For three months now, cross-border traders within the East African region have been paying tariffs which they should have stopped paying on the night of 31st December 2009.
According to Kenya’s East African Community minister Amason Kingi, the charges for goods crossing between the borders of the member states of the East African Community should have ceased on the morning of January 1 2010.
Alas! This is not the case as customs officials on the Kenya-Tanzania border and the Kenya-Uganda border say they are not aware of such changes.
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Mr Kingi blames this state of affairs on a communication gap. Obviously somebody somewhere is not doing his or her job, otherwise how does he explain such an oversight? This is what happens when consultations and agreements are conducted at the national and regional levels but not at the grassroots level. The top down approach is an outdated mode of operation yet we seem stuck in the era where pronouncements are made by the top dogs but no plans of action are put in place to effect those pronouncements.
Going by the fact that business people within the East African Community continue to pay tariffs that have been zero-rated means there is not only a communication gap, but also an implementation gap and a big gap in the pockets of business people who continue to pay for goods that have been zero-rated. Who will compensate them for their losses?
And even for us who are not business people but occasionally cross over to "say hi" to our friends and colleagues in what we Kenyans fondly call TZ, the treatment at the border is also rather shocking. When entering TZ at the Namanga border (by road), you are met by a big board that reads: "You are now entering Tanzania, Welcome". However how would you react when the TZ immigration guy stamps your passport and then loudly says to you, "Usidhubutu kupitisha hizo siku," (do not dare extend your stay)!
I have not experienced going through the Kenya-Uganda border by road, but it is my prayer that they give no such warnings.
Mr Kingi and his counterparts have work to do.
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So much for the East African community!