Windhoek The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Council of Ministers has warned member states against mistreating truck drivers of essential goods and services across the region.
This comes amid revelations that the drivers are being seen as the cause of COVID-19 and not as foot soldiers who transport essential goods and services at borders within the region.
Chairperson of the SADC Council of Ministers and Tanzanian Minister of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation-Professor Palamagamba John Kabudi urged member states to treat the drivers with the respect and dignity they deserve at borders.
In his opening remarks at the SADC Council of Ministers virtual meeting last week, Kabudi said, “Yes we need to take measures to contain the spread of the virus, but let us not stigmatize the drivers and treat them as pavers of Covid-19. Let us treat them humanely, let us appreciate the risks they are taking, while we are taking measures to contain the spread of Covid-19.
“Our drivers are demoralized, because they have been seen as the cause of Covid-19 and not as frontline workers that transport essential goods and services. Once again I appeal to all of us to treat these drivers with dignity, sympathy, empathy and without compromising the necessary measures of containing COVID-19.”
He said it is time to strengthen regional solidarity, contain the spread of the virus, while at the same time maintaining movement of essential goods and services across regional borders.
“This is the time to avoid unilateral actions and increase consultations,” he added.
“Our solidarity is important at this level and normally the cohesion of any organization is tested during times of crisis. This is the time to show the world we are together in these very complex and critical times in our recent history,” Kabudi said.
While the member states are implementing the Regional Guidelines on Harmonization and Facilitation of Cross Border Transport Operations across the region; the Council acknowledged that the disruption of the cross border transport and congestion at border posts is posing a huge challenge.
He said the time that vehicles are taking long to move and costs of transportation of goods are making things more difficult.
“As a block, we have an urgent need for fast tracking the harmonisation and synchronisation among member states in order to ease congestion at border posts,” he added.
“This pandemic is likely not to end in the short term and the Region will have to practice safe trade and transport facilitation for economic growth and poverty alleviation, while containing the spread. As we take measures to contain the pandemic, we should be reminded that the very aim of our integration amongst others, is to boost intra-regional trade.”
As the region implements the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Road Map 2015-2063; Kabudi urged member states to convert regional industries to produce more sanitizers, masks, protective clothing and ensure that they are sold within the region.
He added, “In the region we should now be able to buy and sell sanitizers made in Tanzania and in Mauritius, because Mauritius has a lot of sugar and they produce a lot of alcohol. So let us turn this challenge into an opportunity of emboldening our industrialization and intra-trade in the region.”
He said while implementing the SADC Industrialization Strategy and Road Map, the region should take advantage of the increased need for medicines and medical supplies and create conducive environments for the establishment of new pharmaceutical industries and provide various incentives to the existing ones.