Rwanda and Uganda are embroiled in a bitter row over what exactly is happening at the Gatuna border post. Uganda is saying it is total closure of the border by Rwanda while Rwanda says it’s diversion of heavy vehicles to Kagitumba due to ongoing construction of the One Stop Border Post (OSBP).
As officials on either side of the border exchange strong words over the matter and issues related to the mistreatment of Rwandans in Uganda, the decision to close the border may have been influenced by the Senate and Auditor General – arms of the Rwandan state which have so far not said anything.
A Senate sitting on January 23, in which officials from Rwanda Transport Development Agency (RTDA) were summoned, may have prompted the hasty decision by the government to partially close the Gatuna border post.
RTDA had been summoned to the Senate to explain why the Gatuna One Stop Border Post (OSBP) had taken such a long time to be completed. The senators’ concerns were based on the 2017 Auditor General’s report which particularly singled out the Gatuna border for severe rebuke.
The AG says the Gatuna OSBP was supposed to have been competed in late 2016 or early 2017 lasting just a few months of construction.
Another deadline was set for November 2018. It is now two years behind schedule.
The construction of the Gatuna one-stop border post involves the expansion of a road linking Uganda and Rwanda; upgrading the scanner at the border; construction of a verification storage facility; a control shed, a parking yard and office buildings. All of which are to be based on the Rwandan side of the border.
As a result of the unexplained delay, the cost of the project has exploded by over 240%. The government will now pay Rwf 15.9b for work that had been planned to take only Rwf6.4b.
In addition, government had lost Rwf3.1b paid out to a contractor who failed to fulfill obligations and the contract was terminated in July 2017. The previous contractor completed about 40% of the work.
Months or perhaps years of the legal battles are expected to follow to recover some of the moneys, or even pay more if the contractor wins and demand compensation.
Although the South Korean firm Cheon Kwang Engineering and Construction Company was demanding $6 million, it was paid $900,000 after arbitration. The contract is now with the Rwanda firm NPD Contraco.
In the tense senate session that day back in January, RTDA Director General Imena Munyampenda and Board chair Leopold Mbereyeho were given three months to have competed the Gatuna One Stop Border Post (OSBP).
In other words, RTDA must report back to the Senate in late April with a seal of completion of the Gatuna border – waiting for official opening.
The Senators told the RTDA team that they were going to submit their own recommendations to the Prime Minister Dr Edourd Ngirente. They have not shared what they told the PM.
The Gatuna post is among 15 common border posts that the East African Community has set itself to build. The one-stop borders are supposed to operate 24-hours to speed, simplify and ease clearing and travel.
The OSBP regime was billed as one way to reduce bureaucracy at the border posts and significantly eliminate bribes.
Businesses in the region has for years complained of delays caused by demands for varying and excessive documents from one country to another, insufficient use of information communication technologies as well as lack of coordination between customs bodies and other government agencies.
Since 2010, TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) has been implementing a $75 million One Stop Border Post (OSBP) project that will reduce transit costs incurred in moving goods across borders in the region.
Currently, at the Gatuna border, trucks are checked twice – both on Rwanda and Uganda side, which means more time spent at the border.
The completion of the one-stop post would speed up the clearance process through the use of an X-Ray scanner that can check two vehicles in five minutes, according to the planning.
Fast forward to Thursday morning February 28, Commissioner for Customs Services of the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) received a letter from the Rwandan counterpart Uwamariya Rosine.
The letter says “with effect from 28th February 2019, all heavy trucks carrying goods destined and those transiting via Gatuna shall be temporarily diverted from using Gatuna border post to Kagitumba/Mirama hills posts”
The reduction of traffic will provide space and ample time for the contractor to finish Gatuna border.
The Uganda government is reporting the development as a complete border closure – a tone that has escalated the misunderstanding into a full blown diplomatic crisis.
Rwanda is not allowing its citizens to cross to Uganda, and Uganda is not allowing Rwandans already on their side of the border to cross back.
As of Saturday morning March 2, heavy trucks were still arriving at the Gatuna border – finding others that have been there since Thursday.
The Uganda Media Center, the government information office said on social media posts that so far 130 trucks are waiting to cross. It said 54 had been cleared by the Ugandan border, waiting to come to Rwanda.
It remains unclear why, even after Rwanda has asked the trucks to divert to Kagitumba, they are still arriving at the Gatuna border.
Ordinarily, the partial closure of Gatuna to allow the completion of the one-stop border post that benefits both countries would not have caused disorders if there weren’t other unresolved security issues between both countries as The Chronicles has been reporting.
Meanwhile, Rwanda’s foreign affairs minister and government spokesperson Dr Richard Sezibera has scheduled a press conference on Monday 11am to address “local, regional and international issues”.
It will surely be about the sour Rwanda-Uganda marriage.