Our Dangerous Borders

Andy Grudko, Pretoria, 24 Sept 2017

The South African Border Control Operational Coordinating Committee (BCOCC) is a Strategic Component of the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster and was mandated in 2005 to manage the South African border environment. In 2009 President Zuma referred to efforts to establish a new border control authority, the Border Management Authority (BMA), in his State Of the Nation Address. In June 2013, Cabinet approached Parliament to draft legislation which we still await.

Although the main focus of the new agency would be security of the country, the then Treasury Deputy Director-General, Ismail Momoniat, said that the Bill would also need to specify how taxes and customs would be addressed, as it did not do so currently.

He also said that the Davis Tax Committee had recommended that the status quo should be kept in regard to taxes at the border, and that SARS and the BMA remain separate. “Splitting the setting of a tax or levy from administration and enforcement will create gaps that could lead to tax evasion,” he went on to say.

At a Nedlac meeting last year, labour and business representatives expressed concerns over the setting up of an BMA. Business felt that setting up a new authority would be too risky and costly and said that such an authority should focus on issues like immigration and trafficking, and leave tax administration and collection up to the SARS.

The following Government institutions are currently involved in the Border Control and Security Framework:

SA has 72 official border points, including harbours and airports but with more than 2800 Km of scantily patrolled or monitored coastline and over 2500 Km of land borders – including landlocked and politically unstable Swaziland and the 600 or so Kms with Mozambique – mostly in the bush, often without fences, patrols or surveillance. Communication and utilities on our porous rural borders are often intermittent, hampering proper control and corruption is commonplace.

The security of our borders is a mission that requires a unique set of capabilities, which neither the SAPS nor the SANDF fully possess. It’s a task which falls between the capabilities of these two branches of our nation’s security services. On the one hand it requires the ability to enforce law, arrest and process suspected law breakers, which the SANDF is not trained to do. On the other hand it requires patrolling over often difficult and dangerous, terrain, surveillance, communications and small unit capabilities – skills which are not generally in the police officer’s field of expertise.

The country has a history of both legal and illegal immigration from it’s generally poor neighbours. Even in the worst days of Apartheid, natives of these countries came to South Africa in search of work or to escape oppression and other societal ills.

Ironically we currently have 4,500 body guards protecting Ministers etc in comparison we only have 1,700 people patrolling our borders out of a department of around 9 000, 7 000 being mostly civilian police staff. Over 39 million people now move through South Africa’s borders annually.

Having a government run Border Agency has proven itself to be ineffective. What we in fact would be doing is just giving the current status quo a new lease on life with a new name.

In this author’s opinion, what needs to be done is Government needs to develop a PPP model where a suitably selected body or company gets a twenty year concession to manage the border entries and gets paid a monthly fee with stringent penalty clauses in the event of border breaks etc.

The SA Home Affairs Department pays R9,000,000 a month to house illegal migrants that have been caught as well as R32,000,000 in repatriation costs to deport them. Those monthly numbers exclude the burden that it placed on our health infrastructure and crime – and bear in mind they come to South Africa because many aspects of life for ‘the poor’ are free.

If the Government entered into a Public Private Partnership at say R40,000,000 per month we would be able to effectively minimize crime, smuggling, increase customs revenue and avert the security risk and socio-economic calamity that we find ourselves in.

The fact remains that as long as we have open and inviting borders you will never stop the scourge of crime and terrorism from infiltrating this beautiful country. Given an opportunity, a private conglomerate of specialized companies would be able to erect fences, effect detections and deploy active patrols to counter terrorism etc., and would be in a position to employ the very best thermal imaging, drone technology and other surveillance as well as have special teams every 20kms with centralized control rooms to monitor operation is real-time.

The total infrastructure spend would amount to about R 3 Billion (which could be paid over 20 years), 0.0005% of our Finance Minister’s 2018 tax goal and we could all sleep a little better at night. 

A SATAC Open Source Article By Andy Grudko with acknowledgement to Angelo Agrizzi.

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SATAC Research & Analytics Team

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