Reopening of borders welcomed, but...

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Gaborone - A new report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa has lauded SADC for harmonising cross-border commerce, but says states need to practice what they preach as regards the regulations.

Southern African nations are making tentative steps to reopen borders following months of lockdown, and the regional bloc has led the way by coming up with a raft of harmonised regulations for truckers.

Overland transport is the lifeblood of SADC economies, and authorities have for months painstakingly tried to literally get the wheels of commerce turning normally in what can only be described as abnormal times.

While saying SADC has done well to get everyone on the same page, a UNECA report also says there is a disconnect between what is on paper and what is on the highways.

“The overall slowdown in cross-border trade and inconsistent border responses have spurred efforts to align processes and procedures in the SADC region.”

The report says under the revised guidelines by the SADC Secretariat,

essentially all goods and services are allowed to flow between member states, while public health measures are observed.

“This is a step towards fully reopening cross-border trading, and is based on the understanding that COVID-19 is here to stay for a while, and all products that move across borders create business and growth, and help to improve the lives of people within the region,” the report says. According to the report, high fees being charged for police escorts in some countries are causing frustration among operators and drivers.

It says the suspension by Mozambique of the issuance of visas to commercial truck drivers is bottlenecking access to the Port of Beira.

Further, congestion at border posts remains a hurdle due to lack of implementation of harmonised public health measures such as testing and quarantine protocols.

UNECA also highlights inconsistent implementation of COVID-19 trade and transport guidelines, and points to the need for greater alignment and improved co-operation between border authorities.

Truckers in the region have separately flagged these problems.

In July this year, SADC issued a directive calling on members to allow truck drivers to cross borders without conducting tests on them as long as they were in possession of COVID-19 certificates showing that they did not carry the virus.

Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport (FESARTA) chief executive officer Mr Mike Fitzmaurice told The Southern Timesthat some countries insisted on testing all drivers at ports of entry whether or not they had certification showing they were corona-free.

Mr Fitzmaurice said, “I am not sure that (the SADC directive) will be enforced by all countries as the SADC COVID-19 Protocols are only a guideline and not an act or bill that is being passed into law by the member states.”

The chairperson of private sector lobby group Business Botswana, Mr Bobby Tlhabiwe, said truck drivers should be treated as first frontline workers in the midst of the pandemic because they ensured availability of critical items such as medicines and food.

He added that delays at the borders were costly to national economies and companies.

“For instance at Mamuno Border (between Botswana and Namibia) it takes six hours for the truck drivers to get their results,” he said.

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