No Holds Barred at ‘Beyond Borders’

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK A panel discussion at the Walvis Bay Corridor Group’s (WBCG) information sharing meeting “Beyond Borders” on Tuesday evening provoked lively debate. The panel consisted of various representatives from transport-related parastatals as well as private sector transport and logistics operators that are members of WBCG. Apart from keynote speaker Works, Transport and Communication Minister Joel Kaapanda, several other senior ministers were also present. Under Secretary for Transport Willy Kauaria, acting as moderator, had his hands full as there was no shortage of participants eager to ask direct questions. One freight executive related how she was asked by an overseas client if her company would be able to ship a piece of heavy mining equipment to Zambia. There is currently a boom in the Zambian mining sector, with strong demand for heavy mining equipment and machinery. She assured overseas clients there would be no problem shipping the equipment to Zambia via Walvis Bay port through the Trans-Caprivi Corridor. Later it emerged that the Divundu Bridge on the Trans-Caprivi highway has a carrying capacity of only 60 tonnes and therefore could not handle the heavy cargo in question. She now wanted to know from those present how the Trans-Caprivi corridor could ever become successful when it suffered from such a serious handicap. The response from Johnny Smith, Business Development Executive at WBCG was largely sympathetic. The problem with the Divundu Bridge, he said, highlighted the need to coordinate infrastructure development between the various parties and countries involved. “The logistics chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” Smith said. Kaapanda – obviously not a man to be deterred by a mere bridge – stood up to call for immediate investment in Divundu Bridge. “Investing in this bridge is a viable business proposition and the returns will be obvious. We cannot afford to miss such a business opportunity,” he argued. Another panellist, Norbert Liebich, chairperson of the Namibia Freight Forwarders Association said the estimated cost of upgrading Divundu Bridge only amounted to N$10 million. The General Manager: Marketing at TransNamib Holdings and a WBCG board member, Brian Black, also supported the call for upgrading Divundu Bridge. “Wealth does not create infrastructure, infrastructure creates wealth. We can contribute to wealth creation,” he suggested. The Divundu Bridge is not only limited by a maximum weight threshold of 60 tonnes, but it can also only handle traffic in one direction at a time. Kaapanda then returned to a subject he touched on in his main speech earlier in the evening. He again asked why many road transporters still used the traditional route to Gauteng via the Nakop border post instead of using the much shorter Trans-Kalahari Corridor. The challenge of answering the minister’s question was taken up by chairperson of the Namibia Road Carriers Association (Namroad), Willy du Toit. Du Toit said the simple answer was that it was quicker to drive the longer route because of the inconvenient opening hours at border posts along the Trans-Kalahari Corridor. Trucks only finished loading at depots in the main centres of Gauteng in the early evening, leaving too little time to reach the border with Botswana before closing time at 22h00. The two partner countries of the Trans-Kalahari Corridor had failed to implement an agreed extension of the border opening hours to 24h00. “Those two extra hours are so critical for road transporters. Please work on our partners in South Africa and Botswana,” he appealed to the government ministers present. The contentious issue of freight charges on containers shipped to Walvis Bay sparked heated debate. One speaker said there were only two or three shipping lines operating to Walvis Bay, giving them the monopoly power to dictate prices. These shipping lines charged US$300 more per 6-metre container delivered to Walvis Bay compared to a similar container consigned to a South African port. A representative of the shipping lines – who perhaps not surprisingly wanted to remain anonymous – quickly jumped to their defence. He first claimed that without those two or three shipping lines Walvis Bay port would be nowhere. Then he argued that since Walvis Bay was Namibia’s only large port, it was as much a monopoly as the shipping lines. A degree of scepticism, and even outright derision greeted both these claims. Norbert Liebich – by now visibly agitated – responded that nothing could justify US$300 extra per container, even with Walvis Bay’s comparatively lower cargo volumes. Director General of the National Planning Commission (NPC), Helmuth Angula, approached the evening’s discussion from a slightly different angle. The real benefit of transport corridors was that they opened up rural areas to economic development, and also ended the isolation of these communities. The Trans-Kunene Corridor would open up routes to Angola, bringing major economic and social benefits to the people of those areas. “We should not only think of immediate profits, but also long-term profits,” Angula urged.