By Lovemore Chikova Assistant Editor
The Third Bi-National Commission between Zimbabwe and South Africa held in the last five days re-affirmed Zimbabwe’s economic reform agenda anchored on the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP) that is tied to the country’s vision of an upper middle income status by 2030.
Going by what was discussed at the Harare meeting, there is no doubt that the provisions of the commission and what was agreed at the meeting will enhance the achievement of both the TSP and Vision 2030.
It is important that the two countries committed themselves to help stabilise each other’s economies, thereby tapping into Zimbabwe’s current efforts to reform the economy and chart a new model that will ensure accelerated economic development.
Both President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and President Mnangagwa acknowledged that their countries depend on each other to an extent that what happens in the other country always affects the other.
If South Africa sneezes, Zimbabwe always catches a cold, and vice-versa.
This explains why it was not business as usual at the five-day Third Bi-National Commission between the two countries, with officials taking the discussions with the seriousness they deserve.
With this meeting, Zimbabwe and South Africa have shown what it means for neighbourly countries to depend on each other for economic prosperity.
The Bi-National Commission reached a milestone by being a platform that feeds well into the developmental agendas of both countries.
What is needed now is to set out a deliberate programme to accelerate the implementation of the agreements that were discussed at the meeting.
It is most welcome that the two countries have set deadlines for implementation for each of the issues discussed.
The discussions touched on a wide range of subjects, all of which form the basis of Zimbabwe’s TSP and Vision 2030.
The commission deliberated on broad areas of cooperation under four sectoral committees – political and diplomacy, economic, social and defence and security.
The specific areas discussed included infrastructure, trade, customs, air transport, railways, mining, agriculture, finance investment, ease of doing business and water.
Many of the agreements discussed at the meeting were already in place, but the officials agreed they have to be given a new impetus to enable their quick implementation.
The officials agreed that the implementation was lagging behind and from now onwards people from both countries can start seeing a lot of movement.
All the 45 agreements and Memoranda of Understanding signed between the two countries in various areas came under discussion at the meeting.
Political developments in both countries were discussed, while regional issues of cooperation also came up during the meetings.
Trade between the two countries came under scrutiny during discussions on Zimbabwe’s application for a Special Dispensation on Derogation under the SADC Protocol on Trade.
Zimbabwe has declared itself open for business in terms of attracting investment in line with its aspirations on Vision 2030 as expounded in the TSP, and this saw the commission discussing ways to help each other attract investment.
It was agreed that Trade Invest Africa of South Africa will collaborate with the proposed Zimbabwe Investment Development Agency in mobilising investments into Zimbabwe, another major milestone in the fulfilment of the provisions of TSP.
In line with the TSP, the finance sub-committee of the Third Bi-National Commission gave thumbs-up to reforms being carried out by both countries to transform their economies and agreed to come up with a comprehensive Memorandum of Understanding incorporating a number of issues.
The commission noted that Zimbabwe made considerable progress in the implementation of its policy reform agenda as part of the implementation of the TSP.
The meeting also noted tremendous progress made by Zimbabwe on the fiscal consolidation front, monetary and currency reforms and productive sector and institutional reform.
There was also an agreement to expand a standing revolving facility arrangement between the respective central banks of the two countries.
Other options being explored under the facility is a financing option from South African private banks to the Zimbabwe private sector and guaranteed by the South African government, with an appropriate counter-guarantee from the Zimbabwe Government.
One of the provisions of the TSP is to clear Zimbabwe’s debt to multilateral institutions and to aid the achievement of that, the Bi-National Commission agreed to enhance communication between the two countries so that South Africa can speak with the same voice when engaging various stakeholders around the clearance of the debt.
On non-financial cooperation, the identified areas are capacity building debt management, Public Private Partnerships and budget decentralisation frameworks.
The transport sub-committee discussed the recapitalisation of the National Railways of Zimbabwe, cooperation in air transport and the recommendation on setting up a committee to look into the challenges being faced at Beitbridge Border Post.
The Beitbridge One-Stop Border Post will be fast-tracked after both countries noted that they were operating in isolation on the project, hence the delays.
On the energy sector, which is also one of the pillars of the TSP, the commission agreed to implement jointly identified projects in areas of mutual interest and benefits, and noted the willingness of Eskom of South Africa to continue supplying additional electricity to Zimbabwe.
In mining and minerals, an MOU is being negotiated in the field of geology, mining and metallurgy, and there are efforts to strengthen cooperation in mineral and petroleum resources.
The commission also discussed various cooperation agreements in social sector areas like women empowerment, gender equality, people living with disabilities and community development.
Other social sectors set for cooperation include labour and employment, WENELA claimants, public service administration and social development.
In education, the two countries agreed on cooperation in the provision of basic education, higher education and tertiary training and science and technology.
There were also discussions in the health sector which touched on malaria, tuberculosis, export of pharmaceuticals and registration of medical aid societies.
The Defence and Security Sectoral Committee of the commission noted with satisfaction defence cooperation between the two countries and agreed to implement outstanding agreements from the previous meeting.
What is notable is that timelines were set for the implementation of each subject that was discussed, and the next BNC between the two countries scheduled for next year is expected to record significant progress.