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How Brite Star dumped bed ridden Selebi Phikwe

Publishing Date : 17 June, 2019

Author : UTLWANANG GASENNELWE

Controversial Brite Star Aviation, a purportedly US based company which was destined to develop an Aviation plant to resuscitate the bid ridden economy of Selebi Phikwe following the collapse of BCL copper and nickel mine dumped Botswana for Malaysia, Weekend Post has learnt.


This is notwithstanding a signed official Memorandum of Understanding the company entered into with SPEDU, Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB), Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST), Selebi Phikwe Town Council (SPTC), Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) and the Ngwato Land Board.


Based in Fredericksburg, Texas, with Directors from Hungary, Brite Star had promised to develop in Selebi Phikwe an aircraft manufacturing plant, where B22 lightweight aircraft will be manufactured, aviation academy, the aircraft service/maintenance/repair, pilot training academy, a research and development centre and Eco safari tourism among others. 


The manufacturing plant was estimated to cost a whopping 1.5 billion pula in which Brite Star was to solicit the funds from both Botswana government and abroad in order to design and build the state of the art plant. In the process, Brite Star assured Batswana to create at the plant more than 3000 jobs in the then succeeding five years in Selebi Phikwe – to compensate for more than 6000 people that lost their jobs –when the BCL mine collapsed. 


Speaking at the media tour organised by SPEDU this week, Chief Executive officer (CEO) Dr. Mokubung Mokubung confirmed that indeed Brite Star dumped Botswana and he heard reports that they opted for Malaysia instead.  The company claim to have a number of operations in the US, Hungary and China.


“I heard that after abandoning Botswana, they went to Malaysia to invest the said Aviation school. They left us hanging, stranded and hungry for the deal that did not see the light of the day,” Dr. Mokubung said this during the media visit at the Selebi Phikwe airstrip/airport which is adjacent to where the 1.5 billion pula aviation plant was to be developed.


He continued: “there is a cartridge this side next to this airport spanning 10 hectares of land that we secured for Brite Star Aviation plant. We did first stage of due diligence and what was left was the next stage of due diligence. However the company then pulled out from the agreement. They did so by simply saying they will be back and went into thin air.”


According to Dr. Mokubung, it appears they were not the only one which Brite Star was targeting and that include the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and even international and it seems they preferred other countries other than Botswana, mostly likely Malaysia.


“They didn’t even write to us to inform us that they have pulled out of the deal despite having signed a proper Memorandum of Understanding,” he observed.  The SPEDU CEO said they are disappointed by Brite Star decision as the ‘shady’ company took a business decision on their own in America and Hungary while dumping Botswana. 


“They shunned us notwithstanding that they have given us reasons that Phikwe has free air space and therefore it will be good for the aviation school. We have made proposition at the government to put in place utilities like water and extra power and the rail spare and all were in order in our judgement.” 


Dr. Mokubung recounted that, at that point where Brite Star started keeping quiet, and kept quiet for long, they then discussed the matter with Board of Directors of SPEDU to call the deal off and tell Batswana that “it failed.”  Another board member who was also on the tour buttressed the CEO by adding that when there is a problem somewhere, like it was the case in Selebi Phikwe, everyone can claim to solve the problem and may try their luck as Brite Star did. “And then when you want some kind of due diligence then they chicken out.”


The board members stated that the collapsed deal with Brite Star, had made them to come to a point where they have to question the real mandate of SPEDU whether there is no how it can be strengthened because as it stands “we simply facilitate, we canvass, we cajole the companies to invest in Selebi Phikwe region and then what? If they refuse/ dump us, then what?”


Recently, Brite Star Legal and Transactional Advisor, Advocate Efan Khan has told a local newspaper last year that Brite Star has not finalised its intention to set up its Aviation Assembly plant in Botswana as yet. “Some issues still require to be addressed such as (Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), utility connections etc. If those items will delay Brite Star’s entry into Botswana, Brite Star may consider other countries to locate its Aviation plants since Brite Star has to deliver on confirmed orders for aircraft,” said Khan at the time.  


Meanwhile, some key people and decisions makers in Selebi Phikwe have always been sceptical about the plan SPEDU has with Brite Star calling it dubious and shady. Among them, Selibe Phikwe West lawmaker Dithapelo Keorapetse had told Weekend Post that it was not clear whether the company, Brite Star, is genuine and had good intentions to develop the desperate Selibe Phikwe.


“I wish to caution government and SPEDU to be cautious about flyby night investors who will take advantage of our desperation to revitalize the economy of our town,” Keorapetse highlighted back them about the company which he asserted that “raises eyebrows”.


He said Botswana should have learnt a lesson from the 500 million pula Palapye Glass Project where the company name is also nowhere in the list of approved manufacturers in China or Hungary where it claims to have presence.
Keorapetse asserted that Brite Star Aviation is not a multinational corporation specializing in aircraft parts manufacturing and maintenance and pilot training as they purported.


“I hope this is not a company trying their luck in the aviation industry through the help of Botswana government. Aircraft manufacturing maintenance is no child's play, it takes many years of research and development, innovation and huge investment, this track record is unclear for Brite Star,” he said then. Due diligence, according to the MP,  must be done to the fullest before the government injects money and gets robbed like in Pula Steel and the collapsed 500 million Palapye Glass Project.


In an email conversation with this publication, Mbaki Ngaiti, an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer with Air Namibia, also had his reservations with Brite Star citing that the competence of the company was unclear. “While this sounds very exciting in terms of the positive socio economic impact such a huge investment would bring to the struggling mining town, it would be very naïve not to scrutinise Brite Star Aviation to determine if indeed their promises will come to fruition.”


He said Brite Star Aviation is just a group of aviation hobbyists and enthusiasts, operating a lodge in a hangar in Fredericksburg. Meanwhile the Legal Advisor for the company Brite Star Aviation Advocate Khan explained to Weekend Post recently that “Brite Star Aviation is a joint venture set up for the proposed Botswana and other operations.


It will incorporate a local Botswana company in the event it proceeds to invest in Botswana.” He also said then that the entity has not entered into any partnership or joint venture with the Botswana Government. He said on October 20, last year, Brite Star Aviation will be flying into the country with their engineers and other people to do designs of the plant at Selibe Phikwe.


“Their shareholders approved funding. They will show us the money in Botswana and millions will be deposited. They would have put necessary funds in their Botswana account. Already they have opened an office in Gaborone. We will give them the benefit of the doubt.” Unlike the Arabs who ditched the Botswana government at the eleventh hour, at least for now, he said, they can trust Brite Star Aviation.


However, the deal has collapsed and Brite Star is nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, when answering a question in Parliament still last year, the then Assistant Minister of Trade, Assistant Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry Biggie Butale said they were not aware of any red flags that should raise alarm as the proposed development was similar to what the Brite Star was currently establishing in Malaysia and ‘this project is purely a Foreign Direct Investment venture.’

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