Monday, June 1, 2020

Income slips through hawkers’ fingers over prickly import clause

There is frustration over Gaborone’s refusal to heed Pretoria’s invitation to the negotiating table over imports of fruit and vegetables by hawkers.

The deliberations on conditions stipulated in the “Phytosanitary Certificate” import permit issued by Botswana’s Ministry of Agriculture to local fruit and vegetable hawkers impacts negatively on safe passage at the borders between Botswana and South Africa and so income slips through the fingers of local hawkers.

As a result, South African authorities are employing punitive measures on Batswana fruit and vegetables hawkers aimed at forcing Botswana to respond – a move that has so far failed to bent government in the desired posture.

Statements made in Parliament before closure of the last December session, by former Assistant Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Franz Van der Westhuizen, and responses by the substantive Minister Patrick Ralotsia, in an interview with the Sunday Standard this week have confirmed the stalemate.

It may take a while before things could get any better than they are for the small informal traders in Agricultural produce.

Van Der Westhuizen had acknowledged in response to a motion by Mogoditshane Member of Parliament (MP), Sedirwa Kgoroba, that they have received such kind of requests from local traders.

The motion sought amendment of the Import Permit in its present form to remove or rephrase the clause that makes it mandatory for “the country of origin to issue a document known as Phytosanitary Certificate confirming the absence of certain specified diseases in their domain”.

Van Der WestHuizen however ruled out such a move and was supported by a majority of ruling party MPs who successfully voted against it.

Although it was stated that a Joint Agriculture Ministerial Committee meeting between Botswana and South Africa had been proposed to take place in January, South African insisted she was available for such a meeting in February.

The thrust of Kgoroba’s motion, purportedly representing a section of the affected small traders, was to replace the obstructive provision with one that does not put a blanket restriction but specifies that the particular load being carried or farm of origin “is cleared or free from particular diseases which are a concern”.

In that context, it was mentioned that importers of agricultural produce are authorized to undertake their businesses of trade under defined import conditions.

These are enforced by use of import permits as currently issued by the Ministry with a view to protect and stimulate local production which in turn reduces the national import bill and creates jobs in the Botswana.

It was also pointed out that the accompanying Sanitary and Phyto- sanitary certificate was intended for disease prevention. The measure was administered by both Botswana and South Africa so that in the event of a breakout of disease, movement, import and export of agricultural produce are restricted across the affected country.

Based on this line of reasoning, namely protection and stimulation of local production and disease control, government has been making life tough for small traders.

Marea Mojalemotho* a hawker in one of Gaborone metropolitan villages, has said: “For a long time the South African authorities have been kind of but at the same time telling us they don’t like or somewhat can’t issue us the clearance required by Botswana.”

“Something worked out until September 2018 when they put it blunt and firm to us that until Botswana authorities sat down with them [South African authorities] to jointly revisit the restrictive clause. No more document of any form to facilitate business,” she said.

Consequently, Mojalemotho said their goods either had to be destroyed or they had to identify secret illegal point of entry or exit to get life going.

Ralotsia said although hawkers make a living out of imports, they have to protect the local market at the point of sale and avoid damage upon the field of production through imported plants or crops or even grass.

This is so since the effect could last uncontrollably long periods with great cost to the economy especially in view of limited resources for reactive interventions.

As to whether the meeting did take place as had been proposed, the Minister’s answer was that the outbreak of Food and Mouth Disease (FMD) towards the end of December 2018 has spurred them onto other more presenting tasks.

“Besides, it should be noted that given the porous state of our borders and the level of resourcefulness in terms of both personnel and equipment such as sensors and immediate destruction facilities in the event of new discoveries or emergencies at points of entry, such kind of arrangements even if not impossible, cannot be achieved overnight,” argued Ralotsia.

He however acknowledged that law enforcement officers continue to monitor indulgent retailers and other traders who are bent on sabotaging efforts at enabling local growth.

*Not her real name

RELATED STORIES

Read this week's paper

Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.