Kampala. Beyond the pomp and grand proclamations made at the commissioning of the Busia One Stop Border Post (OSBP) at the weekend, Uganda and Kenya border authorities should not lose sight of the facility’s objectives.
The main objective of the improved border post as mentioned by President Museveni and his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta at the weekend event is to facilitate regional trade.
The Busia OSBP should be able to attract the cross border traders, majority of whom are women and small and medium scale business owners, most of whom have for decades preferred the risky shortcut routes to elude customs officials at the formal border entry or exit points.
This means that for OSBP to accrue value for money, the so-called “small guys” must be able to embrace the border post.
“We don’t want that [of leaving out small scale traders] to happen. This facility is for everybody, including the cross-border traders,” says Mr Moses Sabiiti, the country director for the East Africa Trade Mark (TMEA), a company established to promote regional trade.
Already, the Malaba OSBP is being described as not sufficient enough to serve as a clearing centre for cargo crisscrossing between Uganda and Kenya.
The development partners say they are willing to rejuvenate the centre, considering its importance in trade facilitation in the region.
The Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) commissioner for customs, Mr Dicksons Kateshumbwa, says the Busia joint border post, constructed at a cost of $11.7 million (about Shs43 billion) is expected to boost economic growth and improve revenue collection.
“Busia OSPB is now expected to ease clearance time to an average of about two hours from three days,” Mr Kateshumbwa says.
He adds that as a result, the value of exports passing through the border post grew by 56 per cent between financial years 2014/15 and 2016/17, which translates into Shs798 billion, from Shs436 billion.
The Busia OSBP was constructed with funding from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) while the systems and other related soft infrastructure equivalent to $1.2 million (about Shs4.3 billion) was funded by Global Affairs Canada.
The OSBP investment includes office buildings, roads, parking yards, cargo verification bays, scanner sheds, passenger sheds, targeting booths, warehouses, canopies, ICT networks and hardware, furniture and institutional support.
“The OSBP ensures effective border control mechanisms are in place. It will boost trade by cutting the time taken to clear goods between the two nations,” a TMEA statement reads in part.
The statement, which was also jointly issued by the EAC secretariat, adds: “It (OSBP) will also contribute to a reduction in transport cost while increasing volumes of transshipment cargo through the central corridor. It is expected that time to cross the border will reduce by at least a third.”
An OSBP is a one-stop border crossing point jointly managed by adjoining partner states where multiple border agencies collaborate and coordinate their activities with a view to maximising operational efficiency.
The arrangement brings under one roof all government agencies performing border crossing controls procedures, doing away with need for motorised traffic and persons to undergo clearance twice at both sides of the border.
Over the years, delays in cross border clearance were attributed to, among other things, duplication of handling procedures on either side of the border, poor institutional arrangement and improper cargo management. The newly established OSBP has, however, already addressed some of these challenges.
Surveys indicate that since operationalisation of the OSBP early this year, the average time to cross the border has reduced by 84 per cent.
TMEA chief executive officer Frank Matsaert says: “The completion and operationalisation of the Busia OSBP is a crucial milestone in increasing access to markets and the facilitation of the movement of cargo along the Northern Corridor.” According to Mr Matsaert, physical infrastructure projects and automation of key government trade processes such as customs have complemented each other to reduce the cost of doing business and boost trade volumes, thereby increasing both Kenya’s and Uganda’s overall trade competitiveness.
Busia OSPB is the busiest in East Africa, handling transit to and from Great Lakes region of Rwanda, Burundi, DRC and South Sudan.
Based on recent TMEA independent time and traffic survey, total weekly traffic count on the Kenya side of the border is 3,324 vehicles and 1,784 on the Uganda side. The border handles the largest number of informal cross border traders in EAC.
Other border posts. TMEA, in partnership with the East Africa Community, has since 2010 supported 15 OSBPs in East Africa, including South Sudan, and has invested about $117 million in OSBPs and access roads. They are Busia, Malaba, Kagitumba/Mirama Hills, Mutukul, Holili/Taveta, Nimule/Elegu, Kobero/Kabanga and Tunduma on the Tanzania side.