Uganda could see its ranking in the World Bank's annual doing business report improve after it launched the Electronic Cargo Tracking System (ECTS) last week. Flagging off the innovation at Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) offices in Nakawa. Allen Kagina, the commissioner general, said she had been troubled by Uganda's poor ranking.
"Our ranking is going to improve. We no longer require traders to go through a lot of documentation. I remember at one point a trade had to have nineteen signatures [to be cleared]," Kagina said.
"The report can tell how long it takes to transit cargo through Uganda. The project (e-cargo tracker) was an expensive one and it was never meant to be cheap, but it deserved it."
In the 2014 report, Uganda ranked 132nd out of 189 countries in regards to the ease with which one can do business, slightly better than Burundi and Tanzania in the region. Rwanda was ranked the best.
Uganda's long and bureaucratic procedures to register a business, unreliable electricity supply, and sometimes delays at ports while trying to clear taxes, are some of the issues that lead to its low ranking. Kagina said the tax body was transiting from the old days when it controlled everything to giving power to traders to control themselves.
"We came to realise that the more you control, the more you lose. Actually we realised that the business community don't intend to evade taxes but to do business."
Traders have welcomed the e-tracking system. Geoffrey Ssali, a policy analyst at the Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA), told The Observer this was the best prize URA could give traders as it would save them time, money, and ensure security of their goods.
"We have had cases of drivers lying about their locations and they spend a lot of time with their wives along the routes. But the system will give on-spot actual location," he said.
"Besides, the system will improve safety of our goods and save us insurance costs. Insurance premiums are likely to come down. And cases of cargo being stolen along the way will reduce," Ssali added.
URA said Uganda would enter negations with Kenya to ensure that the electronic cargo tracking is started right from the Mombasa port. Richard Kamajugo, the Commissioner for Customs at URA, said: "We want it extended to Mombasa so that the system can track the cargo all the way to its destination."
ECTS, according to Kamajugo, is attached on a cargo track and it's monitored all through. The ECTS relies on a control centre and automatic devices, which send real-time feedback to the control centre.
The system would help in the reduction of dumped goods in the market, which are cheaper and stifle fair competition. Often, after clearance by customs officials, goods disappear before exiting the country and they are sold on the local market.
Prior to the project, URA had to escort some of the goods physically from the point of entry to its exit, an expensive and risky venture. Ahmadou Moustapha Ndiaye, the World Bank's representative for Uganda, said a lot was still needed on the key regional infrastructure on the northern corridor for seamless trade facilitation. The $5.2m (about Shs 13.1bn] project is supported by the World Bank, Trademark East Africa and the Uganda government.