East Africa eases flow of imports with new tax model

President Kibaki (second left) with other East African heads of state sign a communiqué  in Arusha, Tanzania. PPS
President Kibaki (second left) with other East African heads of state sign a communiqué in Arusha, Tanzania. PPS 

The East African Community (EAC) heads of state have endorsed a revenue management model where tax will only be collected at the point of entry and imported goods transported to the final destination without stopping at national border points for customs charges or inspection.

The decision raises hope for a speedy formation of a regional customs authority that would handle the smooth flow of goods across borders — handing traders an opportunity to save up to 15 per cent in extra transit costs that come with delays.

“The summit adopted in principle the destination model of clearance of goods where assessment and collection of revenue is at the first point of entry and revenues are remitted to the destination partner states subject to the fulfilment of key pre-conditions to be developed by the high level task force,” the heads of state said in a communiqué at the end of a recent regional summit in Arusha.

Though the EAC launched its customs union in January 2010, disagreement over collection and sharing of revenue has frustrated efforts to establish a regional customs authority, slowing down cross-border trade. “We hope the decision brings some change this time by ending the controversy that has been with us for three years now,” Peter Njenga, a logistics officer said.

Kenya has been particularly reluctant to adopt the model that would see the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) lose control of close to 35 per cent of its present annual collections. Some member states want the revenue be used to finance projects of common interest such as roads or power generation.

However, Kenya has further hardened its position as it would mean losing a large proportion of tax collection at a time when it faces huge budgetary challenges as it implements the new constitution.

Burundi lags

In Nairobi, opposition to a regional customs authority has also come from the port of Mombasa, a key entry point, with Kenya Ports Authority maintaining that extending the facility’s function to include collecting customs revenues will further delay the discharge of cargo given the current levels of congestion.

The setting up of a common revenue authority for the EAC has also been delayed due to the fact that Burundi had not fully emerged from the ravages of a civil war and required time to set up sound national institutions to manage public finances.
For instance in 2008, just one year after it joined EAC, Burundi became the only country in the region to ever report loss of revenue from free movement of goods under the customs union protocol.

This position has since changed with the Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza recently saying the country is ready for higher stages of integration after hiring the services of Trade Mark East Africa (TMEA) to set up new revenue administration institution—Office Burundais des Recettes.

Traders have blamed payment of taxes at every border point for increased cost of doing business.

Border delays and the absence of laws to settle disputes and promote integration have also been cited as hindrances to the opening up of trade in East Africa.