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’.
Despite the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and his Namibian counterpart, Hage Geingob giving an impression that the borderline security disputes are a thing of the past and that diplomatic ties remain tight, fresh developments from Namibia suggest otherwise, following Geingod’s close confidante’s attack on Botswana and its army.
Giving a Zambezi region state of the affairs last week, a Geingob-appointed governor of Zambezi region, Colonel Lawrence Ampofu, a retired Colonel in the Namibian Defence Force, former plan combatant during the liberation struggle of Namibia, in a written speech, charged at the BDF and condemned their killings of the Namibians as unacceptable.
“The security situation within our borders remains calm. The incidence of the Botswana Defence Force shootings and wanton killings on the Nchindo Brothers on 05 November 2020 and other 37 Namibian lives lost since independence remain a serious challenge with our neighbor, Botswana.
Our residents living along the Chobe, Linyanti and Kwandu rivers are living under constant threats, harassment, fear, intimidation and killings and such activities are condemned and not acceptable,” he said under the safety and security title.
The attack suggests that Namibia has not bought Botswana’s story. Ampofu was part of the entourage that accompanied Geingob to the three Nchindo brothers and their cousin who were gunned down by the BDF, and is reported to be privy to the details of the unpublished Botswana-Namibia joint investigations report about the killings as a governor or political head of the region which has eight electoral constituencies.
The report contains the sensitive details of how the three Namibians referred as poachers by the BDF – and Fisherman by the Namibian government were gunned down on 5 November last year along the Chobe River. They were Tommy (48), Martin (40) and Wamunyima Nchindo (36), and their cousin Sinvula Muyeme (44).
His views are not really in contrast to his President’s views who also described the BDF as trigger happy in a scripted report to his cabinet.
The Zambezi region is located in the extreme north east part of Namibia and covers a total of 14,667.6 square kilometres. “We share borders with Angola, Zambia to the north, Zimbabwe to the east and Botswana to the South,” he said.
Sampofu was first appointed governor of the former Caprive Region in 2010 by the former Namibian president, Hifikepunye Pohamba and was reappointed as Zambezi governor by President Dr.Hage Geingob in 2015, a term running to 2025.
37 Namibia residents killed by Botswana army so far
Sampofu is a man who continues to insist that Botswana has killed 37 residents of his region. A video posted by the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) shows him alleging that at least 37 Namibians were killed by the BDF, after he met with the community at Impalila.
“It is true, the BDF started long ago. As we speak 37 lives have been lost here in Impalila along the Chobe river going to Linyanti and Kwado rivers up to Lizauli. All those families lost their loved ones,” Ampofu said in the video posted by NBC.
It is not known how the BDF, which has maintained their position that the Namibians were engaging in illegal activities of poaching, treats the constant attacks by the Namibian authorities, but they have repeatedly vowed to continue protecting the country’s sovereignty and natural resources.
Botswana’s premier brewer and leading distributor of beer, Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL), this month dragged the government of Botswana to court after President Mokgweetsi Masisi imposed an alcohol ban with immediate effect. KBL labelled the decision as unjustifiable, irrational and that it overrides the rights that are enshrined in the constitution.
This week, Masisi through attorneys representing the government disparaged the case in his written affidavit of KBL’s application, referring to it as frivolous and that it ought to be dismissed with costs on a punitive scale.
In his court papers, Masisi reminded KBL that Botswana is a Republic whose laws find validity from the constitution, and in terms of Section 17 of the constitution the President is empowered to declare a State of Emergency and that it is a common cause that Botswana is under such state.
“It is common course that there is in existence emergency powers (Covid-19) Regulations 2020 as amended from time to time which is solely designed to regulate the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Masisi pointed out that he denies that the application before Court is proper such as to challenge the lawfulness and validity of a regulation made and a notice published in the exercise of a legislative function in accordance with the Emergency Powers Act which empowers the President to make regulations as appear to him to be necessary and expedient for securing public safety.
Furthermore, the President revealed that the decision to ban alcohol sales was not arrived at willy-nilly, but rather that there had been careful considerations that the risks posed by Covid-19 had increased and therefore it was expedient and necessary to suspend all liquor licenses.
Moreover, Masisi denied that the decision to reinstate the ban should be made by the Director of Health Services as indicated by KBL in their nature of the application, “the Director is to cause the notice to be published in the Gazette after consultation with the President.”
Masisi indicated that the role of the Director of Health Services is to publish a regulation made by the President.
He further, reminded KBL that the power to make regulations in a State of Public Emergency in accordance with the EPA lies with the President, “such power includes the amendment of any enactment, suspending the operation of any enactment or modification of an enactment.”
According to Masisi, his decision to ban alcohol sales was based on evidence provided by the Director of Health Services who indicated to him that there was a sudden spike in the transmission of the Covid-19 virus following the reinstatement of liquor licenses.
Another piece of advice tendered by the Director of Health to Masisi was that bars and other liquor outlets were some of the major hotspots in the sense of such being high-risk areas at which the virus spread rapidly.
“Alcohol was one of the major causes of non-compliance with the health protocols that were put in place to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Further, there was an indication that more arrests were made on people failing to adhere to Covid-19 protocols more particularly at places where there were gatherings,” he contended.
He pointed out that therefore, it was expedient and or necessary to preserve lives and to reduce the risks of transmissions of the virus to reinstate the suspension of liquor licenses.
Moreover, the President says that it must be noted that he avers that the Director of Health Services is a credible source on matters of public health of which he also accordingly gave due weight to the Director’s advice on deciding to reinstate the ban through the impugned notice.
“I am aware and was always aware at the time of promulgating the regulation complained of that it shall negatively affect some sectors of the economy. However, after due consideration and receipt of advice, I decided to give priority to the safety and health of the nation,” Masisi said.
He presaged KBL that it would not be prudent and in the best interest of the nation to ignore a health emergency such as Covid-19 and gave preference to trading and making of profits by the applicant. “The results would only be catastrophic to the extent that when we emerge from the scourge we would be left with a depleted and ailing nation from Covid-19 and its side effects.”
Furthermore, his written affidavit further pointed out that the decision to reinstate the ban on alcohol was taken notwithstanding understanding and appreciation of the economic hardships that would befall the country.
However, he said he deliberately made the decision based on the evidence provided to him by the Director of Health, whose evidence he believes to be credible to give public/safety and health priority over economic considerations in some sectors.
In making the decision, Masisi states that he was and considered different options including allowing for sale of alcohol consumption off premises, however the evidence he had been provided with suggested that such other alternatives would not achieve the overall objective of securing public safety and health by reducing the risk of the spread of the virus.
“By the time I imposed the ban, alcohol was already being sold for consumption off-premises. This did not work. The information provided to me by the Director and the Presidential Task-Force team demonstrated that consumers purchased alcohol and then loitered and consumed it within the peripheries of bars and other liquor outlets,” he said.
Attached to the affidavit as emphasis, were photographs and videos of Gaborone West, Phase 4 in mid-June 2021, which he explains circulated on social media and was brought to his attention.
“I need not say much about the photos as they depict a crowd exceeding 50 gathered at the parking area of a bar. There is little or no regard to Covid-19 protocols. It was clear to me and my advisors, including the Director of Health Services and members of the Presidential Task-Force team that the total ban of alcohol was necessary to manage the risk of increase in infections, to understand what seems to have led to an increase in the risk of infection when alcohol is present I was advised by the Presidential Task-Force team that scientifically there has been evidence that alcohol narrows physical distance,” he argued.
Masisi says that allegations made by KBL are serious allegations of infringement of fundamental rights yet they fail to state how imposition and reinstatement of the suspension of liquor licenses out of necessity and expediency of the health of the nation infringes on the rights as alleged.
In an embarrassing turn of events that depicts disintegration in government communication on the fight against COVID-19, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Assistant Minister of Health & Wellness, Sethomo Lelatisitswe gave two conflicting statements on the same matter, same day, just minutes apart.
The Commander-in-Chef told health practitioners and residents in Ramotswa that the COVAX facility has scammed African countries after billions were paid in a crowd funding effort to procure COVID-19 vaccines in bulk.
“We have pumped money as developing countries of the African continent into the COVAX Facility but the returns were not satisfactory, they cheated us,” the President said in Ramotswa.
According to President Masisi, the COVAX facility Vaccine only came in bits and pieces, frustrating the continent ‘s head immunity targets amid rapidly spreading Delta Variant which is currently reversing all progress made by Africa in containing the contagious virus.
“What we are getting is very small portions of the vaccine, they keep telling us that there is shortage of supply, this is not fair, but we have paid in advance, however what can we do, we have no choice but to spend more money and look for other avenues of securing other available vaccines,” he said.
Meanwhile in Gaborone, Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness told Parliament that vaccine from COVAX facility is anchoring Botswana’s vaccination program.
“I am not aware of such information that COVAX facility is not delivering as expected, we are actually bolstered by COVAX facility in this country,” he said responding to a question from Mahalapye West Member of Parliament David Tshere who is also Chairman of Parliament Committee On Health and HIV/AIDS.
“We have received doses as ordered from the COVAX facility, and we are still receiving more, I have not seen that information which is purported to have been revealed by the President, unless its new information, we as the Ministry we are not aware of any frustrations by the COVAX facility,” he said.
COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside key delivery partner UNICEF.
Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.
The facility is a global coalition that works to ensure fair and equitable access of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. So far, 190 countries have joined the COVAX initiative, including all 22 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.
The COVAX Facility aims to have 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines available for distribution across the globe by the end of 2021, targeting those most at risk (e.g. frontline health workers) and most vulnerable severe diseases and death (e.g. elderly and people with co-morbidities).
On other vaccination issues President Masisi revealed, still in Greater Gaborone vaccination centre visits, that Botswana has placed orders with Pfizer, a United States vaccine producer noting that they have promised to deliver next year.
Meanwhile, government kick-started phase two of the Covid-19 vaccination program this week, opening up for ages between 30 and 54.
President Masisi revealed that this was done because some elderly were reluctant to be inculcated.
“We can’t take forever trying to convince people to take vaccine, we moved to the next age segments because we cannot afford to have vaccines-which are already in shortage supply to just lie there,” he said.
On Friday, Ministry of Health revealed that it was receiving large numbers of people below the age of 55 lining up to be vaccinated.
In a statement the Ministry of Health said it, “acknowledges the huge turnout that marked the commencement of the Phase two COVID-19 vaccination program”.
Given this high turnout, especially in the Greater Gaborone region, the ministry announced an extension of operation hours in order to serve the huge crowds that had come for vaccination.
Of the nearly 85 000 doses that were being doled across the country as first doses, the majority of the Greater Gaborone vaccination sites were already getting depleted by 1800hrs on 22 July 2021.
As a result of this development, the ministry took a decision to discontinue the extended hours of operation announced yesterday for vaccination sites in Gaborone.
This means that vaccination sites in Gaborone and elsewhere in the country which still have some vaccines, will offer them in the normal working hours and days of the week.
The Ministry says it appreciates the great desire to be vaccinated shown by thousands of citizens and residents of this country and wishes to assure them that it will continue to expedite their vaccination every time vaccines become available. As has been communicated in various fora, more vaccines are expected in August 2021.
As at July 2021, Botswana has so far received 62, 400 doses of AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD bought through the Covax facility, 30,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine donated by the Republic of India, 19, 890 doses of the Pfizer vaccine bought through the COVAX facility, 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, donated by the Peoples Republic of China and another 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine bought through bilateral negotiations with Sinovac company in China.
“We encourage Batswana to remain hopeful that although it’s taking longer than anticipated, enough COVID-19 vaccines will eventually arrive in our country. We urge them to always strictly abide by all COVID-19 protocols so that they protect themselves and others from this deadly virus,” the ministry said.