Doing Business in Tanzania: TCCIA Provides Support to the Business Community

Peter Chisawillo talks about the role of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (TCCIA) when it comes to supporting the business community in Tanzania, and gives a general overview of the institution.

Interview with Peter Chisawillo, President of Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (TCCIA)

Peter Chisawillo, President of Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (TCCIA)

Your stated vision at the TCCIA is to become the “most preferred role model business member based organization in Tanzania”. Could you start by outlining and explaining to our audience how the TCCIA provides value to its members and the business community more widely; for instance by providing demand-driven advocacy, business intermediary services and how this feeds through to the wider Tanzanian economy? How can your organisation best come to my aid as a potential foreign investor?

Membership of the Tanzanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is voluntary, so whoever joins as a member has to really appreciate its value. In this respect there are several aspects worth mentioning. Firstly, what can the Chamber do for a business? It can help improve competitiveness and offer access to markets, access to technology, access to finance and other aspects strictly within the realm of the company itself. Secondly, the Chamber addresses sectorial aspects of the business, in terms of identifying barriers to growth: is it a question of regulation, infrastructure, skills or related issues? And that’s where the Chamber is able to offer solutions, whether by engaging with the government, through collective investments – such as where we find ourselves now: we are at the offices of TCCIA Investment Company Limited, which is one of the Chamber’s initiatives to bring together investment from its members –, so as to enable them to participate effectively in the country’s economy.

We were the first business organisation. Every other organisation that we see today actually evolved out of the TCCIA.

It may also have to do with issues requiring engagement with regard to policy, laws, rules or regulations. More critically, this aspect is location-specific, in view of local government authorities. Each local government has its own challenges that need to be addressed. We are talking about 26 regions, but also over a hundred districts. Therefore, in order to address location-specific issues, our outreach extends to the district level. We therefore have District Chambers and these in turn form the Regional Chambers for each region. The regions then come together to form the National Chamber. That is our structure.

As you have said, the TCCIA is therefore an umbrella private-sector, business member-based organisation, which aims to provide support to its members, largely SMEs. My question is really: how important a step was the establishment of the TTCIA in moving on from what was a centrally-planned economy towards a more open and nowadays more mixed economy? How integral a role did the TCCIA play in that process?

The TCCIA was essentially the country’s foremost member-based business organisation, in transitioning from a centrally-planned economy to a market-driven economy.

When did that process really kick in?

It took shape between 1980 and 1985. We established the TTCIA in 1988. Nobody then really knew how to go about creating the conditions for a market-driven economy, whether in the government or even the private sector. The relationship between government and the private sector was basically hostile. Somehow, someone had to say something about what was required for an efficient and effective private sector as an engine for economic growth. Even the realisation that the private sector has to become the engine for economic growth took a good deal of time for people in government to come to terms with.

So there was ideological resistance?

You could call it that. A shift in mind-set was certainly required. As a result, the private sector had to engage the government and convince it that the policy in place had a specific impact on the private sector, and if the government’s aim was to create a vibrant private sector, then certain changes were necessary. This shift in policy involved everything from tax regimes to property and land policies, covering quite a wide spectrum of issues. The government then had to understand that investments were critical, and that somehow you had to create a regime that attracts investment, both in local and external terms. Understandably, engagement with the government went on and on…

But the TCCIA was really instrumental in this?

The struggle in the past was to really get everybody to understand that the private sector is key to economic development.

Yes, certainly instrumental, because we were the first business organisation. Every other organisation that we see today actually evolved out of the TCCIA. Eventually, there were the industrialists under the CTI who sought more focus on industry. We believed we could not afford a split among business associations, and that we needed to consolidate our position, in order to at least speak to the government with one voice. This is how we eventually formed the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation. But the nucleus was the TCCIA.

So the TCCIA continues to play a vitally important role?

The struggle in the past, as it remains today, although it has shifted significantly, was to really get everybody to understand that the private sector is key to economic development.

I imagine this involved overcoming institutional resistance?

Yes, during the Socialist period, anyone associated with business was negatively perceived. It really did take a lot of time to transform things on that front. Once it was accepted, the mechanisms for actually running a private sector-led economy had to be put in place. This is why engagement between the government and the private sector became critical.

How does the TCCIA keep chamber members and the business community updated with the latest economic developments, the latest regulatory environment, the business opportunities, the facilities you offer and the relevant business contacts that may be useful to them?

I will talk a little about this aspect of information exchange, collation and distribution to our members. We realised very early on, perhaps 10 years ago, that information was critical to our members: information regarding technology, markets, business opportunities and links with other businesses outside this country. Therefore, we set out to establish business information centres across the country. Each regional chamber was equipped with computers and internet access, at a time when the internet was not as widespread as it is today. It was quite unique then.

Did you have to build this infrastructure?

Yes, we had to build this infrastructure across the country, which allowed people to go to these business information centres and obtain whatever information they needed. That was the major component then, but in view of technological change, our delivery mechanisms also had to evolve, in order to accommodate new developments. This means we now post a good deal of content on our website, we use groups, including WhatsApp groups and all the social media available.

You really seem to have seized this change.

Yes, we have decisively grabbed the ICT component, which was one aspect; the other aspect being the building up of a core of expertise within the TCCIA.

In terms of institutional capacity?

Indeed, the institutional capacity that would in fact leverage ICTs to come up with products that would be of service to our members. For example, we designed a system to address Non-Tariff Barriers, using SMS messaging. If a driver at the border is faced with a problem, then they can simply SMS a number, and this information is forwarded to a set of officials able to handle the issue, including the Chamber itself.

Do you have a task force that regulates and polices the NTBs?

Yes, we are part of the national task-force, but we are also involved in the day-to-day monitoring of the information that comes in via SMS, in order to at least ensure the right officials are called upon to address the issues that arise.

It’s interesting that you bring this up. I wanted to ask you to perhaps play ‘devil’s advocate’ a little bit and tell me what in your view are the top five Non-Tariff Barriers in Tanzania that restrict trade, in areas such as transport, clearing and forwarding, administrative customs procedures, any technical barriers to trade, government participation in restrictions or any other procedural problems that you feel are really hampering the ability of FDI to flourish?

There are issues to do with actual Non-Tariff Barriers, and there are issues to do with perceptions of Non-Tariff Barriers, and you will mostly find – even when talking to our partners in Kenya, Uganda and other countries within the broader region – there is a perception that roadblocks are a real problem. But much has been done in this respect, because there were once quite a number of roadblocks along the transit routes to neighbouring countries, but this issue has now largely been addressed.

There is also the issue of consistency in standards, for instance involving someone going to another country with a product from Tanzania, but where the certificate is rejected. This is another aspect that needs to be addressed.

So would you say more standardised best practices are needed?

Yes, precisely.

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