he Federation of East African Freight Forwarders Associations (FEAFFA) wants the government of Uganda to suspend the mandatory testing of all truck drivers at border crossing points for fear of cargo pile-up and congestion.
Uganda authorities, on 20th December last year, directed testing of all incoming travelers, including truck drivers. The directive proposed the review of the Regional Electronic Cargo and Drivers Tracking System (RECDTS), which allows Covid 19 testing after 14 days, to a shorter duration due To the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, which has a shorter incubation period.
“In this respect, Ministry of Health would like to test all travelers through land-based border points,” a letter addressed to 1st Deputy Prime by the ministry reads in part.
Although Ugandan authorities are giving assurances that the changes will not cause traffic jams at the borders there are fears that there will be traffic pile up because of the logistical limitations in setting up the system, the lack of awareness among the targeted travelers including truck drivers, the lack of sufficient holding bays for the big cargo trucks among others, FEAFFA president Mr. Fred Seka said in a statement.
The region has been setting up systems to ensure no more testing is done at the borders to avoid traffic snail-ups. The new measure is introducing a direct additional cost to the private sector which is likely to hurt the end consumers of the cargo being traded across our borders, Seka said.
The private sector is currently taking advantage of the free covid19 testing provided by some of the partner states, something that this new approach will deprive them of. In addition, other operational expenses such as the increase in demurrage charges are likely to arise due to the increase in truck turnaround times as the private sector attempts to adjust to these new measures, Seka added.
According to Seka, RECDTS has served the region well and should be enhanced to accommodate the emerging covid19 trends and the corresponding containment measures without significant disruptions to the transport and logistics sector as is being introduced in Uganda.
“All EAC partner states should be brought on board to avoid causing unnecessary tensions among them. The EAC secretariat should coordinate the review process to ensure all national concerns including those of Uganda’s are considered. This will minimize disruptions as they were witnessed when covid19 first struck. We need to learn from our past experiences as a region,” Seka said.
He also urged all EAC Partner States to provide free covid19 testing for truck drivers as essential service providers. This will boost the functioning and benefits from the RECDTS.
“For fully vaccinated and recently tested truck drivers, health authorities in the EAC should consider less stringent and cost-friendly alternatives such as rapid tests. This will reduce the number of tests truck drivers are subjected to given the significantly high frequency with which truck drivers cross borders,” Seka said.
For frequent and essential cross-border travelers such as truck drivers, provisions should be made for their tests in one country to continue being recognized and accepted across borders as provided in the RECTDS.
The region should also fast-track the adoption of the EAC Covid19 vaccine passport. This will promote uptake of the covid19 vaccine among truck drivers and other logistics sector workers.
“As a normal practice, all stakeholders in the regional transport and logistics industry should be adequately mobilized and sensitized on this new approach before it is implemented. The consequences of a sudden shift in approach are likely to more harmful as we are starting to witness,” Seka said.