Pohamba’s plea…, ‘Let’s overcome implementation challenges’
WINDHOEK – Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s grandiose integration agenda risks becoming the proverbial pie in the sky if countries continue to shift timelines, a clear indication of failure to overcome implementation bottlenecks. At the centre of the regional bloc’s ambitious integration agenda is the creation of a common market, a major push to transform the former frontline states into major economic partners, a model which was successfully pursued by the European Union (EU). SADC shifted the timeline for its envisaged customs union to an unknown date and will, instead, work on consolidating the Free Trade Area (FTA). The FTA was launched in 2008 and is struggling in its infancy due to a myriad of tariffs and non-tariff barriers which member countries are hesitating to scrap because they are a source of much needed revenue to boost government coffers. Timelines for achieving the region’s programmes are laid down in the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP), a blue print for the regional integration plan. Despite the slow pace of implementation of the FTA, SADC would instead push ahead with a grand FTA which is meant to envelop SADC, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC). SADC Executive Secretary Dr Tomaz Salomao said the regional bloc is exploring three options with regards to a customs union. It’s either SADC starts from scratch with the idea of a customs union, transform the already existing five-member Southern African Customs Union (SACU) to involve the rest of SADC members or get SADC countries which are not part of COMESA on board. Still, implementation of agreed programmes remains an irksome challenge and Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba couldn’t have put it more aptly. “The biggest challenge, however has been the implementation of the (integration) plan, more especially in meeting clear, time-bound goals and targets that member states should adhere to, if the goals and objectives of the region are to be achieved,” said Pohamba, the new SADC chairperson. Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe also noticed that progress on agreed programmes has been slack. “Where we have fallen behind, action should be taken to give fresh impetus to the implementation of the regional integration agenda,” Mugabe told fellow heads of state and government. While progress has been achieved in tariff phase down, the major stumbling block to full implementation of the FTA, three SADC countries are still to join the programme. Angola, DRC and Malawi are still to announce dates when they should submit proposals to joining the FTA. The overall benefits envisaged from the FTA would stem from increased trade, unfettered market access and co-operation among member states. “This will no doubt give our economies the resilience and capacity to withstand external shocks, such as the current global economic and financial crisis, which has negatively affected all countries in the SADC region,” Mugabe said. A more pragmatic approach is required to take the region forward, Pohamba appealed to fellow SADC leaders. Pohamba said failure by SADC to push through its programmes will raise scepticism over SADC leaders’ abilities to deliver on their promises. “Challenges and constrains continue to curtail progress in the implementation of programmes and in meeting timelines. It is thus incumbent on us as regional leaders to take practical actions in ensuring full implementation of the decisions. “Failing to implement our decisions has the real potential of calling into question our commitments and may breed cynicism and frustration among the people of our region,” Pohamba said. The situation has been heightened by failure to eradicate poverty with about 45 percent of SADC citizens being said to scrap by on less than US$1 a day. About 36 percent of the SADC population is said to be undernourished. “The main focus of our strategies, policies and activities should therefore be to pull our citizens from the dungeons of poverty, unemployment, homelessness and deprivation,” Mugabe said.