Selebi Phikwe Post-Mining Economy: The promise and the dream
Botswana’s fifth president, His Excellency Mokgweetsi Masisi took office on April 01, 2018. Welcomed by a heavy down pour, it appears even the heavens approve of the presidency.
But the presidency has a mountain yet to climb with interest to the revitalisation of the ailing economy of Selebi Phikwe and the SPEDU region which suffered a heavy blow following the closure and liquidation of BCL mine. Will Masisi bring hope in the face of the deeply hounded people of Selebi Phikwe? To answer this question, president Masisi declared in his maiden speech as president of the country that his “Government will particularly intensify its efforts to revitalise the economy of the SPEDU region to effectively respond to the closure and liquidation of BCL”.
It is important to note that Masisi was the chairperson of the parliamentary committee that investigated BCL and made recommendation to shut down its operations. It remains to be seen if indeed president Masisi has the will of steel to turn around the economy of a region whose economic mainstay was the mine that he closed.
With his promise to turn things around, it is worth mentioning that several promises have been made since the closure of the mine. There have been attempts to identify opportunities that would invigorate the economy of the town but it seems all this remain a challenge in practice.
Despite his predecessor having been a sworn believer in action-oriented service delivery, there has been no noticeable action on the ground to deliver Selebi Phikwe from the harrows of economic shock that has since suffocated the town of its only capital oxygen being the BCL mine. With the change of guard, the people of Selebi and the SPEDU region can only hope that Government will move swiftly beyond rhetoric and paying lip service to practical programmes and projects.
The promises made that have since varnished as a distant dream in the minds of the people of Selebi Phikwe include the classification of Selebi Phikwe as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) where economic value can be unlocked from agribusiness and tourism. However the president noted in his inauguration speech that his Government will expedite the implementation of the SEZ which will contribute to the socio-economic development of the country. If this is finally implemented, it could boost the economy of Selebi Phikwe.
Government through the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry (MITI) introduced investor fiscal and non-fiscal incentives that include low general tax rates in order to attract investors both domestic and foreign to be able to set up businesses in the SPEDU region.
This incentive package through vigorous marketing and scouting for investors by both SPEDU and Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) saw the signing of a memorandum of understanding between BITC, SPEDU, Ngwato Land Board, Selebi Phikwe Town Council (SPTC), Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB), Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) and Brite Star Aviation. Brite Star Aviation of Texas signed an agreement with these agencies to build a P1.4 billion aircraft manufacturing and assembly plant in Selebi Phikwe.
The project which was said would be completed in a period of five years was to expand into an eco-safari centre, hotel and conference centre, composite manufacturing plant, aircraft service and maintenance centre as well as a research and development centre that will house a pilot and flight training academy. The project was to create 3000 direct jobs for the region upon completion.
The announcement of this project was welcomed with mixed reactions as some people felt the project prospects seemed too good to be true with others questioning the credibility of the company which appeared to not have enough experience in the aviation space. Perhaps now dampening the hopes of the people of Selebi Phikwe further are the recent reports that seem to confirm Brite Star as a “fly-by-night” company taking its chances with the unsuspecting Government of Botswana.
With the promise of the setup of a company that manufactures mobile telephone handsets and a technology service provider in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Selebi Phikwe having not been fulfilled, doubt was cast over the Brite Star project which seemed bigger in scope than the laptop manufacturing business.
The company was to expand in its second phase to manufacture other electronic goods such as television sets and assembly of computers. Another ICT company which was to provide technology solutions like e-pay solutions and livestock identification solutions is yet to establish in the region as it was promised. Another dead dream.
Another deal, which now it appears, was but a pipe dream was the promise of a Pharmaceutical Medicine Park which for some time the scapegoat for lack of its delivery was that it was undergoing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) consultative process.
Another initiative is the set up of BIUST campus in Selebi Phikwe. Last year March, parliament adopted a motion by Selebi Phikwe West legislator, Dithapelo Keorapetse, requesting Government to consider relocating the College of Engineering and Technology to Selebi-Phikwe. There is still no sign of the envisaged satellite campus in the town, albeit a year now having passed.
Also last year when addressing a Kgotla meeting in Sefhophe Village, Former president, Lt Gen. Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama announced that five manufacturing companies will set up in Selebi Phikwe in the next two years. The unidentified companies are also yet to establish in Selebi Phikwe.
Another company which residents doubt will ever set up in Phikwe is an Oxygen Gas company whose construction was expected to have commenced by the end of the 2017/18 financial year. The company is expected to build an air separation plant for the production of oxygen, nitrogen and other gasses. Even after former president, Lt. Gen. Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama appointed former Bank of Botswana governor, Linah Mohohlo to the position of coordinator of Selebi Phikwe Economic Revitalisation programme, nothing much has been achieved so far and the gloomy economic situation continues.
Selebi Phikwe needs immediate rescue lest its virtually collapsing economy causes other more awful consequences worse than the deserting of the town by residents. The social and economic consequences triggered by the decline in population will eventually lead to the loss of the consumer base leading to a non-appealing business environment that will not attract investors.
The lack of the consumer base will also lead to downscaling of the remaining businesses leading to a further loss of jobs. Businesses in Selebi Phikwe either depended entirely or largely on BCL and its employees for capital as they constituted a significant percentage of the buying power.
The story of BCL closure and its devastating consequences have been told several times in graphic details by both political and economic commentators, civil leaders in the town and by former employees of the mine who are the direct victims who were at the eye of the storm when the curtains finally fell. If no urgent interventions are put in place and accelerated, there will be no sign of dawn appearing in sight as dark nights will last forever.
It is now for president Masisi and his administration to stem the tide by implementing achievable recovery strategies and initiatives. In his address to the nation as president, Masisi revealed that Government will prioritise the implementation of a combination of strategies required to stimulate accelerated economic growth noting further that practical and realistic strategies will be implemented as a matter of urgency.
The nation will be watching to see the urgency with which the Masisi administration will zealously embrace the challenges and meaningfully deliver the promise lest the dream of a better Selebi Phikwe post-mining remains a barren dream. A success in turning around the economy of Selebi Phikwe will serve as demonstration that in the event Botswana diamonds get depleted, Orapa and Jwaneng will not become another Selebi Phikwe. It will also serve as signal that the Government can indeed achieve economic transformation and diversification which the nation desperately needs to move away from over-dependence on diamonds as the economic mainstay.
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DPP drops Kably threat to kill case
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Chief Whip and Member of Parliament for Letlhakeng/Lephephe Liakat Kably has welcomed the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP)’s decision not to prosecute BDP councillor, Meshack Tshenyego who allegedly threatened to kill him. However, the legislator has warned that should anything happen to his life, the state and the courts will have to account.
In an interview with this publication, Kablay said he has heard that the DPP has declined to prosecute Tshenyego in a case in which he threatened to kill him adding that the reasons he received are that there was not enough evidence to prosecute. “I am fine and at peace with the decision not to prosecute over evidential deficits but I must warn that should anything happen to my life both the DPP and the Magistrate will have to account,” Kablay said.
Connectedly, Kably said he has made peace with Tshenyego, “we have made peace and he even called me where upon we agreed to work for the party and bury the hatchet”.
The DPP reportedly entered into a Nolle Prosequi in the matter, meaning that no action would be taken against the former Letlhakeng Sub-district council chairperson and currently councillor for Matshwabisi.
According to the charge sheet before the Court, councilor Tshenyego on July 8th, 2022 allegedly threatened MP Kably by indirectly uttering the following words to nominatedcouncilor Anderson Molebogi Mathibe, “Mosadi wa ga Liakat le ban aba gagwe ba tsile go lela, Mosadi wame le banake le bone ba tsile go lela. E tla re re mo meeting, ka re tsena meeting mmogo, ke tla mo tlolela a bo ke mmolaya.”
Loosely translated this means, Liakat’s wife and children are going to shed tears and my wife and kids will shed tears too. I will jump on him and kill him during a meeting.
Mathibe is said to have recorded the meeting and forwarded it to Kably who reported the matter to the police.
In a notice to the Magistrate Court to have the case against Tshenyego, acting director of Public Prosecutions, Wesson Manchwe cited the nolle prosequi by the director of public prosecution in terms of section 51 A (30) of the Constitution and section 10 of the criminal procedure and evidence act (CAP 08:02) laws of Botswana as reasons for dropping the charges.
A nolle prosequi is a formal notice of abandonment by a plaintiff or prosecutor of all or part of a suit or action.
“In pursuance of my powers under section 51 A (300 of the Constitution and section 10 of the criminal procedure and evidence act (CAP 08:02) laws of Botswana, I do hereby stop and discontinue criminal proceedings against the accused Meshack Tshenyego in the Kweneng Administrative District, CR.No.1077/07/2022 being the case of the State vs Tshenyego,” said Manchwe. The acting director had drafted the notice dropping the charges on 13th day of March 2023.
The case then resumed before the Molepolole Magistrate Solomon Setshedi on the 14th of March 2023. The Magistrate issued an order directing “that matters be withdrawn with prejudice to the State, accused is acquitted and discharged.”
DPP seizes prosecution duties from Police
Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) has finally taken over prosecution from the Botswana Police Service (BPS). The police have been prosecuting for years, but the takeover means that they will now only focus on investigations and then hand over to the DPP for prosecution.
Talks of complete takeover began as far back as 2008, but for years it seemed implementation was sluggish. However, the Minister of Justice, Machana Shamukuni, revealed that the complete takeover is expected to be completed soon.
During a presentation to the Committee of Supply by Shamukuni this week, it was revealed that the project has been implemented in 22 police stations nationwide, including Maun, Selebi-Phikwe, Palapye, Francistown, and Kasane. He further stated that the project has been allocated P3,000,000 for the 2023/2024 financial year to facilitate the opening of more satellite offices for the DPP.
Shamukuni said the Lobatse station is scheduled for a complete takeover by the end of May 2023, while the Kasane DPP satellite office has been established and became operational as of February 1, 2023.
“As reported previously, preparations are at an advanced stage to open a satellite office in Tsabong to curtail expenses, as well as frequent long-distance trips to these areas, as it is currently serviced by the Lobatse DPP office,” Shamukuni said.
Shamukuni said that the takeover strategy is to enable a seamless and gradual takeover of prosecution from the BPS without overwhelming and overstretching the thin resources at its disposal.
According to Shamukuni, the implementation of the prosecution takeover project has increased the workload of the 211 prosecutors in the DPP establishment.
Furthermore, the Justice Minister said DPP statistics show that the DPP has a total of 11,903 cases and dockets as of January 2023. He indicated that this is a significant increase in the number of cases being handled by the DPP, considering that in November 2021, the DPP had just over 8,471 files.
“Out of the total case load, 8 382 are cases pending before various courts while 3521 are dockets received from law enforcement agencies of which 1 325 are awaiting service of summons while the rest are being assessed for suitability of prosecution or otherwise” said Shamukuni.
He further stated that The DPP has consistently maintained an 80% success rate in matters completed at court.
“As at the end of January 2023, the success rate stood at 82.3% against a target of 90% whilst the average performance in respect of turnaround time for conclusion of cases at court stood at 17.5 months against a target of 18 months,” he said.
BACKLOG OF CASES – LAND TRIBUNAL
Meanwhile, Minister Shamukuni has revealed that Gaborone land Tribunal is experiencing a backlog of cases. Before parliament this week, Shamukuni revealed that a total 230 appeals were completed for the period of April 2022- December 2022 and only 76.5% of them were completed within set time frame.
The minister said that the Gaborone division has experiencing a backlog of cases due to manpower constraints and he further indicated that presiding officers from other divisions have been brought in to expedite case disposal.
He further indicated that the land tribunal is a specialized court that has been empowered to resolve appeals arising from land boards. “It has been mandated to determine appeals from the decisions of Physical planning committees of Districts Councils” said Shamukuni.
Land Tribunal relocated to the Ministry of Justice from Ministry of Land and Water Affairs in November 2022.
“An amount of P37, 842,670 is requested to cover salaries, allowance and other operational expenses for the Department of the land Tribunal,” alluded Shamukuni
BCP, AP stalemate in 7 constituencies
When the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), Alliance for Progressives, Botswana Labour Party (BLP), and conveners reconvene next week, the controversial issue of allocation of the seven constituencies will be the main topic of discussion, WeekendPost can reveal.
Not only that, but the additional four constituencies will also dominate the talks. The idea is to finally close the “constituency allocation phase,” which has proven to be the most difficult part of the ongoing negotiations.
Earlier this year, the two parties announced that the marathon talks would be concluded by February. Even at a media briefing last month, BCP Secretary General Goretetse Kekgonegile and Publicity Secretary Dr. Mpho Pheko were optimistic that the negotiations would be concluded before the end of February.
However, it is now mid-March and the talks have yet to be concluded. What could be the reasons for the delay? This is a question that both Kekgonegile and Pheko have not responded to, as they have ignored the reporters’ inquiries. However, a senior figure within the party has confided to this publication as to what is delaying the highly anticipated negotiations.
“We are reconvening next week to finalize constituency allocations, taking into account the additional four new ones plus the outstanding seven,” he explained. It later surfaced that Gaborone Central, Gaborone North, Mogoditshane, Tswapong North, Francistown West, Tati West, and Nata Gweta are all contested by both BCP and AP. This is because the other 50 constituencies were allocated by December of last year.
The three parties have failed to find common ground for the Bosele Ward by-elections. Are these constituencies not a deal breaker for the talks? “None of the constituencies is a deal breaker,” responded a very calm BCP official.
In Bosele Ward, AP has yielded to BCP, despite most of its members disapproving the decision. On the other hand, BLP has refused, and it will face off with BCP together with Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).
The decision by BLP to face off with BCP has been labelled as a false start for the talks by political observers.