The Easter long weekend is less than a month away and while a repeat of the year-end chaos at certain ports of entry is not expected, people will travel for the break, putting pressure on particularly Beit Bridge and Lebombo.
Against this background, Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentarian Adrian Roos wants to know why there is still no project plan with funding and deadlines for the Border Management Authority (BMA).
“The BMA came into effect two months ago. Additionally it – as a function – has been in place for the full term of Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to date,” he said, adding “the lack of action from Home Affairs to put forward a plan for the expected December/January traffic led to a humanitarian crisis at the borders where NATJOINTS stepped into the leadership void to resolve the crisis with the BMA a passive spectator”.
He refers to a December 2014 Cabinet directive as making the mandate of Home Affairs “crystal clear”. According to the directive, Minister Motsoaledi’s department should “assume responsibility for co-ordinating all border law enforcement entities in South Africa”.
The new addition to government’s list of entities is tasked with border protection along South Africa’s 4 800 km plus of land border, over which it has jurisdiction alongside air and maritime ports of entry.
Roos’ interpretation of the BMA Act, in part, excludes BMA officers from border protection functions performed by the national defence force.
“The Act states border law enforcement functions in the border law enforcement area and at ports of entry must be performed exclusively by BMA officers. This includes search and seizure without a warrant. Against this the Constitution indicates South Africa has a single police force. Indications given in processing the Bill was BMA officials would act as peace officers and hand perpetrators to police.”
This is standard operating procedure (SOP) for soldiers deployed on Operation Corona. When suspects, be they illegal immigrants, suspected smugglers or even wanted criminals, are apprehended by soldiers they are handed to police and/or Home Affairs officials for further processing and legal action.
The BMA Act opens the doors for establishment of a border guard and a coast guard. Roos points out that there is currently no information available on this aspect of BMA operations.
Estimates are it will take 15 years to implement the BMA with an estimated establishment cost of over R600 million. Roos has it the cost of managing borders will increase by R6.5 billion with a BMA staff complement of over nine thousand.
He proposes using “a fraction” of proposed BMA funding to increase the number of soldiers deployed on border protection to at least 22 companies from the current 15.
“At the current trajectory, money which could be well spent on boosting Operation Corona will now go to managers, uniforms, transfer of assets and consultants for the next 15 years while SANDF resources deteriorate,” Roos said.
“South Africa does not have 15 years to wait for an agency that may not materialise. Home Affairs needs a concrete plan for the 15 year implementation period or return to the border management agency, rather than authority, concept.”