Three years after government awarded it the tender for management of Tsaro Lodge, Kgori Safaris, a company jointly owned by Botswana Democratic Party politician Jacob Nkate has failed to get an operating license from the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism.
In an interview Nkate said: “yes I can confirm that three years down the line we have still not been granted a license for Tsaro Lodge. We are still negotiating with the ministry. I will not comment more on the issue for fear of prejudicing our negotiations with the ministry.” Minister Environment and Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama recently told Weekend Post that there has been a delay in the issuance of a license for Tsaro as the lodge’s previous owners, Khwai Development Trust have a case before the courts relating to the lodge. “KDT has gone to court. But I want to make it clear that one of the directors of Kgori is a Motswana,” he said at the time.
Basarwa community oppose Kgori Safaris
Under the Community Based Natural Resources Programme, KDT was granted exclusive rights holder of Wildlife Management Areas of NG 18 and 19 for the purpose of development of tourist activities and management of natural resources for the general benefit of and improvement of the Basarwa community of Khwai village. Under this programme KDT was issued with a lease agreement by Tawana Land Board of Tsaro lodge, a lodge located on a five hectares piece of land in NG 19. However in 2014, NG 18 and 19 were transferred to the controversial tourism land bank that communities say is illegal.
The ownership of the lodge is embroiled in controversy with KDT claiming its award to Kgori was fraudulent. The spokesperson of the Basarwa community, Baefesia Sango, told WeekendPost in an interview that their belief as the community is that Kgori did not meet requirements to be awarded the lodge. He said the assessment process conducted by Botswana Tourism Organisation that chose Kgori among the companies that bid for it was shrouded in secrecy.
In the award letter dated 15 October 2014, then Permanent Secretary in the then Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Neil Fitt awarded Kgori Safaris the tender to operate the lodge. The letter read in part that “we are pleased to inform you that your bid for Tourism Utilization and Management of Tsaro Lodge (Tender Number: 1.09/10314/NG 19 (2) has been successful”. Sango and the community’s argument is that the PS did not have powers to award the tender.
The award was subject to the following: that Kgori provide proof of consent for funds from both directors of the company, as well as to provide certified supporting documents from financial institutions providing funding for the project. Further, Kgori was asked to provide a revised Social Corporate Responsibility (CSR) plan with concrete timelines and deliverables for the duration of the lease to be awarded. Fitt lastly asked Kgori to provide details on staff ablutions as this was not captured in the company proposal. In 2016, Kgori Managing Director Jim Van Ransburg told this journalist that Kgori was looking to invest handsomely on employment creation and education opportunities for the about 600 Khwai residents.
However, Sango said in 2007, “Government refused to give KDT a license to operate the lodge saying they used permanent building materials to build it contrary to building requirements in the Okavango Delta that say only temporary materials should be used.” He further said government advised that the trust must put the lodge up for tender so that the company that wins it will bear the costs for demolishing it and building a new lodge. “But in 2014, Kgori was allowed to operate the lodge under its current brick status while we were denied. Why?” Sango asked rhetorically.
He said because they had heeded government’s advice to put the lodge up for a tendering process in 2014, KDT approached BTO in 2014 to help them look for a partner to operate the lodge. Sango said BTO then prepared terms of reference for the tender which he said stipulated that KDT was the one that will choose the company to award the lodge tender to. “BTO’s mandate was to shortlist three companies and recommend those companies to us to choose from.”
Three months after the process commenced they learnt that Kgori had been awarded the tender. “We just heard on the streets that it had been awarded without our consent,” Sango said, adding that the trust has since incurred lots of costs on the lodge saying in 2005, KDT received P 2, 5 Million funding from GEF to maintain the lodge. Sango revealed that the terms of reference clearly stipulated that the successful bidder will be required to enter in to a formal lease agreement with the KDT under facilitation by BTO as per the draft lease agreement forming part of the tender documents.
Sango said when they queried why the lodge was given to Kgori without their consent they were told that NG 19, the land where Tsaro is located, has been transferred to the tourism land bank and therefore as the community they ceased to have powers over the award of the tourism concessions. They were further told that under the land bank, the tenderer chosen, Kgori Safaris, will enter in to agreement with government through Botswana Tourism not the trust as it used to be the case.
According to Sango, however in January 17, 2017, KDT’s lease for Tsaro lodge expired and when they applied for a new lease from Tawana Land Board the land board turned them down. He said through their lawyers, Dingake Law partners they are challenging Tawana Land Board’s refusal to grant them the lease extension.
Sango said as KDT they are calling on government to stop BTO from meddling in affairs of community trusts and concentrate on marketing Botswana. He further posited that government must scrap off the tourism land bank saying its illegal as only the land board has powers over the tribal land.
Ngamiland Communities want the land bank scrapped off
Meanwhile the Ngamiland Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (NCONGO) has called on government to get rid of the tourism land bank and revert to the former system of tourism concessions allocation. Advocating against the land bank, NCONGO tourism says lands should be issued to the respective Trust and not government through the BTO.
A statement said NCONGO watched as the Government, through its Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Conservation and Tourism, grabbed land from the communities in Ngamiland District with the sole intention of leasing such community concessions to investors. It said through the Land Bank policy, which has never been availed to Ngamiland Community Trusts, tribal leadership, and the community at large, the concessions in Tribal Land are and have been transferred to the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism for purposes of ease of doing business for the tourism sector.
NCONGO said it is of a position that leasing concessions to community trusts is the best model because the local communities are guaranteed 90% of employment in the companies that enter into partnership with the Trust, therefore reducing poaching and taking of other resources. It says the second benefit is the skills brought by investors who train local communities in various trades.
The statement stated that NCONGO is in support of investors coming to Botswana, however where the land already has Leasehold, Private Public Partnership should be employed and or the investors should be encouraged to enter into Joint Venture Partnership with the local business people or the community trust.
The statement followed the saga relating to the firing of four Tawana land board members by former Minister of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, Prince Maele. The four were allegedly fired for refusing to approve a land award to British billionaire, Sir Richard Branson. In the statement NCONGO appreciated ‘the bravery of the four Tawana Land Board- Board Members who were dismissed from work in regard to their stance pertaining issuance of land to one of the rich investors without following proper channels’.
While there is no hard-and-fast rule in politics, former Molepolole North Member of Parliament, Mohamed Khan says populism acts in the body politic have forced him to quit active partisan politics. He brands this ancient ascription of politics as fake and says it lowers the moral compass of the society.
Khan who finally tasted political victory in the 2014 elections after numerous failed attempts, has decided to leave the ‘dirty game’, and on his way out he characteristically lashed at the current political leaders; including his own party president, Advocate Duma Boko. “I arrived at this decision because I have noticed that there are no genuine politics and politicians. The current leaders, Boko and President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi are fake politicians who are just practicing populist politics to feed their egos,” he said.
Former Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) parliamentary hopeful, Lawrence Ookeditse has rejected the idea of taking up a crucial role in the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) Central Committee following his arrival in the party this week. According to sources close to development, BPF power brokers are coaxing Ookeditse to take up the secretary general position, left vacant by death of Roseline Panzirah-Matshome in November 2020.
Ookeditse’s arrival at BPF is projected to cause conflicts, as some believe they are being overlooked, in favour of a new arrival. The former ruling party strategist has however ruled out the possibility of serving in the party central committee as secretary general, and committed that he will turn down the overture if availed to him by party leadership.
Ookeditse, nevertheless, has indicated that if offered another opportunity to serve in a different capacity, he will gladly accept. “I still need to learn the party, how it functions and all its structures; I must be guided, but given any responsibility I will serve the party as long as it is not the SG position.”
“I joined the BPF with a clear conscious, to further advance my voice and the interests of the constituents of Nata/Gweta which I believe the BDP is no longer capable to execute.” Ookeditse speaks of abject poverty in his constituency and prevalent unemployment among the youth, issues he hopes his new home will prioritise.
He dismissed further allegations that he resigned from the BDP because he was not rewarded for his efforts towards the 2019 general elections. After losing in the BDP primaries in 2018, Ookeditse said, he was offered a job in government but declined to take the post due to his political ambitions. Ookeditse stated that he rejected the offer because, working for government clashed with his political journey.
He insists there are many activists who are more deserving than him; he could have chosen to take up the opportunity that was before him but his conscious for the entire populace’s wellbeing held him back. Ookeditse said there many people in the party who also contributed towards party success, asserting that he only left the BDP because he was concerned about the greater good of the majority not individualism purposes.
According to observers, Ookeditse has been enticed by the prospects of contesting Nata/Gweta constituency in the 2024 general election, following the party’s impressive performance in the last general elections. Nata/Gweta which is a traditional BDP stronghold saw its numbers shrinking to a margin of 1568. BDP represented by Polson Majaga garnered 4754, while BPF which had fielded Joe Linga received 3186 with UDC coming a distant with 1442 votes.
There are reports that Linga will pave way for Ookeditse to contest the constituency in 2024 and the latter is upbeat about the prospects of being elected to parliament. Despite Ookeditse dismissing reports that he is eying the secretary general position, insiders argue that the position will be availed to him nevertheless.
Alternative favourite for the position is Vuyo Notha who is the party Deputy Secretary General. Notha has since assumed duties of the secretariat office on the interim basis. BPF politburo is expected to meet on 25th of January 2020, where the vacancy will be filled.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) big wigs have decided to cancel a retreat with the party legislators this weekend owing to increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases. The meeting was billed for this weekend at a place that was to be confirmed, however a communique from the party this past Tuesday reversed the highly anticipated meeting.
“We received a communication this week that the meeting will not go as planned because of rapid spread of Covid-19,” one member of the party Central Committee confirmed to this publication. The gathering was to follow the first of its kind held late last year at party Treasurer Satar Dada’s place.