Burundi, one of the world’s poorest states, has been ranked one of the world’s top 10 economic reformers in a World Bank survey that honours its drive to modernise trade and infrastructure.
The award, in the bank’s yearly Ease of Doing Business report, acknowledges Burundi’s efforts to attract foreign investment by unraveling age-old procedures that snarled commerce in paperwork, queues and wasted time.
“We are delighted to be among the top reformers in the world, having moved up 13 places this year on top of having moved up eight places last year,” said the country’s Second Vice President, Gervais Rufyikiri.
The index, topped by Singapore for the seventh successive year, measures how countries perform on a range of indicators from the time it takes to get a building permit to how long it takes to get across borders.
Time, especially in the East African region is money, and Burundi’s modernisation efforts have been helped by targeted expertise from TradeMark East Africa, a donor-funded organisation helping the region to grow prosperity through smoother and increased trade.
Modernity gleams through the rain at Kobero, a four-hour drive from Bujumbura and Burundi’s lifeline border crossing into Tanzania and the distant port of Dar es Salaam. Or, a two-day drive for the 80-odd trucks that pass here every day from Dar es Salaam.
Here, in the middle of a fairly typical African frontier crossing – tiny kiosks, a foreign exchange dealer, and truckers’ cheap hotels – is a large white prefabricated building through which Burundi’s present and future must pass.
It’s the first step towards creating a One Stop Border Post (OSBP) for the truckers and other traffic – not to mention the 80% of Burundi’s imports that shudder through the frontier on trucks and trailers.
Here, Burundian and Tanzanian officials will sit side-by-side processing the paperwork in a computerised drive for modernity that the World Bank award acknowledges. Instead of being checked twice, drivers will only have to go through formalities in their country of destination.
“It will be so good to all be working in the same building for the same goals of transparency and prosperity,” said Burundian customs official Jean-Marie Bashingwa.
“These new and excellent installations on our border with Tanzania herald a better future: Burundi’s national prosperity at the heart of the East African region,” the second Vice President said.
Kobero is expected to be fully operational by the year’s end and a sister post across the Tanzanian border at Kabanga to be in use next year. Similar posts are going up in Rwanda and Uganda to accelerate commerce along the key routes from Mombasa port, in Kenya, and Dar es Salaam,
Rufyikiri paid tribute to the role played by the Office Burundais de Recettes (OBR), a streamlined tax-gathering organisation set up with TMEA to help to increase government revenue for its own development.
Since its inception in 2009, OBR has made dramatic progress every year in raising tax revenue and expects to have doubled tax income by the end of 2012, as well as helping to strip away paperwork for business start-ups.
Kieran Holmes, the Commissioner-General of OBR, says tax efficiency will help Burundi argue for budget support for larger social projects when it meets its donors in Geneva this year.
“Burundi wants to demonstrate that it is doing a great job in getting its house in order,” he said. “It’s creating the kind of atmosphere that attracts foreign investors, and that’s the way that the future prosperity of the country lies.”