For East Africa’s landlocked countries of Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, every precious resource must be fully utilised to maximise benefits of trade with other East African neighbours
By Moses Sabiiti
With the launch of the Mutukula One Stop Border Post (OSBP), speed of doing business along the Uganda and Tanzania common borders should greatly improve the economies of the two countries.
Time, it has been numerously stated, is so valuable; more precious than gold and diamond. No amount of money can buy back a moment wasted.
William Penn, one of the earliest advocates of democracy and religious freedom, says although time is what human beings desire most, it is also what we use worst. This assertion is epitomised by the millions of shillings lost daily through wastage of time as a resource at our common border posts.
For East Africa's landlocked countries of Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, every precious resource must be fully utilised to maximise benefits of trade with other East African neighbours.
That is why the launch of the Mutukula One-Stop Border (OSBP), brings joy and a major sigh of relief for traders, importers and exporters who use the Uganda/Tanzania border point. At last, they can smell prosperity through efficient and lucrative trade.
Transit goods, passengers, travellers and exports exiting through Mutukula to Tanzania, will stop once on the Tanzanian side for clearance by Immigration and customs (as opposed to stopping twice on both the Ugandan and the Tanzanian side).
The OSBP will also reduce the amount of paper work required among local traders during import and export procedures. By integrating the revenue authorities and various institutions and agencies, trade can literally grow faster.
The OSBP follows in tandem with the November 4th, 2016, launch of the Uganda Electronic Single Window (UESW) meant to ensure traders enjoy at least a 30% reduction in time taken to lodge import and export documentation. The OSBP will equally eliminate duplication of activities by channelling them into one location of the border.
Managed by the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) and the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), the project worth $12, 703, 656, is funded by United Kingdom's Department for Foreign Aid (DFID) and Global Affairs Canada through Trademark East Africa (TMEA).
Its launch is timely. The UK has provided over $52m to the East African Transit Improvement Programme (EATIP) through TMEA, as a contribution to the World Banks East Africa Trade and Transport Facilitation Project (EATTFP) for the construction of 4 other OSBP's in Uganda.
Each OSBP has more than 30 governmental departments, including among others, customs and immigration, an inspection shed hall, clearing and forwarding agents' block, police, officers of forestry, healthy, TFDA and TBS, in a move aimed at reducing the border crossing time.
The OSBP's aim is to improve the efficiency of the procedures performed by the authorities at border posts by combining activities of border officials from both sides.
It will eliminate the necessity of two stops for each function, for cargo and passenger vehicles crossing the border.
Time to cross the border has significantly reduced with those crossing from Uganda to Tanzania saving time by 66% from 10 hours in 2011 to 3.4 hours 27 minutes in June 2017. Whereas, crossing from Tanzania to Uganda has reduced by 90% from 46 hours to 4.5 in June 2017.
Loopholes for revenue collection sealed as both Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) and Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) have recorded marked improvement in their revenue collections at Mutukula.
TRA records show it has collected Tsh 27,776,716,217.00 ($12m) since August 2016 to June 2017, the time within which OSBP operations took form, compared to the year 2014/2015 where Tsh 18,646,417,015.00 ($8.1m) was collected. URA has more than doubled its revenue collection from sh70,332,001,143 (or $20m) in 2014 to sh147,724,206,969 (or $43m) in 2017.
On daily basis, 542 vehicles (310 of those cargo trucks) pass through Mutukula border post. Any delays would thus impose serious costs on traders who where this is the case, they are forced to pay for parking and other costs for drivers to wait at the border.
They risk the loss of value of their perishable goods and can barely manage unpredictable transport times.
However, this now is a case of the past, with the OSBP. Recently, Leticia Kadomole, Chairwoman of the Mutukula Traders' Forum, an association of cross border traders, shared with me how Mutukula OSBP has generated value for its members. "In the past, some traders used to cross the border by using illegal routes because of the inconveniences and bureaucracy.
We used to spend lengthy of hours just to clear the cargo, but now it's done within a short time,"
We can argue that sustainability of the OSBP's is well assured, what with government representatives advocating for them.
Recently and while commissioning the Cross Border Trade Charter at Mirama Hills-Kakitumba and Mutukula OSBPs, the Minister of Trade Industry and Cooperatives, Hon. Amelia Kyambadde appealed to border officials in Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania to allow easy flow of goods and services across borders.
She said…''these beautiful one stop border posts should not only promote intraregional trade but also promote cross border trade by small, medium traders and women. We are working towards reducing delays in trade to reduce poverty, we expect government officials to support us attain this goal for our people''
A survey conducted by TMEA shows that truck drivers need to shed off bad habits of spending lengthy hours shopping for themselves and families at the expense of speed of trade at the common borders.
URA and TRA should seek an urgent solution that will ensure the parking procedures discourage drivers from eroding the positive gains of OSBP.
The OSBP while encouraging rapid growth of trade, should ease the work of the revenue authorities of Uganda and Tanzania.
The writer is TMEA Country Director, Uganda