Leonard Ncube Victoria Falls Reporter
ZIMBABWE and Botswana are seeking to expedite the completion of more than 20 outstanding bilateral agreements as the neighbours strive to improve cooperation on various fronts.
Technical teams from both countries are gathered in Victoria Falls for the third session of the Zimbabwe–Botswana Bi-National Commission (BNC) to deliberate on 23 outstanding Memoranda of Understanding (MoU), which are part of the 43 agreements arrived at by the two nations.
The five-day meeting, which ends on Friday, seeks to foster bi-lateral relations on political, economic, social, defence and security issues, in an effort to fight cross-border crime, establish a one-stop border post in Plumtree/Ramokgwebana, enhance trade and improve livelihoods of ordinary citizens.
The two countries last met for the second session in Maun, Botswana, in 2019 before the ravaging Covid-19 disrupted physical meetings, and a virtual review meeting was held in December 2020, which showed that only 20 of the 43 agreements had been completed.
Draft agreements on agriculture, child protection, water and gainful employment of diplomatic spouse are ready for signing at this 3rd session, with more expected to be completed.
Zimbabwe’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Ambassador James Manzou, said the two neighbouring countries have a strategic relationship driven by a common vision of the two Heads of State and Government.
He was giving opening remarks as the co-chair to the Senior Officials’ session yesterday.
“Our meeting today (yesterday) will give us an opportunity to reflect on and assess progress in the implementation of agreed decisions of the Second Session of the BNC. I am pleased that cooperation between our sister Republics has continued to evolve and grow over the years.
“Our two countries have a strategic relationship which is driven by our two Heads of State and Government. That is the vision that informed our principals when, three years ago, they made the decision to elevate the JPCC (Joint Permanent Commission on Cooperation) to a BNC.
At this third session of the BNC, it is necessary for all of us to introspect and ask ourselves to what extent we have gone in fulfilling the vision of our principals, which is also a reflection of the aspirations of our peoples,” said Ambassador Manzou.
He said a lot remains to be done especially in the wake of effects of Covid-19 that disrupted business after the Maun session in 2019.
“It is not too late for us senior officials to redeem ourselves. My appeal to you colleagues is for us to pull together at this meeting and beyond to complete the work we started and deliver tangible results that impact the lives and livelihoods of our peoples,” said Ambassador Manzou.
Some key economic agreements on double taxation, mining, trade and investment promotion are still to be concluded.
Agreements will enhance bilateral cooperation and harmonise trade to allow trade between small and medium enterprises sectors, an essential component for economic growth in the two countries.
Ambassador Manzou said there was need to come up with a clear roadmap that culminates in their signing at the earliest possible date.
“We, therefore, have an obligation to facilitate the smooth flow of goods and services between our two countries. In this respect, I welcome the information that the MoU on the Promotion of Cooperative Development and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development is ready for signing during this session of the BNC.
“However, the smooth flow of people, goods and services will remain hamstrung without the establishment of the one-stop-border post at Plumtree/Ramokgwebana as agreed to in previous sessions.
“This will address the bottlenecks to the smooth movement of people, goods and services that our people have been complaining about for far too long. I therefore, urge the ministries charged with this important responsibility to redouble their efforts in implementing this decision,” said Ambassador Manzou.
There is also need to complete agreements on cooperation in Immigration, the Extradition Treaty and the Agreement on Inter-State Transfer of Prisoners.
Both countries are convinced that harmonious people-to-people cooperation enables political and economic relations hence the need to complete social sector agreements on cultural cooperation, cooperation in youth development, gender and community development and child protection.
Ambassador Manzou said implementation was also key, as he noted progress in the education and defence and security sectors where the two countries continue to share expertise through joint awareness campaigns and border patrols, intelligence sharing and collaboration on cross-border crime.
He added that they were also concerned about ongoing cross-border crimes especially in livestock theft.
“It goes without saying that livestock is a vital economic and social-cultural commodity for rural communities and it is important that we do more to safeguard this essential mainstay.
“Our security services are called upon to redouble their efforts to ensure that those involved in the theft of livestock are brought to justice and made accountable,” he said.
He said in view of emerging security threats in the region and continent, cooperation in the defence and security sector has become more imperative, with collective regional effort to confront terrorism in Mozambique applauded.
Ambassador Manzou said Zimbabwe appreciated Botswana for support at bilateral, regional, continental and international levels, especially with regard to the call for the removal of illegal sanctions against Zimbabwe.
Co-chair Dr Gladys Mokhawa, who is Botswana’s Permanent Secretary for International Affairs and Cooperation and leader of delegation, said the two nations enjoy strong bilateral relations espoused by rich historical background, common culture and familiar ties.
She said the 3rd session was symbolic of commitment and determination by the two nations to strengthen the already existing bilateral relations and the effects of Covid-19 pandemic should be embraced as a new normal.
“The convening of this meeting is symbolic of our commitment and determination to strengthen the already existing bilateral relations between our countries,” she said.
“While some progress was noted in the implementation of already signed agreements, it is evident that a lot is still required to be done across all sectors of our operation. The review revealed that of the 43 MoUs under the BNC, 20 were signed and 23 were yet to be completed.
“This scenario behoves all of us to intensify our efforts not only to implement the decisions of our principals, but to deliver to the very public that we serve. To effectively carry this great responsibility that we have been entrusted with, we will need to develop innovative and tactical approaches to overcome the challenges that we face, including those brought about by the pandemic,” said Dr Mokhawa.
She said the agreements would go a long way in further enhancing cooperation by having direct impact on improving livelihoods, and help recover economies in the wake of devastating effects of Covid-19.
Various technical committees retreated into breakaway closed sessions yesterday and reports will be presented to ministers on Thursday.
President Mnangagwa and his Botswana counterpart Mokgweetsi Masisi will officiate on Friday.