The much-talked-about “Covid certificate” ‘forcing' sub-Saharan transporters to lab-test drivers for the coronavirus so they can cross borders appears to be backfiring against the very organisation that thought it wise to implement the regulation – the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
This has emerged after Botswana indicated that it would not accept any external test results in whatever way or form, with negative or positive results proven by a piece of paper or otherwise, irrespective of the SADC’s directive decided on at the end of July.
As it stands, Botswana is still conducting its own tests, which often take up to three days to be completed, with results returned to incoming drivers.
Moreover, Botswana has also decided to provide escorts for all inbound cargo carriers, a process which in itself leads to day-long delays.
According to Mike Fitzmaurice, chief executive of the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (Fesarta), Botswana is also not the only member state that seems to be ignoring an SADC directive.
“No one has implemented it so far,” Fitzmaurice said.
“South Africa never talks to the SADC and is not doing anything about it, nor is Namibia, Angola, Swaziland, Mozambique – all of them.”
He added that for now only Zambia – initially thought to be behind the decision until the Ministry of Health in Lusaka proved this to be erroneous – is making an effort to comply.
“Yet when you arrive at Chirundu (Zambia's border with Zimbabwe) they test you anyway, certificate or no certificate.”
Meanwhile some transporters may already have paid testing fees – R850 give or take in South Africa and about $30 in Zimbabwe for example – that probably could have been saved considering the steep cross-border tariffs and expenses they already have to pay.
Thankfully, as word spreads that the SADC’s Covid-curbing measure is coming to naught, transporters are pulling back from worrying about, or paying for, yet another non-tariff barrier (NTB) that has been added into the mix.
Oddly enough, in a reply to Fitzmaurice following a complaint by Fesarta about the impact of the SADC’s decision on freight flows and cargo expenses across the region, the community's Secretariat indicated that that they did not see the directive as an NTB.
“Tripartite Guidelines on the movement of goods and services during (sic) Covid-19 pandemic were adopted by SADC, Comesa (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) and EAC (East Africa Community) Member of Partner states as a tool for reducing the number of NTBs in (sic) the transport corridors.
“The Guidelines, seeks inter alia to ensure mutual recognition of Covid19 test results, harmonise and streamline driver testing protocols and procedures during inter-state transport operations.
“The Guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were designed to reduce these NTBs and the costs.”
Fitzmaurice has said this is laughable.
“If you introduce anything over and above a customs regulation that costs money and adds time to your journey – what is that if not an NTB?”
He added that the SADC’s claim that they had had input from reputable medical institutions and they had consulted the private sector was also spurious.
“Nobody knows who these medical authorities are - and when they made their findings public it was in the form a 40-page document sent to transporters. Who has the time to work through that?”
It therefore came as no surprise, Fitzmaurice said, especially given the SADC’s half-measure approach to implement the directive, that border authorities seemed to be ignoring it - and hence too transporters.
More seriously, it serves to support the notion that the SADC is somewhat toothless, incapable of enforcing a ruling that is supposed to have been adhered to since yesterday.
John Rocha, chief director of Trade Invest Africa at the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, has since implored industry and officialdom to abide by the directive.
“We are aware of this measure and as things stand we advise everyone concerned to comply,” he said.
“Meanwhile, we will continue to look for a more user-friendly solution to ease the effect on transport operators and enhance the movement of goods along the North-South Corridor.
“We know that there are some innovative solutions available in the market but what is most important is to initiate a process that will lead to the harmonisation of the SADC Guidelines on Cross-Border Transport during Covid-19 by all member states. We are working diligently to achieve this goal.”
As for Botswana’s official stance not to accept Covid certificates, the SADC has said they are looking into it, Fitzmaurice said.