Ugandan entrepreneurs have questioned the willingness of the political leadership of the East African Community-EAC to make the region one trading bloc and investment destination, as challenges to cross-border trade persist.
The investors, mainly manufacturers, say they cannot ably trade across the region despite assurances by the EAC leadership and the national governments about abolishing non-trade barriers.
This comes as the business community in the region prepares for the East African Procurement Forum and Business Expo at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds from the 23rd to the 26th.
Richard Kiggundu, Finance Manager, Cipla Quality Chemicals Uganda hails the government for the positive gesture of giving local manufacturers a 15 percent preference and ring-fencing some services to Ugandans.
However, he says when they go to other countries in the region, the Ugandans have to compete with the international contractors which, he says is almost impossible.
The challenges and restrictions vary from country to country, which shows the lack of harmonization of policies and adherence to the EAC protocols.
Steel Rolling Mills expressed concern at the continued challenges at the borders of most countries in the region, where several reasons are given to restrict the free movement of goods and services.
Oscar Komukama from Steel Rolling Mills said for example, that since the border with Rwanda was announced reopened early last year after almost three years, Ugandan manufactured and agricultural products are still blocked.
He says that even transporting cargo from Rwanda to the Democratic Republic of Congo-DRC is still a challenge, giving an example of an exporter who has been forced to transport through Tanzania.
According to him, so far it is only the DRC which has no protectionist policies, with its only challenge being poor infrastructure.
The 14th East African Procurement Forum and Business Expo will bring together all business partners in the region, with the main aim being to share experiences in procurement systems and how the sector can be improved.
Manish Kalla, General Manager, Tembo Steels, called for reforms in the policies of the seven countries and to align them with the provisions of the EAC Treaty.
The four-day expo will be hosted by the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority, PPDA, and organized by the marketing company, FIPRO.
FIPRO Chief Executive Officer, Moses Agaba, urged the procurement authorities in the seven EAC countries, to use the forum and the expo to iron out the challenges presented by the investors.
This, he says will be a big boost to the private sector and the indigenous economies as a whole.
The Chief Executive Officer, PPDA, Benson Turamye said if all the countries abided by the EAC protocols, there would be no such challenges.
According to him, the barriers being put in place are illegal or a violation of regional laws, adding that even the EAC secretariat has not been keen on promoting such regional initiatives.
Addressing the investors in Kampala ahead of the expo, Minister for East African Community Affairs, Rebecca Kadaga assured them that this time round, the concerns will be taken seriously, since her ministry is now involved.
“The government of Uganda recognizes the importance of regional integration and trade, and is committed to promoting policies and initiatives that will help to further strengthen economic ties between our countries,” said Kadaga.
Komukama said there is still a lot to do especially in the way of transparency and abiding by the national procurement laws. He says that while the government is increasingly going for local products for its projects, there are still violations, as seen in the ongoing saga involving iron sheets from the Office of the Prime Minister.
But Kalka said the introduction of IT in the procurement process has greatly improved their operations as now it rids the process of many of the integrity questions.