SA/Mozambique One-Stop border post: SARS & Home Affairs briefing & ratification; Customs Bills [B43-2013] [B44-2013] [B45-2013] deferred

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Finance Standing Committee

05 November 2013
Chairperson: Mr T Mufamadi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was briefed by both the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and South African Revenue Service (SARS)  on the bilateral legal framework that would set up and support the creation of One-Stop Border Posts between South Africa and Mozambique, with combined border control posts on the border between the two countries. The DHA said that the main purpose of a one-stop border post was to provide for a single shared environment to support more effective management of the border post environment. An Inter-Agency Clearing Forum had been established, consisting of representatives from the various departments who were involved in different aspects of border control.  Cabinet had taken a decision to establish a Border Management Agency where various departments worked together so that there would be one agency to deal with matters related to the One-Stop border post, and this Forum was the precursor to that. A ‘One Stop’ border post was defined as a place where cross-border movement stopped only once, in a dedicated and shared environment, for the border controls and formalities of both countries to be applied, and where, for instance, combined searches by SARS, police and Department of Agriculture might be carried out. In addition, it would be possible to convey information on persons and vehicles to the border posts in advance, so that they could be better prepared, and avoid long queues. The key articles of the main agreement of the bilateral legal framework were explained to the Committee. After ratification by both Houses, the agreement would be incorporated into the domestic laws of South Africa. The agreement contained articles already specifying which laws would apply.

Members questioned the delays in the ratification process were questioned and the Committee was informed that the process had indeed taken a long time, since, firstly, problems with the Annexures and translations had to be sorted out, and secondly because the process had come to a standstill when World Cup arrangements intervened. However, it was also noted that lessons had been learned from this that would be applied to the future One-Stop border posts that were likely to be established between South Africa and, respectively, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Members were pleased to note the broad agreement. Members asked when the establishment of other border posts could be expected, if any compromises had to be made during the negotiations, questioned the time frames, the impact of the Mozambican law and the amended Customs Control legislation. They also asked about how money would be transferred between the two countries, whether this system would change the current visa requirements, and whether better locations could not have been chosen for the border posts. The ‘traveller concept’ and the importance of integrated systems were explained. The Committee heard that disputes would be settled between parties through consultation and mediation. Members resolved unanimously to recommend the ratification of the agreement.

The Chairperson noted that the Committee still had to deal with the Customs Duty and Customs Excise Amendment Bills. However, in view of the fact that this Committee (and others) would still need to return to Parliament early in 2014 to deal with outstanding bills he asked that the final consideration be postponed until then. The bills had been fully debated at Nedlac and although labour urged that they be adopted immediately, SARS thought delays would cause no harm and this would allow for more submissions to be entertained. It was decided that this would be done, and SARS requested the cut-off date for submissions as 15 December 2013.
 

Meeting report

Opening remarks by the Chairperson
The Chairperson said that this meeting would deliberate upon the ratification of the agreement between the South African government and the government of Mozambique on the combined border control posts on the Mozambican and South African borders. The Director-General (DG) of the Department of Home Affairs was present today, the first time he had appeared before this Committee. He noted that at the end of the meeting the Committee would decide which border facility it needed to visit just to get a sense of the work and the kind of facilities that existed. Border facilities were key points for facilitation of trade, and thus the routes or facilities that existed to promote trade between South Africa, SADC and the rest of the continent, were important.

Bilateral Legal Framework in support of One-Stop Border Posts between South Africa and Mozambique: Department of Home Affairs briefing
Mr Mukuseli Apleni, Director-General, Department of Home Affairs noted that the briefing would focus on the bilateral legal agreement to support the implementation of a combined border control post, commonly known as a One-Stop Border Post, between South Africa and Mozambique. A preliminary briefing had been given in June 2012, on a bilateral legal agreement and Annexures, which was signed by South Africa in October 2012, and by Mozambique in June 2013.  The main purpose of a one-stop border post was to provide for a single shared environment to support more effective management of the border post environment, rather than  the border line, between the two countries in a secured manner. This would however improve cross-border movement of international travel and trade.

During the World Cup, an Inter-Agency Clearing Forum (IACF) was established. It was realised that in the border environment operations were done in silos, and there was no legal framework that allowed for a single command and control. The Department of Home Affairs, as a department which was operating in a border environment, the South African Police Services (SAPS),  the South African Revenue Service (SARS), Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Department of Health, The Department of Public Works and the State Security Agency gathered together therefore into the Inter-Agency Clearing Forum. Mr Apleni said that the Committee was aware that Cabinet had taken a decision for the establishment of a Border Management Agency (BMA). The various departments were now working together as the foundation that would ultimately establish that Agency so that there was one entity that would be accountable.

Briefing by the South African Revenue Services
Mr Kosie Louw, Chief Legal Office, South African Revenue Services, outlined the context and background to the agreement, with the emphasis on efficient border management as an imperative to facilitate trade. A ‘One Stop’ border post was defined as a place where cross-border movement stopped only once, in a dedicated and shared environment, for the border controls and formalities of both countries to be applied. The benefits and a proposed layout of the border post were explained and illustrated.

Mr Louw explained that the key articles of the main agreement of the Bilateral legal framework were set out in the following way:
- Article 2 aimed to provide for the implementation of one-stop border posts between Mozambique and South Africa
- Article 3 detailed that each country had to designate a “Competent Authority” to administer and implement the Agreement
- Article 5 dealt with border controls
- Article 6 specified which law would be applicable
- Article 7 gave further details on border control and authority to arrest
- Article 15 covered the requirements in respect of infrastructure development and maintenance
- Article 17 set out annexes, administrative and operational procedures and functions
- Article 19 specified when the agreement would come into force.

The key clauses in the three Annexes and what the Standing Committee had to approve were explained to the Committee. What was being asked of the Committee was to approve the agreement on the combined border control post on the Mozambican and the South African border, and the three Annexures. Annexure 1 dealt with designation and delimitation, Annexure 2 with Joint control and Annexure 3 with infrastructure. It was required that this Bilateral Agreement must ultimately be ratified by Parliament. After Parliament had ratified the agreement, it would be published in a Gazette. Once it was published in the Gazette, it was automatically incorporated into the domestic laws of all the agencies that operated and fulfilled border control functions. After that the notes were then exchanged diplomatically to bring the agreement and annexure into force. (See document for full details)

Mr Apleni said that he wanted to add two issues. In slide nine, there was a graphic representation of the proposed layout of the border post, and he noted that the Pedestrian Facility had already been built, and there was a by-pass route which had already been built from an area called “KM7”, allowing traffic to go around to avoid blockages from other construction in the facility. During the end of year festive season and Easter, buses and taxes would be cleared in “KM7” and “KM4”, so that within the border the movement of people was done in a quicker way. It was also important to note that this would pave the way for implementation for other interventions that were in the pipeline, one of which was the ‘trusted traveller concept’. This meant that, for a person travelling often between the two countries, there was now the ability for sharing of data with fingerprints, which could be used at the border gate.  The integration of systems would allow for the sharing of information with neighbouring states. This would also assist in fighting corruption, illicit economy, and movement of dangerous and harmful goods. More importantly, best practices could be shared between countries.  

Discussion
Mr D Van Rooyen (ANC) asked about the transversal nature of this agreement and what happened to other institutions or operations involved in this process. This Committee was not the only one affected in terms of the legislative provisions.

Mr Louw replied that there was an attempt to illustrate working together in developing the Annexures by forming a specific team that consisted of all nine agencies that operated at the borders. This was done in order to try to get alignment between the relevant players in the first instance on  the wording of the agreements. Once there was agreement at the official level, the parties briefed their political masters and took it to the cluster departments. Ultimately it was taken to Cabinet so that there was alignment as far as all the agreements were concerned. On another level, it might have been better to brief all the Joint Committees of all the different departments.

Mr Louw said that the principle of a one-stop border post had come up in a Committee meeting in around 2011, where there was a joint sitting of quite a number of these committees. It was then brought to this Committee to get the final ratification. The team had come to this Committee as a collective, but ultimately it was Parliament that had to ratify the agreement.

Mr D Van Rooyen (ANC) asked if only this Committee was involved in the ratification process.

Mr Louw replied that he was open to correction but SARS, as the lead agency, had come to the Finance Committee in the National Assembly and had also briefed the Select Committee in the National Council of Provinces about whether it needed to be ratified or discussed in other committees. Ultimately it was the National Assembly, the plenary, that would ratify it.

Ms S Nkomo (IFP) said that there was a need to be aware of where the processes started even before it went to the House.

Mr Van Rooyen asked if a launch date had been earmarked for this initiative.

Mr Louw said that after ratification from both Houses, it had to be incorporated into the domestic laws of South Africa.  Agreement then had to be reached with other parties on a joint date that was acceptable to both. This would ensure alignment as far as the two countries were concerned, so that when operations started both sides were ready. The infrastructure was in place, most of the staff were in place and additional staff that might be needed could be sourced. Most of the larger costs were covered as far the infrastructure was concerned, and budgets would be located in the different departments. Each department would budget for its own staff and if certain movable assets were required, then that would be on the budgets of different departments.

Mr D Ross (DA) said that this was an important blueprint for improved trade and could have huge trade benefits. He expressed concerns about the delay in the South African ratification process and asked what had caused them.

Mr Louw agreed that the process had taken a long time. An agreement was signed in 2007, then there was a set of processes needed to develop a first set of Annexures. When the processes were handed over to SARS there were almost seven Annexures that were developed. There had been problems as far as the Annexures were concerned, as they were considered to be too wide, and as going outside the enabling agreement, which they should not do. This was a serious concern. With the 2010 World Cup, the process came to a standstill. However, as soon as World Cup finished, all the departments came together to restart the process, rewrote the Annexures, consolidated the seven Annexures down into three Annexures and made sure there was alignment with the main agreement.  

Mr Ross said that he had just googled travel requirements and found that for travel into Mozambique a visa, passport, proof of payment and a request for entry were required. He asked if fewer documents would be required once this process was finalised. 

Mr Apleni replied that the minimum requirements were still as was stated by Mr Ross. However, the South African Development Community (SADC) had taken a decision to look at a visa waiver for all SADC countries. SADC was also looking at a “uni-visa” for the region, and machine-readable passports so that there were uniform documents for SADC countries. This would necessitate integrated systems. 

Mr T Harris (DA) said that it was good to have an issue aired in this last meeting of the year where there was such broad agreement.  He asked how soon after the establishment of the first border post the second and the third border posts were expected.

Mr Apleni replied that a start had been made with Lebombo, but other posts were being earmarked. Beit Bridge was being considered as the first one in line as a possible other one-stop border post, and then also Maseru Bridge.  

Mr Harris asked if anything had been compromised when in negotiations with Mozambique.

Mr Louw replied that he was not aware of anything compromised in the process. The text was developed and Mozambique basically accepted the text. There were some wording problems, as was normally the case with translations, but they had not been major issues.

Mr Harris raised the issue of the one-stop border post between Zimbabwe and Zambia at Chirundu. The process there was blockaded, and there was also an IT connectivity problem. This highlighted the importance of capacity and the problems that could arise if there was a lack of capacity. He emphasised the importance of getting the one-stop border post to work at an optimal level.

Mr Apleni replied that the lessons learnt around Chirundu were exactly in line with what was mentioned previously about the importance of the integration of systems. Different systems would take time to process people, but one system was envisaged. He referred to the ‘traveller concept’ and the importance of integrated systems.

Mr William Mpye, SARS Border Management, SARS, said that discussions had been held with Mozambique, with the intention to facilitate both Customs and the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) being able to share information on the movement of people and goods. This had to happen before the person arrived at the border itself. Information on exports from South Africa was transmitted electronically to the next country of import. Similarly, the same type of information, through the DHA, about the person or the goods travelling, would be available to South Africa and, in the opposite direction, to Mozambique so that people and goods could be processed as fast as possible when they arrived at the point of crossing. In the case of Chirundu, it was only now that processes were being put in place. Previously, the buildings had been erected, but without supporting processes and the necessary systems, like the Standard Operating Procedures. This team was doing this up front, so that by the time of the launch, there would not be the usual teething problems seen with other projects.  

Ms Z Dlamini- Dubazana (ANC) expressed concern about time frames, Mozambican law and the applicability of the new Customs Control amended legislation in South Africa.

Mr Louw said that he did not think that the new Customs Bills in Parliament would go through now, as the agreement was an agreement that was, first of all, signed in terms of the Constitution, and the current Customs and Excise Act made provision for that. He said that there was sufficient legal basis at this stage to proceed with the agreement. Once the new laws come into operation, they would just be incorporated into the current laws. He thanked the Committee for the reminder.  

Mr Apleni said the Border Management Agency (BMA) had to be established by 2016. By 2014 the framework had to be in place. The processes being attended to at present were the building blocks for the BMA.  

Ms Dlamini-Dubazana expressed concern with regard to Article 8, which dealt with the transfer of money and goods. South Africa had Money bills but it was unknown what currency Mozambique had. Revenue had to be collected and there was a need to know how to deal with Mozambique with regard to that country’s legislation.

Mr Louw replied that Article 8 was just to make sure that the money collected at the border post, in Mozambique for example, could be transferred to South Africa according to the fiscal laws of the country.

Ms P Adams (ANC) asked regarding slide 8, if the place selected was ideal to set up a border post. It did not look client-friendly, with mountains on the one side and a river on the other.

Mr Louw replied that it might not have been the ideal place, and maybe if there was the opportunity to choose again then the current border crossing would not have been chosen. Many things would have to be changed if the location was changed.

Ms Adams asked for clarity regarding the delays in the signing of the Annexures. South Africa had signed in October 2012 and Mozambique had signed in June 2013.

Mr Louw replied that there were time lags on both sides. One of the delays was around making sure the translation was fully correct.

Ms Adams said her question was partly subjective. She asked why Vioolsdruf was not chosen as the border post between Nambia and South Africa, as it was a very important trade route.  

Mr Louw replied that at some stage the crossing at Namibia would be explored, but this would definitely be deferred to a later stage, as the team was quite busy at the moment. This had been a learning experience. In the later agreement with Zimbabwe, the Annexures were built into the main agreement and from now on processes were likely to be able to move faster because there was a model from which to work.

Ms Nkomo asked how long it would take for the border post to be fully operational. The Committee should do oversight during peak times to see how effective operations at the border post were.

Mr Apleni replied that he had indicated that the one-stop border post at Lebombo was in the test phase. During the festive season, KM7 and KM4 would be cleared and the road was already in place. The operation was in testing mode, and the next step was to do it within the legal framework.

Ms Nkomo raised the issues of safety and security and asked if other departments had been included in any initiatives related to this. She asked further how these relationships were progressing in terms of each department contributing to ensure that enough work was done in the area of safety and security. Human trafficking was a serious concern and Mozambique was well known for having a major problem in this regard.

Mr Apleni said that security would be improved now because departments were working together. These relationships would be beneficial initially between the two countries, but it could also be replicated within the SADC region as a whole.

Ms J Tshabalala (ANC) said that not much had been said about the settling of disputes. She asked what methods were used, and who the parties responsible were when dealing with issues related to the settlement of disputes.

Mr Louw said that it was important to have a clause like Article 20 that dealt with settlements. The main reason for this was to ensure a mediation type of approach to avoid both parties rushing off to the courts. Resolution through consultation and negotiation were the desired options.   

Ms Tshabalala expressed concern about managing the staff complement for this initiative. She asked from where the staff for the project were being sourced, and how the risk of any criminal element would be dealt with.

Mr Apleni replied that staffing had been mapped in terms of the number of people required when the border post was open.   

Ms Tshabalala asked about the budget required to run such an establishment.

Mr Apleni said that the budget for the building was not from the Department of Home Affairs. It was mainly from the infrastructure budget from the Department of Public Works.  For the DHA and other Departments, the resource allocation was not equal. It was dependent on whether a department saw it as a major priority or not. The Minister would be announcing the appointment of a project manager for the BMA.

Mr N Koornhof asked if environmental issues were going to be addressed, and if the IACF was ready in terms of the ivory trade. He asked further if there was a specific section to look at environmental issues.

Mr Apleni replied that borderline management was currently located with the Department of Defence.  One of the principles of establishing the BMA was that border management included areas like maritime, borderline, air, and all these activities were all co-ordinated.

Mr D Chilembe, SAPS Border Policing, SAPS, replied that the broad understanding of the model was that the operational concept remained unchanged as it dealt with shared environments. In other words, all departments that were there functioned in accordance with the operational procedures. Currently the Logical Operational Procedure was used. This allowed a traveller to go through the processes, from the DHA to SARS, with SAPS at the end. This would not change; the only addition was the ‘window concept’ that allowed SARS, customs and the police to search a vehicle at the same place at the same time. There would be specific legislation to allow for functioning in all the different areas as required by the One-stop border post.

The Chairperson said that this was a good initiative that had started off well. He noted that the Border Management Agency would probably look into infrastructural development in its totality between countries. The building of a one-stop border post should be underpinned by improvements on the roads on both sides, and the BMA in collaboration with the private sector was able to look into these issues because it was not just dependent on the fiscus. He suggested that perhaps some of these projects could be self-funded, depending on what model was put in place. Volumes were important to improve revenue. There was the capacity to utilise and improve infrastructure. The World Cup and SARS could stand the country in good stead to import or export to and from other countries.

The Chairperson expressed appreciation for the presentations and asked Members to approve this very important initiative to integrate the economies.

There was unanimous approval from the Committee to recommend ratification of the agreement to the House.

Committee report on the Customs Duty and Customs Excise Amendment Bills
The Chairperson said that the next session had been crafted as the consideration and adoption of the Committee report on the Customs Duty and Customs Excise Amendment Bill. However, after considering this matter, he wished to make a proposal. All parties had deliberated this matter at the level of National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) so everyone had basically had an opportunity to make an input before the matter was referred to the Committee. The presentation by the SARS provided an insight into the processes and how much had been put into them. The Labour sector had put forth a very compelling argument as to why the Bills should go through and the amendments should be accepted, to protect job losses generally, and in the textile industry in particular.  

However, he stressed that Parliament had to be seen as giving everyone the opportunity to make their contributions. SARS had indicated that it would not be disastrous if the amendments were not passed through this Committee at the moment. The SARS had been patient and allowed everyone to make an input over a period of two to three years. He pointed out that although there was a constituency period in December, Parliament would still need to reconvene next year. This was not the only Committee which had outstanding pieces of legislation still to be processed next year. For that reason, he proposed to allow this legislation, and other bills that were urgent, to be carried over and dealt with as a priority when the Committee met in the early months of 2014. He would take the necessary initiative to interact with the relevant authorities to ensure that this piece of legislation should be a priority. He said that if SARS would agree to this, then it was possible to allow for a three to four day period for other stakeholders to make their presentations on the final draft of the Bill. This proposal would create unity.

Mr Louw expressed support for the proposal and asked if 15 December could be set as the cut-off date for submissions.

The Committee agreed and thanked the SARS for its dedication to serving the Government.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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