Plan to Open Up Trans-Kalahari Trade Route

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue Windhoek The Trans-Kalahari Corridor Management Committee (TKCMC) has agreed on a firm action plan to tackle all outstanding issues relating to cross-border traffic on the Walvis Bay to Gauteng via Botswana route. The committee further reported it had decided to appoint a full-time programme coordinator with responsibility for the urgent implementation of all its resolutions. These decisions were taken at a two-day meeting of the management committee held in Windhoek last Wednesday and Thursday to agree on joint actions to open up the Trans-Kalahari trade route. The action plan aims to speedily resolve issues such as opening hours on the Schilpadshek-Pioneer Gate border post between South Africa and Botswana. Two other issues the action plan will address are a bond guarantee scheme on the route and the harmonization of axle-load limits. The objective of the committee is to move the closing time at the Schilpadshek-Pioneer Gate border post from the present 22h00 deadline to 24h00. A major problem bedevilling road transport on the route is that trucks leaving Gauteng often only finish loading at around 19h00, leaving too little time to make the 22h00 closing time at Schilpadshek. A spokesman for the committee said Botswana has already agreed to extend the opening hours on its side of the border, with the three member countries now only waiting for agreement from South Africa. Botswana has pressed for the implementation of a bond guarantee scheme to avoid losing customs revenue when goods ostensibly being exported to other countries are illegally diverted into Botswana free of customs duties. The meeting of the TKCMC last week tasked representatives on the committee from the relevant countries to take up these issues with their governments, and set firm dates for them to report back. A spokesman for the committee said it would meet again in November to assess progress made, by which time the programme coordinator should be in office. The TKCMC also announced that its mother body the Walvis Bay Corridor Group’s headquarters in Windhoek would host the programme coordinator. The decisions taken by the TKCMC appear to be a positive response to calls made by Namibian Permanent Secretary for Works and Transport, Shihaleni Ndjaba, when he officially opened their two-day meeting last Wednesday. Ndjaba urged the committee to put in place concrete action plans to discharge outstanding issues to allow the TKCMC to refocus its energies on enhanced utilization of the corridor. Finalisation of outstanding issues would also allow the committee to concentrate on the promotion of spatial development in the corridor’s catchment area. The governments of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa launched the Trans-Kalahari initiative in 2003 when they signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the joint development and management of the corridor. Ndjaba told the TKCMC every effort should be made to minimise the transportation and logistics costs on the Trans-Kalahari route in order to enhance its competitiveness. To this end the two heads of state of Namibia and Botswana agreed to establish a dedicated Botswana dry port at the Port of Walvis Bay during a recent state visit by Botswana President Festus Mogae. Botswana was hard at work to develop a strategy, and action plan, for the utilisation of this facility. “At inter-governmental level we understand how important it is for us to jointly address certain areas for key interventions to level the playing field and to render our efforts and financial investments over the years effective,” Ndjaba said.