Sacu Considering Proposals On Revenue Sharing [interview]

PAULINA Elago, the newly appointed executive secretary of SACU, tells The Namibian’s Chamwe Kaira about her appointment, the future of SACU and her love for salsa dancing.

Ms Elago, you take over at Southern African Customs Union (SACU), when there is a lot of speculation about the future of SACU, with reports that South Africa is considering to pull out of SACU, because it receives little benefits from SACU. With this in mind, what is the future of SACU?

Indeed, there has been a lot of speculation in the media on this issue. It is however important to clarify that the SACU secretariat has not received any information or indeed any indications that may point to the conclusions reached in the media regarding this matter. All member states of SACU remain committed to the attainment of the objectives of SACU and the success of the organisation. In his inaugural speech, president Zuma specifically underlined South Africa’s commitment to championing African growth, development and prosperity by supporting regional integration, intra-African trade and infrastructure development. In a recent speech, on the occasion of the presentation of credentials by heads of missions accredited to South Africa, on 14 May, president Zuma pledged South Africa’s commitment to nurture regional integration at three levels, namely SADC, SACU and the Tripartite Free Trade Area and noted that “our country will continue working even harder to realise the developmental goals of the continent through these important continental structures”. This, to me, clearly reaffirms South Africa’s stance with regards to SACU. In addition, SACU heads of state have agreed on a set of clear priorities that aim to drive the agenda to a deeper level of integration focussing on a regional industrial development policy trade facilitation review of the revenue-sharing arrangement development of SACU institutions and unified engagement on trade negotiations.

What are your immediate tasks at hand, now that you have taken over?

My immediate tasks include in-depth understanding of the organisation , its culture, working modalities and institutional structures work undertaken to date and getting to know my team, my principals, member states and key partners. As such, I have been busy, as part of my induction, visiting member states to meet members of the council of ministers who comprise ministers of finance and trade and industry, and also meeting commission members who are permanent secretaries of finance and trade and industry to gain better insight of their priorities and expectations.

As you know, the SACU secretariat has been in existence for 10 years, and thanks to my predecessor and her team, a lot of good work has been achieved including setting up an effective and fully functioning secretariat from scratch, in addition to defining and implementing a work programme in line with the 2002 SACU Agreement.

My focus, going forward, is to build on that g foundation with a view to scaling up the implementation of the 2002 SACU Agreement in order to achieve deeper levels of integration based on SACU’s priorities which include: review of the revenue- sharing arrangement, development of an industrial development policy, establishment of institutions, trade facilitation, trade in services, engagement of the private sector and unified engagement on trade negotiations. Additionally, I will focus on developing a long-term strategic plan and strengthening relationships with our partners raise awareness and publicity on SACU among key stakeholders and last, but by no means least, the completion of the new SACU head quarters, including relocation to the new building.

What is the latest with regards to a new revenue-sharing formula and will this disaantage smaller states as it is being feared?

Work on the review of the revenue-sharing arrangement is underway and is being carried out by a task team, which is constituted at the level of permanent secretaries of finance of the five member states. The task team has considered proposals from all member states on their preferred revenue-sharing formulae. These have subsequently been narrowed down to fewer proposals that will be submitted to the council of ministers for further consideration. The ultimate goal of this review process is to come up with a formula that is acceptable to all member states. One of the key principles agreed by the council of ministers is that ‘no member state should be worse off.’

There is talk of new member states joining SACU. Will SACU expand in the near future?

PE: The SACU Agreement of 2002 contains provisions on the admission of new members. However, there are currently no formal submissions from countries that intend to join SACU.

What is SACU’s position on the EPA with the European Union?

PE: The EPA presents an opportunity to harmonise the trade relationship SACU member states have had with the European Union until now. It will ensure the integrity of the SACU common external tariff (CET) is maintained and at the same time, it will bind the duty-free, quota-free market access for Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland to the EU, thereby creating certainty for economic operators.

Secondly, it will now make it possible for economic operators to source inputs for manufacturing from any SACU member state and then export the end product to the European Union, thereby creating the possibility of establishing cross-border value chains in favour of all SACU member states and their citizens. There are however still some sensitivities that remain even at this aanced stage of the negotiations. This includes the possible loss of policy space for SACU countries to aance their own internal industrialisation programmes, for example in the area of export taxes. Furthermore, it is important to ensure that the EPA supports and does not in any way undermine regional integration initiatives, aimed at increasing intra-African trade and investment. Any trade agreement, including the EPA, should therefore contribute to the deepening of regional integration. We are encouraged by the good progress made recently and are positive that an agreement could be reached within the next few weeks.

Why did you take up this job?

As a former chief trade negotiator for Namibia, with over 20 years’ experience on trade and regional integration issues, I have the qualities, skills and expertise required for the job. Having been involved in the re-negotiations of the 1969 agreement,I have a very good understanding of SACU, its dynamics and history. Most importantly, I am a g believer and am passionate about regional integration, given the benefits and opportunities for our economies of increased trade, competitiveness and economic growth. Additionally, I have gained a wealth of experience, skill and exposure over the past 14 years having worked in different parts of the world including across developing member countries in the Commonwealth, and most recently, eastern and southern Africa. All these, together with my passion, commitment and g belief in the ideals of the organisation, have motivated me to take up this job.

I am doing what I love and for one to excel, I believe, one has got to love what one does. This is one of my guiding principles.

What are your hobbies?

PE: Traveling to explore and learn about other people and their cultures. I have a passion for arts and culture, especially African cultures. I enjoy working in a multicultural environment, I like music, reading, and dancing, especially salsa and spending time with friends and family. I like sports, especially football, but I am not a die-hard fan of any particular club and I look forward to watching the 2014 World Cup which kicks off this week in Brazil. (The interview took place last week)

What do you read?

A mixture of stuff, a lot about leadership, women empowerment and economic and current affairs. I am currently reading “The Art of being brilliant” by Andy Cope and Andy Whittaker.

Tell us about your family?

Born and bred in Windhoek, I grew up in Katutura. I am the youngest from a family of nine out of which six are women and three men. It’s a big but also very close family. Very much female dominated. I draw my inspiration from my mother who is an amazingly g and God-fearing woman as well as from my older sisters. My mom has always been my inspiration and source of strength and courage thanks to the values she and my late father have instilled in us right from an early age. My parents have been there for us and sacrificed a lot for us. Those values have pretty much influenced and shaped who I am today: humility, trusting in God, believing in myself, hard work, to love what you do and to always do it to the best of your ability, honesty, the importance of education, sharing and caring for others and respecting oneself and others. I feel truly blessed to have a very loving and supporting family who have always believed in me and have been my source of support throughout my life.

Source : The Namibian