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Kenya fetes EAC Common Market with work permit fee waiver

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From left: Presidents Karume, Kibaki, Kagame and Uganda’s deputy Prime Minister Eriya Kategaya during the East African Community Investment Conference in July 2009. Photo/FILE

From left: Presidents Karume, Kibaki, Kagame and Uganda’s deputy Prime Minister Eriya Kategaya during the East African Community Investment Conference in July 2009. Photo/FILE 

By George Omondi

Posted  Thursday, July 1   2010 at  00:00

Kenyans will take at least two months before they can enjoy the freedom of movement envisaged under the East African Common Market protocol that comes into force on Thursday as the attorney-general’s office burns the midnight oil to align the country’s laws with the demands of the trading bloc.

President Kibaki last evening ordered Attorney-General Amos Wako to draft and present to Parliament a miscellaneous amendment Bill that would effectively accord East Africans the benefits enjoyed by Kenyans, especially in terms of immigration, labour, customs, and education.

The President also directed the Immigration ministry to waive work permit fees charged on the citizens of Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania, saying it was a barrier to enjoyment of freedom of movement of workers.

Rwanda and Kenya had earlier signed bilateral arrangements to waive the work permit fees.

“It is my expectation that public servants charged with executing the Common Market especially those responsible for immigration, labour, customs and education, will facilitate the process rather than adopt a control attitude,” the president said during the official launch of the protocol at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre last evening.

A survey conducted by the East African Business Council two weeks ago indicated that Tanzania still charges work permit fees of $50 for business people who hold national passports and $100 for holders of East African Passports.

The action by the president moves to resolve two issues — work permits and conflicting legislative regimes — that the private sector had identified as potential banana skins in implementing the protocol.

Businesses had called on the government to speed up regulatory and institutional reforms to make Kenyan products competitive in the region as a task force meant to recommend legal changes that would align national laws to the spirit of the protocol lagged behind schedule.

Under the protocol, member states have up to the end of August to ratify laws that give effect to the common market and the presidential directive is expected to hurry the ratification.

Unlike amendments to each specific Act, a miscellaneous bill allows various laws to be amended under the same motion, quickening the approval process substantially.

Mr Peter Munyiri, KCB’s Deputy CEO in charge of group investments, said the implementation of the protocol would end the period of groping in the dark for firms doing business across the region.

“The legal instrument will act as a catalyst to investment, encouraging investors to hunt for mega deals because we now have a clear dispute resolution mechanism,” said Mr Munyiri.

The business community wants governments to speed up harmonisation of national laws to smoothen the flow of goods and services.

Kenya’s EAC minister Amason Kingi, however, says it could take longer for the conflicting national laws to be harmonised to allow free movement of goods and services.

“Implementing EAC’s common market is a process that will take some time to be felt across the region,” Mr Kingi said.

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