BMA no alpha and omega solution for SA border protection


The Border Management Authority (BMA), while promising better control of South Africa’s borders, could be a white elephant staffed with millionaire managers unless substantial funding is supplied by National Treasury is how Adrian Roos, Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentarian and his party’s shadow deputy minister of home affairs, views yet another addition to the bureaucracy.

Recent reminders of just how chaotic entering or leaving South Africa via official ports of entry are the situations at Beit Bridge (Zimbabwe) and Lebombo (Mozambique) over the year-end period. At Beit Bridge people died while queuing for attention from Department of Home Affairs (DHA) officials. Vehicles, including trucks carrying perishables, were backed up over 20 km from customs control points. The SANDF (SA National Defence Force) in the form of its depleted technical services division put heavy-duty extraction vehicles in the form of two trucks on duty at Musina to assist in alleviating traffic congestion.

The BMA came into effect on 1 January this year and Roos is not overly optimistic the BMA will deliver on its mandate.

“The BMA is essentially an unfunded mandate with funding secured under Home Affairs only for the establishment of a management structure. Although the BMA is in effect, NATJOINTS is de facto in charge of the border function co-ordination as evidenced by the intervention in the Beit Bridge border fiasco over the Christmas period. Where Home Affairs failed to adequately plan for the Christmas holiday border traffic NATJOINTS co-ordinated the various agencies at the border to put in place solutions to deal with the crisis and the BMA was a mere onlooker,” he told defenceWeb.

Asked what exactly the BMA would do to enforce its mandate of border protection along South Africa’s 4 800 km plus of land border, over which it has jurisdiction alongside the air and maritime ports of entry, Roos said it depends on funding.

One-stop border posts at six ports of entry have been put forward as the solution to the chaos seen in December. He sees the proposed funding model as an indication of government biting off more than it can chew with the BMA in its current format. The one-stop border posts will be funded through 30 year concessions awarded to the private sector, with costs recouped through tariffs.

“This model of funding border functions through the creation of a stealth tax is not available to the BMA which will require substantial funding from National Treasury.

“Estimates are the BMA will take 15 years to implement with an estimated establishment cost in excess of R600 million. Annual costs of managing borders would increase by R6.5 billion, including a staff complement of more than 9 000. The problem with turning this into reality is it flies in the face of National Treasury directives to reduce the public sector wage bill by R300 billion over the next three years and comes at a time when the SA Police Service (SAPS) faces drastic budget cuts and the SANDF indicates it has insufficient budget to execute its mandate.”

Roos’ interpretation of the BMA Act sees the authority responsible for the border law enforcement area and ports of entry. The border law enforcement area includes the land border and 10 km or any reasonable distance inside the land border as well maritime borders, 10 km or any reasonable distance on the landward side of the baselines extending seaward to the outer limit of the Exclusive Economic Zone as defined in the Maritime Zones Act.

He stresses the BMA Act “explicitly excludes border protection functions performed by the national defence force, including those in respect of airspace, from the jurisdiction of the BMA”.

As far as actual policing and possible patrolling goes Roos points out there is no clarity vis-à-vis BMA and SAPS.

“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 Section 199(1) of the Constitution indicates South Africa has a single police force. Indications given in processing the Bill was that BMA officials would act as peace officers and hand perpetrators to SAPS. Concerns raised by SAPS were never fully addressed.”

Making implementation even greyer for the bureaucrats is that the Act opens the doors for both a border guard and a border management coast guard. Again, there is currently no specific information on this operational aspect from the lead government department, at present under the leadership of Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) sees using “a fraction” of the proposed BMA funding to increase the number of soldiers working border protection to at least 22 companies as well as preventing illegal immigration, poaching and other crimes prevalent in border areas as essential in the battle to secure borders. Funds should also go to SANDF elements in the form of the SA Army Engineer Formation to maintain fencing and other barriers.

“On 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 to present a concrete plan for the 15 year implementation period or return to the border management agency, rather than authority concept. This was provided as an option in the socio-economic impact assessment of the Border Management Bill and proposed by the DA. Such an agency would co-ordinate border functions which retain clear mandates at a fraction of the cost of BMA while allocating critical funding to the SANDF.”