existence and good neighbourliness as fundamental principles of the Community.
We have witnessed many trade disputes between EAC partner states, non-tariff barriers and other restrictions, including denial of work permits. What is the Secretariat doing to address these issues that undermine the Common Market?
The EAC has set up mechanisms to track non-tariff barriers and other hindrances to the movement of goods and persons.
Many NTBs have been removed and the Partner States have committed to remove the remaining ones as the heads of state continue to caution against measures hindering intra-regional trade.
Progress is being made to facilitate movement of persons and allow EAC citizens to settle and work in any country of their choice. Overall, visa fees are being reduced and we are pleading for their complete removal.
The partner states agree on the idea of making EAC a single visa territory for non-nationals of the Partner States. This will take some time to materialise, but efforts are being made to improve the current situation.
The common external tariff is being revised and issues of Rules of Origin are being addressed in order to resolve all pending issues.
The ministers in charge of trade, industry, investment and finance are fully involved in this process and several meetings have been held in Arusha in the past few months.
There have been reports that donors support to the EAC has been on the decline. What are your options?
On the contrary, donor support has increased significantly.
In the past three years, the EAC has mobilised over $2.5 billion, including $2 billion approved in October 2018 by the African Development Bank. The bloc has never mobilised such amounts in such a short period before.
Can we take the promise of a single currency by 2024 to the bank?
The EAC has been very active in addressing all aspects required to attain the Monetary Union.
Laws and practices for payment systems and capital markets are being harmonised, infrastructure and capacity are being built for central bank interconnectivity and harmonised standards.
The institutions required by the Monetary Union Protocol, like the EA Monetary and Statistics Institution, are being put in place. We hope that by 2024 the monetary union will be effected.
EALA and EACJ are seeking autonomy. How far is the process?
This matter is being considered by both the EAC Secretariat and the Council.
We are still limited by the Treaty, EAC Rules and Regulations and the lack of staff to handle key functions such as procurement and finance matters.
But the secretariat is looking at what can be done without contravening the Treaty and rules and regulations.
There are reports that you are not on good terms with the EALA Speaker.
Those rumours are unfounded. We have a normal working relationship.
What are the Secretariat’s major challenges?
First, there are inadequate resources to implement the desired programmes.
Second, as an intergovernmental organisation, by design, the decision-making process is rather long.
Finally, many East Africans are not well informed about EAC.