By Esther Nakkazi
As a freight forwarder and logistics officer, operating in East Africa, you need to be trained and a holder of the East Africa Customs Freight forwarding Practicing Certificate before end of this year or you will not operate.
The certificate is a regional program aimed at professionalizing the customs clearing and freight forwarding industry, which will become a mandatory requirement for practicing in all East African countries by end of 2013.
It is industry based and was developed after a needs analysis was done. It has been running since 2012 and targets people who are already practicing, therefore it has based on any country education grading system for entry.
Patrick Mathenge, the executive Director, Federation of East African Freight Forwarders Association says they hope to train 4,500 clearing agents in two years.
“In the future we want self-regulation. We are accrediting so wherever people go in the region, and they have a certificate, they can be employed,” said Mathenge.
Currently, high logistical costs and low levels of service provision characterize the East African region. According to a June 2010 study on the ‘Analytical Comparative Transport Cost study along the Northern Corridor region’ logistics currently account for about 42 percent of the total cost of importing, while costs associated with delays represent 23percent of the total import process cost.
“It is against this backdrop that we have decided to make the Certificate programme a pre-condition for licensing clearing agents in the region to ensure that the industry is professionalized to operate efficiently and cost effectively,” said Mathew Bizimana, the president of FEAFFA.
“We are not competing at all regionally or otherwise if the clearing and forwarding agents are not playing their role,” Silas Kanamugire, the Director of Trade Facilitation at Trade Mark East Africa (TMEA).
FEAFFA is a federation of national freight forwarders Associations with 3,000 companies, enhancing professionalism in clearing and forwarding. One of the objectives for training in this certificate to reduce the cost and time involved in conveying goods across East African corridors by raising the professional standard of clearing and forwarding agents.
“If you are employing someone who is not trained it takes them 3 days to make an entry for a declaration, but with the trained it is just an hour. You avoid storage charges,” Jennifer K. Mwijukye, the Managing Director of Unifreight Cargo Handling.
An extra delay in storage at an Internal Container Depot (ICD) can cost $300 per day. Delays are attributed to so many factors but most importantly knowledge and technical skills are to blame.
Kanamugire said ‘ it is to enhance trade within the region by identifying and supporting programs directly that impact the reduction of transport and related costs along the key corridors in East Africa.
Through TMEA financial support, FEAFFA and the country Revenue authorities are expanding the delivery capacity of the training facilities within the five EAC member states to get the desired critical mass of 4500 trained agents in the region by 2013.
“We need to train in this course because when you harmonise the law and regulations then you also need to harmonise the training so that you have a fairly standard product from the region,” said Richard Kamajugo, Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) commissioner for customs.
Kamajugo said with this certificate the logistics officers should be able to apply and work anywhere n the region since they will be at the same level.
“When you have no standards, everybody moves in different directions and that confuses the customers. If this is enforced it keeps order and reduces time wastage.”
Recent research by TMEA has documented that trained customs agents make less errors in lodging customs errors entries and therefore are able to clear cargo faster.
“The EACFFPC programme has so far been successful in reducing delays related to cargo clearance and transit and therefore increasing the region’s potential for trade; that is why it continues to merit our support,” said Kanamugire.
“We had a unique background here in Uganda. Anybody would wake up and just become a clearing agent. As an employer, I have benefited directly from better professionalism, improvement of service delivery and I feel that I am getting value for money from the employees who are trained under this course,” said Mwijukye.
The regional training programme was developed by the FEAFFA in collaboration with the East Africa Revenue Authorities and support from Trade Mark East Africa.
The programme is being implemented regionally under the stewardship of the Curriculum Implementation Committee (CIC), a joint committee of the Forwarders Association, which is made up of national freight forwarders Associations and Revenue Authorities.