|New Constitution Poses Dilemma for EAC Integration|
Kenya's new Constitution has turned out to be a dilemma for architects of regional integration as fears mount that the new structures of governance could undermine the spirit of the East African Community treaty.
The new rules on Cabinet appointments, introduction of semi autonomous county governments, and deployment of massive national resources to the village level are seen as developments that could slow down the pace of regional economic integration.
"The community's binding directives are made by council of ministers yet under the new Constitution, Kenya's ministers cease being people's representatives from the next general election, meaning they may lack the mandate of citizens as they make crucial decisions," Gervaise Akhaabi, an advocate of the High Court and Kenya's representative to the East African Legislative Assembly, told a media briefing in Nairobi on Tuesday.
To restore popular involvement of people in the integration project, Mr Akhaabi proposed a new form of engagement where citizens are given a chance to deliberate on the community's proposals before being taken up by the council of ministers.
This week, President Kibaki moved to reaffirm Kenya's commitment to East African Community integration.
At a meeting with board members of the East African Business Council (EABC) in his office on Tuesday, President Kibaki said the region was moving fast towards standardisation of goods.
He urged the private sector to forward their proposals for consideration in the development of EAC's goods standardisation process.
Different standards used by member states have been cited as non tariff barriers to free trade in the now fully fledged customs union.
National quality bodies continue to subject goods already cleared in other partner states to tests, causing unnecessary border delays.
President Kibaki also directed the Trade and East Africa Community ministries to speed up the process of eliminating the remaining barriers to free trade in the region.
The president's comments came shortly after experts expressed fears that Kenya's new constitution poses challenges to the region's integration.
Former Trade minister Mukhisa Kituyi said the devolved administrative units were likely to erect more barriers to free movement of goods as they seek to maximise revenue collection.
"When there are so many semi autonomous counties, each competing to raise enough revenues in their regions through cess, trucks from one county to the other have to stop causing delays in cross-border shipments," he said.
Dr Kituyi also sees loss of direct budgetary control by Treasury to a parliamentary committee as another handicap for Kenya in her quest to meet some of her financial obligations.
Other professionals have also expressed misgivings over the new Constitution in relation to regional trade.
"The kind of inquiries we are getting from most professionals, especially those in the construction industry, means they are divided on whether to go regional in their expansion or take advantage of opportunities in the new counties," said EAC ministry Permanent Secretary David Nalo.
Nicanor Sabula, an administrator at the Association of Professional Societies in East Africa (APSEA) said it all depends on how individual professionals identify business opportunities.
"While as an association we stand . . . and have fought for regional market expansion to stimulate growth of professional services, there are those among us who feel that their call is to go back and serve their people at the counties," said Mr Sabula.
Mr Nalo said the EAC ministry had forged a partnership with MPs under the recently established Speakers Roundtable Forum to speed up the amendment of the 27 pieces of national legislation that undermine regional integration.
A task force appointed early this year to audit the national laws that conflict with the integration agenda has since handed its recommendations to the Attorney General's office to facilitate the drafting of miscellaneous amendment bills
At the Tuesday meeting with the president, EABC board chairman Faustin Mbundu said the private sector will play a leading role in the integration process by accelerating growth, wealth creation, and enhancing regional and international competitiveness as enshrined in the EAC treaty.
He singled out illicit trade as one of the disablers of regional integration, saying it undermined investment and negatively affected profitability, market share and viability of established companies.