ISODEC TAKES ECOWAS EDUCATION TO BRONG AHAFO
The Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC) has held a public forum on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional integration for Non-state Actors (NSAs) in the Brong Ahafo region as part of efforts to make the sub-regional Vision 2020 a reality.
The Vision among others seek to create a borderless, peaceful prosperous and cohesive region, built on good governance where people have the capacity to access and harness sub-region's enormous resources through the creation of opportunities for sustainable development and environmental preservation.
The programme was therefore organized as part of activities earmarked to make information available to NSAs at the grassroots concerning common markets, custom unions and their impact as well as to ensure gender mainstreaming and the protection of the rights of the minority and vulnerable groups in the regional integration process.
It brought together NSAs, particularly Civil Society groups working on regional integration and trade related issues, women organizations, traditional authorities, local business groups, personnel of the Ghana Police, Custom Excise and Preventive and Immigration services and other stakeholders.
Addressing the forum, the Programmes Director of ISODEC, Dr.Yakubu Zakaria, stated that the only way to curb poverty in the sub-region is to open the borders of the various countries constituting the regional body and allow for free movement and trade among citizens of the sub-region.
According to him since the establishment of ECOWAS in 1975, little progress has been seen as far as its objectives are concerned and any time "ECOWAS is mentioned it is about heads of states and nobody hears about ECOWAS in the community".
"Most of you here have travelled before and you could see that travelling from Ghana to Nigeria is like going through hell. Today ECOWAS wants to change this trend and make it an ECOWAS of the people," he told the participants.
Dr Zakaria told the forum that the new vision of ECOWAS at the community level is to ensure that citizens are living in a developed and integrated regions where all the 15 national economies have been fused into one integrated, competitive and resilient market.
He said the vision further pursues the agenda of guaranteeing a dynamic regional economy driven by a regionally inclined business community that would be operating in an efficient and diversified regional production system sustained by modern infrastructural networks. He therefore called on all and sundry to join hands in making the ECOWAS Vision 2020 a reality.
Speaking on the Role of the Immigration Service in the Regional Integration Process, an Assistant Director of Immigration, Mrs. Judith Dzokoto, explained that the Ghana Immigration Service (GIS) is key among the actors in the regional integration process, particularly within ECOWAS in the implementation of the Protocol on Free Movement of persons and the Right of Entry, Residence and establishment.
According to her the GIS on its part has chalked some successes in the level of implementation of some ECOWAS Protocols, some of which include the adherence to visa free entry, granting of 90 days to visitors from the ECOWAS sub-region, designated booths to arriving ECOWAS nationals, lower permit fees, among others.
"The GIS indeed plays a big role in the integration process. Even the rich and developed countries have realized that interdependence is inevitable in any meaningful economic growth and progress, "she noted.
Mrs. Dzokoto therefore called on all stakeholders, particularly traditional leaders and local government authorities to collaborate with border agencies in order to push the ECOWAS vision forward.
On his part, Mr. George Apetor, Chief Collector, Customs Division, Sunyani, indicated that the traditional customs role of revenue collection has changed over the years to include protection of society, combating piracy, drug trafficking, money laundering, terrorism and trade facilitation and security of the global supply chain.
Customs administrations according to him are required to apply border regulatory controls to cross border movement of goods, adding, "Customs as an integral part of the world trading system is also responsive to its environment."
Mr.Apetor encouraged participants, especially the inter-border traders to insist on their right as ECOWAS citizens each time they crossed the borders in order not to be exploited.
To buttress his call, the Chief Collector explained that the objective of the ECOWAS Trade Liberation scheme was to establish a custom union among all member states aimed at total eliminating of customs duties and taxes of equivalent effects, removal of non-tariff barriers and the establishment of a common customs external tariff to protect goods produced in member states.
Mr. Apetor was however quick to add that there are provisions which an importer must complete. He said among others that, goods must originate in member state of the community, be accompanied by a certificate of origin and an ECOWAS export declaration form and such goods must be subjected to the import clearance procedure spelt out under the member states import and export guidelines
Recounting his experience at the Seme border whiles embarking on a journey to Nigeria recently, a participant, Mr. Pascal Assan Edwards, said he arrived at the border in the afternoon and an official approached and asked him to pay some money before he would be allowed to cross the border, "and I asked what has become of the ECOWAS Protocols...?" In response the officer asked him to leave that to the sub-regional governments.
This situation according to Mr. Assan came because of the ignorance of the border official on the ECOWAS regional integration process. He as a result called for capacity building programmes for the various agencies that are responsible for the borders of the sub-region.
Mr. Peter Subaab, Executive Director, Centre for Sustainable Development, who chaired the forum, encouraged participant to share the information they had acquired from the forum with others and assured the organizers that his outfit would continue to spread the message of regional integration to those who could not attend the forum.
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