EAC leaders in virtual talks about truck drivers

01May 2020
Marc Nkwame
The Guardian
EAC leaders in virtual talks about truck drivers

PRESIDENTS of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda have held talks virtually on how to handle truck drivers entering landlocked countries amid Covid-19 pandemic among other issues.

Ugandan President, Yoweri  Museveni has revealed that he has been on private talks with fellow East African Heads of State, Dr John Magufuli and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta on matters concerning the region in these pandemic times.

 “I had very long discussion with HE Uhuru Kenyatta and HE Paul Kagame regarding truck drivers. I also talked to HE John Magufuli on slightly different subject,” Tweeted the Ugandan Head of State through his Twitter account, without mentioning what exactly he was discussing with his Tanzanian counterpart.

President Museveni explained that Presidents, Kagame, Kenyatta and He, have agreed to hatch common plan for truck drivers whose transit vehicles criss-cross the region delivering cargo goods; still whatever agreement or plan that the trio endorsed remains under tight folds for now.

The issues of treatment of truck drivers from Tanzania and Kenya destined to Uganda and Rwanda has made headlines recently as host landlocked countries have been accused of deporting instead of treating truckers who test positive for Covid-19.

 In another development, the EAC Partner States have been urged to treat truck drivers and crew who test positive for COVID-19 in the host Partner State rather than deporting them to the country of origin as this will result in further spread of the disease.

 Through a 17-page document titled ‘EAC Administrative Guidelines to Facilitate Movement of Goods and Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic’ sent to Partner States, the Arusha-based Secretariat calls on Partner States to enforce mandatory screening or testing of truck drivers and crew at border posts and undertake mobile monitoring during transit at selected inland points.

Partner States have been further advised to quarantine those with symptoms for 14 days under the supervision of the respective Ministry of Health.

To facilitate cross-border trade during the ongoing crisis occasioned by the novel coronavirus, Partner States have been called upon to, among other things: adopt multi-sectoral and coordinated approach; provide access at all designated points for entry and exit of goods; treat cross-border movement of trucks and cargo as essential services.

Among the items that are supposed to be prioritized as essential goods to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic is food, fuel, medicaments, agricultural products and inputs, security supplies, emergency and humanitarian relief goods.

To mitigate critical shortages of equipment and supplies, Partner States have been called upon to promote local production of the items required to contain COVID-19, for example, medicaments, sanitizers, protective gear and ventilators.

Partner States have further been advised to support the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) sector which employ many East Africans by exploring avenues to enable MSMEs to remain in business and expand as a foundation for post-COVID-19 recovery process.

Transporters and Transporters’ Associations have been directed to adhere to the requirement of having only two to three operators of the truck including the driver.

In a letter addressed to EAC Permanent Secretaries in the Partner States’ Ministries responsible for EAC Affairs and copied to their counterparts in the Ministries of Trade and Health, the EAC Deputy Secretary General in charge of the Productive and Social Sectors, Christophe Bazivamo, on behalf of the Secretary General, states that administrative guidelines had been developed by the EAC Adhoc Regional Coordination Committee on COVID-19 response.

On payments and communication services, Partner States may waive fees on port/border handling charges for essential goods during this period.

“Partner States to facilitate the use of electronic payments, such as mobile money to significantly reduce the use of cash to curb the spread of COVID-19,” avers the policy document, which further calls on service providers such as banks and telecommunications companies to lower transaction costs on money transfer, data and roaming charges.

On the exchange and sharing of information, Partner States are urged to continuously share information on the COVID-19 pandemic with each other and with the EAC Secretariat.

“Government agencies, traders and cargo handlers are urged to share information on challenges encountered in the movement of goods and services during this period of COVID-19 pandemic to facilitate timely response,” it says, adding that Partner States and the Secretariat should designate offices which will facilitate the exchange and sharing of information.