It used to be six or seven trips, eight days traipsing around town and a lot of shoe leather in the clammy lakeside capital of Burundi to complete the paperwork needed to register for a building permit.
Now it’s one trip, six flights up in a Finance Ministry building by elevator and a mere 24 hours or less.
That’s because of a One-Stop Shop approach Burundi has adopted, an innovation that has made the country of nine million people one of the top 10 economic reformers in the world, according to the World Bank.
The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) paid tribute to Burundi’s zeal in its annual Doing Business in East Africa report, which made the country the only African state to figure in the league of the world’s top 10 economic reformers.
“Burundi is among the top 10 improvers for the second consecutive year, with four regulatory reforms in starting a business, in dealing with construction permits, registering property and trading across borders,” said the IFC report.
Only four steps are required to register a business, half the number needed on average by the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
They include submitting all documents, obtaining a registration certificate and registering the company. It also includes making a company seal needed by some banks to issue loans. Although the Government is now proposing to abolish this step, combining the first two so as to remain with only two steps.
“The One-Stop Shops are important for Burundi‘s economy and economic future because they show that with joint action from government agencies, real improvements in service delivery can be made,” said Kieran Holmes, Commissioner General of OBR (Burundi Revenue Authority).
“This creates an enabling environment for business. For example, it is now possible to register a business in Burundi in less than one hour and this is a huge advance on what used to take days previously.”
The IFC report, supported by TradeMark East Africa, shows that in Burundi it used to take about eight days to begin a business, compared to an average of 34 days for the rest of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
That compares to 32 days for Kenya, 58 for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 26 for Tanzania and three for Rwanda.
“Burundi is a very small country,” says the World Bank’s Burundi Country Manager, Rachid Radji. “It can only develop when it connects internationally, starting with the East African Community, which is a quite sizeable market”.
“Beyond that, it can benefit by joining other bilateral trade arrangements. But for the time being, the emphasis has first of all been on laying the foundation (for growth and investment), taking on regional and then more broadly international opportunities. ”
The reforms are not just nice-to-have innovations that look good in the country’s online shop windows. EAC countries are vying for foreign investment, and the better the business climate, the more attractive a country can be.
This is all the more necessary because the EAC as a whole ranks, on average, 117th in the world’ 185 economies for the ease of doing business at the very moment when East Africa’s economies are surging and investors are looking for places to channel funds because of economic slowdown in traditional recipient states.
As a whole, EAC economies have implemented 74 business regulatory reforms over the past eight years to make it easier to register property or start a business and the time to register property has fallen from 140 days in 2005 to 56 in 2012.
But if all the EAC countries adopted the best practice in the region across all areas of regulation covered, the EAC would rank 26th in the league of world reformers, equal to the United Arab Emirates, the report said.
“The report’s findings can be used to identify and improve the business environment in the EAC along with enabling the expansion of the private sector, the main driver of growth and job creation,” said the IFC’s Manager, Investment Climate Africa, David Bridgman.