comprehensive report to inform the policymaking in transport and logistics in the wake of COVID-19 following a one-year study on the impact of the pandemic on supply chain in the East Africa region has been released.
The Federation of East African Freight Forwarders Associations (FEAFFA), Shippers Council of East Africa (SCEA) partnered with Africa Economic Research Consortium (AERC) to generate the report that offers far-reaching recommendations to enhance efficiency as the region struggles with COVID-19 that has threatened to stay with us for a long period.
The report was today validated by representatives drawn from all the East African Countries by giving various inputs through a virtual meeting that was chaired by SCEA. Like most governments in the world, the EAC Partner States put measures to mitigate against the vagaries of COVID-19 by striving to balance saving lives and protecting economies from collapse.
Increased Border Crossing times was a major challenge rising from less than 24 hours, in the first quarter of 2020, up to 6 days at the Busia and Malaba border and with a queue stretching for over 70 km.
Road freight rates along the Northern Corridor increased between Mombasa to Kampala from USD 2200 to USD 2500 for a 20/40-foot container whereas rates to Kigali from Mombasa increasing from USD 3400 to USD 3800.
Because of the delays along the Northern Corridor and especially at the ports of loading and the exit borders, transporters absorbed up to about 48% increase in transport costs.
“The Central Corridor experienced mixed results regarding the rates. There was a notable decrease of road transport rate from Dar es Salaam Port to Rwanda (Kigali) from USD 3000 in January to USD 2700 in September,” the report said.
The Dar es Salaam Port to (DRC) Goma route however experienced an increase–from USD 4150 in May to USD 4400 in September 2020.
On a positive note, the report said that COVID-19 represented an opportunity for automation. The EAC Partner States adopted a centralized digital system through the Regional Electronic Cargo and Driver Tracking System (RECDTS). COVID-19 certificates were generated through the system.
SCEA Chief Executive Officer Mr. Gilbert Langat said that with the policy recommendations now in place, a small private sector driven committee will be formed to lobby for policy and administration action to implement a raft of recommendations the document spells out.
They include the development of IT infrastructure in the EAC region through establishment of online systems and platforms to ensure seamless exchange of information, reduce inconsistencies and communication barriers inherent in the sector. These include upgrading systems from receiving online submissions to complete digitization.
Other key recommendations include infrastructure development through expansion and operationalization of One Stop Border Posts (OSBPs) and integrated border management systems-nationally, between the entire border management agencies represented at the borders, and internationally, between the border management agencies on each side of the borders. This also includes a platform to articulate their needs for better coordination of the border.
Trade policy harmonization both regionally, at county level and at the national government level to help keep cross border traders in business, was also recommended.
The report also recommends support of regional and national efforts to ensure a fully professional logistics industry, including setting regional standards and putting in place structures and mechanisms to ensure they are adopted by all industry players.
Development of a joint approach in dealing with COVID-19 among all EAC countries has also been recommended.
“This is through harmonization of testing processes and procedures, as well as joint financing of testing and COVID-19 certificate recognition and validation, among Partner States,” reads the report.
The report further proposes enhanced partnership and cooperation amongst the Ministries of Health in the EAC and port health service providers at the OSBPs to work together. This could be augmented by a stronger health department at the sector secretariat to effectively coordinate health operations within the community.
Other recommendations include increased inter-connectedness of the different modes of transport – railway and roads – which strongly depend on the efficiency of each other; Regional set up of testing facilities providing enough reagents to accommodate the number of drivers going for testing and ease the delays occasioned by testing and the need for harmonization of the interventions (free period extension for imports and containers) by the various government agencies at the ports.
The report further recommends financial help to service providers such as loan guarantees, loans, tax cuts or payment deferrals, cash handouts as a last resort to cushion the sector; financial reservoir. The sector needs stimulus funds, subsidies or capital endowments to ensure the repatriation of nationals, the supply of emergency and medical products and in preparation to deal with any other pandemic and Promote Public-Private Partnerships.
“Alliances with the private sector have proven beneficial in many contexts, including helping governments reach necessary investment levels and also allowing the companies to gain more market share. It will be important to nurture such alliances and look to build and keep new links with the private sector,” the report observes.
There is also the need to increase human resource. The sector was faced by very large staff lay-offs, especially in airlines and rail operations, affecting the productivity and efficiency of discharge of duties.
Policy framework for pandemic management in the EAC with common containment measures and rail freight rates need to be competitive to ensure continued railage, especially after the court ruling on forced railage has been suggested.
There is also the need to develop inter-agency policies to take cognizance of emergencies and intergovernmental relations during a pandemic, according to the report.
Finally, the report recommends end-to-end rail line to facilitate ease of rail freight from Mombasa to Kampala and reduce congestions at the borders and establishment of a National Disaster/Pandemic Framework.
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