Road to Africa: new border facilities planned

……article 20 August 2020…..

The road to Africa: six new border facilities

Department of Home Affairs has briefed Parliament on the final plan for the construction of six new modern facilities at South Africa’s border posts, part of a major continental plan to improve cross border trade in the SADC region.  The focus at present is particularly on issues involving the movement of goods transported by road in the absence of common rail networks and the lack of development in this area by Transnet.

Hold ups and blockages are being reported.

This month Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi and Deputy Minister Njabulo Nzuza accompanied by Jackson McKay, the Home Affairs DG,  posted MPs on the latest position; a process  which has somehow torturously proceeded its way through Parliament for the last three years.  The project has been beset with problems all along the way, which usually happens whenever an attempt is made to merge the effort of various government departments.

Ideas on paper

However, enthusiasm of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) for the project seems undiminished, and correctly so.  Fast service, computerised customs posts are a logical answer on paper but the co-ordinating the external affairs of state between some seven countries have added to the gargantuan task, this being now the next ladder to climb, they say

Whilst the approach of Home Affairs is clearly in respect of immigration controls and customs collections, it was refreshing to hear for a change constant reference to the need for facilities that would assists in the development of trade in the region, instead of the endless mantra of immigration controls.

Officialdom

On the domestic front, hurdle after hurdle have presented themselves since the concept was first mooted in 2008.

Things did not start well.  When the Border Management Authority (BMA) Bill was proposed to Parliament in 2015 by the then Home Affairs minister, Malusi Gigaba, a strong suspicion was harboured by business and industry regarding the ulterior motives of its tabling, mostly a concern regarding customs revenue.

Many thoughts were expressed around accusations of “empire building” by DHA at the very thought of combining customs collection with immigration, complemented by adding defence and security.

Hands off

In 2014, MOUs were struck up between SAPS, SADNF and DHA, totally without the knowledge of Parliament. Once the Bill was tabled, however, the idea of an MOU between National Treasury and DHA was totally rejected by Treasury.  Within weeks, Ismail Momoniat of Treasury expressed the Treasury standpoint in Parliament, making it quite clear to MPs that any hopes that  DHA had of their new BMA staff of even being involved with tax would be rejected entirely.

Trade potential

At that point the Bill was still particularly loose and unacceptable as far as its wording was concerned  but it was still agreed by Parliament that, in a broader sense, trade corridors had to be improved.    if transport of goods, the essential spark for growing a Southern region, were to have any hope particularly insofar as exports into Africa were concerned, this had to be furthered, it was said.

Eventually, as the Bill progressed in stature, most of the problems were centered around areas of immigration and policing matters, Minister Ayanda Dlodlo confusing most.   Quite obviously she was totally unaware of trade issue implications and was appointed, to the surprise of most,  as a result of Jacob Zuma’s eleventh cabinet change.

Essentially, the spark is considered by most observers as always been there but much hidden by lack of political will to build regional trade alliances.   Historic issues surrounding SADC co-operation, or the lack of it, and difficult relationships have been at play for decades to the detriment of the region.  Worse, politics in South Africa regarding the movement of goods has been unfortunately intertwined with the movement of people, a dialogue extended by Ayanda Dlodlo.

For the better

The South African government, which it is felt by business and industry in general to have failed in their task of opening up diplomatic and trade relationships in Africa, have now taken a stronger stand under Minister Aaron Motsoaledi in pushing for better trade relationships and forcing through the mechanics of trade mechanics and infrastructure.

With neighbouring relationships having now come to the fore with President Ramaphosa as African Union chair, to a greater extent things are looking up.    However, the core of the ANC, as the governing party, has never really come to the party on any matters of international relationships, let alone trade; the ANC always remaining traditionally inward looking and somewhat unprofessional in this area.    Over the years, this has been quite evident from parliamentary meetings where the subject of SADC trade has emerged.

Refugees under focus  

SA now is beset with problems  in dealing with a paralysed neighbour, Zimbabwe, on cross-border treaties. Nevertheless DHA, from reports to Parliament over the months could be seen as still soldiering on with Border Management Authority project in general, the Bill having now signed by the President but not yet promulgated as law.

So, what has been achieved in the interests of transport and trade?  DG Jackson Mackay gave it all his very best in a presentation and one had to admire what has been achieved in such a negative environment.     As a result of the portfolio committee meeting, the concept is now officially approved by Parliament, with MPs now calling for regular updates on the new “one stop border posts”, or OSBs, at Beitbridge, Lebombo, Maseru Bridge, Kopfontein, Ficksburg and Oshoek.

The basics of road trade

In 2017, a massive 173-page report developed by the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency (C-BRTA) in Pretoria, provided a benchmarking exercise along highly trafficked road transport corridors in the West and East Central African regions, all with a view of finding solutions to opening up trade movement to and from South Africa.

Essentially, the “challenges” established were congestion, delays at borders, and long journey turnaround times, all of which reduced safety and high cost of doing business, such factors impeding intra-regional trade.   Trade between the partnering countries stands at only 12% of the economic potential of the region.  Urgent intervention was called for by the report – especially given the fact that cross-border road transport carries over 80% of the total goods that are traded in the region.

Conclusion

The report concluded that the status-quo cannot be left to perpetuate if SADC was to achieve its set socio-economic and developmental objectives. Recommended was the establishment of an autonomous legal regional body with authority to enforce the implementation of regional policies, agreements and programmes and implementing the multilateral cross-border road transport arrangements.  This has now been achieved in the form of the Border Management Authority, already partially staffed.

Seen as essential was the transformation of  prioritised border posts into One stop Border Posts (OSBs now proposed by Parliament) to address “the hard and soft infrastructure challenges experienced at commercial border posts along strategic regional corridors”.

Coming to the boil

To return to last week’s presentation by Home Affairs, DG Jackson McKay said that South Africa currently had an extraordinary number of border points, 72 in all.   Fifty-three of these were on land, eleven airports and eight seaports. Six of these had been officially selected as OSBs and were all road border crossing.

The idea is at these crossings transport of goods is no longer stopped twice as previously, once for each country, but only once by the BMA on behalf of both nations. A speedy and consolidated service is to be installed.

Public/private partnerships

He said the project had been was registered with National Treasury (NT) as a Private-Public Sector Partnership, and five consortia had pre-qualified in 2018 tenders to construct the OSBs, Treasury having granted approval to commence the request for proposals.

The draft RFP was to be submitted to Treasury in the 2020/21 financial year, McKay said, and that the developers of each port of entry would be appointed by the end of the financial year. The key principle in all planning was “traffic segmentation, where the plans would have separate lanes for cargo, freight, general cars and for vehicles that needed to have goods declared, all only once”.

The sticky bit

SA and Zimbabwe had already started preparing an OSB procedural manual for operations on their mutual border, McKay said, and agreement had reached on the preferred OSBP models for Botswana. Hopefully by March 2022 all the commercial and financial negotiations would be completed.

Construction was to start 2022-2024 on all six ports of entry and “the concessionary period” of start-up operations would be in the years 2024-2044, McKay announced.

McKay also told MPs that DHA had established a steering committee consisting of the DHA, SARS, SAPS, Department of Land Reform, Department of Health and the Department of Public works – the primary role of this committee beings to provide continuous support towards the development of the OSBs with “joint technical working groups (JTWGs) between SA and each of its neighbouring countries.

These comprised of senior technical officials from both the factored countries dependent on which borders were involved”, he said.

Big plans

Each JWWG had for sub-committees handling the issues policy & legislation; planning, infrastructure joint operations; ICT and biometrics as well as cost-sharing & co-financing.    McKay then moved onto the development  of Enhanced Movement Control System (EMCS) which he described as “technology that assisted the Department to proactively manage immigration” developed in conjunction with SARS.

This would indicate that SARS and DHA have made peace and may it long continue that both operate in their separate spheres but together. A prototype of the BMCS was launched at the end of March 2019 at Lanseria airport and since then rolled out on selected counters at OR Tambo, McKay said.

As always, implementation remains the problem.

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