By Staff Reporter WINDHOEK A delegation from the SADC Secretariat, Directorate of Infrastructure and Services on Friday convened a Stakeholders Forum for infrastructure stakeholders in the capital. Stakeholders from Namibia comprised the energy, tourism, transport, communications and ICT, and water sectors. The objectives of the forum included briefing stakeholders of the Infrastructure and Services Cluster on the ongoing regional projects and programmes for member states. Stakeholders also presented and consulted on hardware projects in which Botswana is directly involved and therefore has a direct interest, with the view to reviewing progress made and financing of the projects. The role of Member States, Implementing Agencies and the SADC Secretariat in the implementation of regional projects as well as conducting bilateral discussions, were articulated and clarified. In the transport sector, the forum reviewed projects such as the Trans-Kalahari Railway, Trans-Caprivi (Grootfontein-Katima Mulilo), the Walvis Bay Corridor Strategic Plan (2006-2010), Rail Track Upgrade and Rail Links for Gobabis, Usakos, Grootfontein, Okahandja, Windhoek, and Divundu. Other areas covered included Walvis Bay Port Expansion and Development, Upgrading of the Divundu River Bridge as part of the Trans-Caprivi Corridor Development, Trans-Cunene Road Project/Rail Project Extension, Okahandja-Kapps Farm (Hosea Kutako) to Trans-Kalahari Road, Omakange-Ruacana Xangongo Border Crossing Point (also links with Trans-Cunene), Regional Air Cargo Hub at Walvis Bay and M’pacha and Ondangwa Airports Upgrading linking Zambia, Zimbabwe and Lubango. On Energy, the forum deliberated around issues concerning the Kudu Gas Project, the Western Corridor Power Inter-connector Project, Baynes Hydro Power Project, Otjiwarongo-Katima Interconnector (to Zambia and Zimbabwe) and harmonization of Policies Regulations and Legislation in the Petroleum and Gas Sector. Under the Communications and ICT sector, delegates looked at the SADC Regional Information Infrastructure Project and NEPAD EASSY Project, while on Tourism the South Africa 2010 World Cup Soccer Tourism Strategy and Development of Trans-frontier Conservation Areas were discussed. Concerning water resources, the Ondjiva-Oshikango Trans-boundary Water Supply and Sanitation Project, the Orange-Senqu River Basin Project, the Okavango River Basin Project, and the Cunene-Cuvelai River and a pre-feasibility study for the Transfer of Water from the Congo Basin to the Water-Scarce Countries in the SADC Region were deliberated on. The SADC Secretariat undertook to support Namibia through coordination of the development of trans-boundary infrastructure projects and sourcing of funds for their implementation. The SADC delegation further elaborated on the infrastructure programmes and projects that it is implementing with the member states, and Namibia in particular. The delegation further informed stakeholders of the infrastructure projects which involve Namibia, and outlined the role Namibia is expected to play in respect of presenting proposals, packaging, feasibility studies, promotion of projects, soliciting of financing and the implementation of the projects, including the role of NEPAD and other cooperating partners. The forum acknowledged the commitment and progress Namibia has made with the development of infrastructure, mainly road networks and corridors. The forum noted that the SADC shall declare a free trade area next year (2008), a Customs Union in 2010 and a Common Market in 2015, following the decision of the SADC Extraordinary Summit in October of 2006 to reaffirm the above roadmap in respect of implementation of the SADC Protocol on Trade. It was against this background that Namibia committed itself to providing adequate infrastructure to facilitate increased trade among SADC member states, which is expected to increase from the current 25% intra-SADC trade to over 75% intra-SADC trade by 2010, given the ongoing tariff face-down process amongst member states. The forum underscored the need for the ministries responsible for infrastructure and associated stakeholders to continue to work together with the SADC Secretariat to ensure speedy implementation of projects in which Namibia has an interest. It was agreed at this platform that SADC Heads of States and Government shall hold brainstorming sessions on accelerating the implementation of regional infrastructure in the SADC, which is considered to be a prerequisite for the successful implementation of the SADC Free Trade Area, Customs Union and Common Market. The Heads of States Micro Workshop is to be held during the 27th Ordinary Summit which is due to take place in Lusaka in August 2007. The Summit is expected to come up with a declaration aimed at allocation of more regional and international resources to urgently address the infrastructure development gap as well as deferred maintenance of infrastructure. Priority shall be accorded to the SADC countries that have recently come out of protracted civil strife, and these include Angola, the DRC and, to some extent, Mozambique. The SADC Secretariat briefed the forum on the ongoing study to develop a SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan, which shall be the basis for implementation of regional infrastructure based on regional consensus. The Master Plan shall represent the minimum infrastructure requirements to operationalize the SADC Customs Union and Common Market.