Brite Star Aviation, an aircraft company purportedly from the United States which is expected to assist Botswana government to resuscitate Selibe Phikwe, a town reeling from the aftermath of a shutdown of BCL copper and nickel mine – has lately attracted some attention pertaining to its authenticity.
The company, whose owners originate from Hungary, recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with six partners in Botswana being Selibe Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU), Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB), Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC), Botswana University of Science and Technology (BIUST), Selibe Phikwe Town Council and Ngwato Land Board.
Based in Fredericksburg, Texas, the company will construct a manufacturing and assembly plant in Selibe Phikwe which has a population of 50 000 people where last year more than 6000 people lost their jobs –at the BCL mine. The plant will cost a whooping 1.5 billion pula and it is understood that Brite Star will solicit funds both in Botswana and abroad in order to design and build the plant, which will be coupled with a tourism centre, a hotel, restaurants, a conference centre and a pilot academy and maintenance area.
“At the end of the plant, when the plant is done, Brite Star Aviation would have invested close to 1.5 billion,” an immaculate source closer to the deal told WeekendPost this week. He continued to state that it is still not clear whether the company is genuine and has good intentions to develop the desperate Selibe Phikwe with the Botswana government. Some key people at the town are skeptical.
“I wish to caution government and its agencies such as CEDA, BDC and SPEDU to be cautious about flyby night investors who will take advantage of our desperation to revitalize the economy of our town,” a Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West Dithapelo Keorapetse told WeekendPost about the company which “raises eyebrows”. He said although the people of Phikwe appreciate efforts by SPEDU, Ministry of Trade Investment as well as other agencies towards diversification of the town economy all they ask for is that the public’s money be protected and used prudently by avoiding flyby night investors who want to steal from them.
He said he hopes that Brite Star Aviation is not a scam to swindle government as the company doesn't appear in the databases of the US Federal Aviation Administration as aircraft parts manufacturers. He said Botswana should have learnt a lesson from the Palapye Glass Project. It is understood that the company name is also nowhere in the list of approved manufacturers in China or Hungary where it claims to have presence. “This would obviously raise questions about the company's alleged manufacturing experience. We hope all is well.”
The law maker highlighted that “all approved flying schools in US are also found in FAA database and Brite Star isn't there. It is also not there in other countries Aviation, a regulatory authority as pilot trainers. Why? But the company seeks to train pilots in Phikwe.” “Nothing in International aviation authority suggests the company does aircraft maintenance,” he added. According to the legislator, the company's website is also vague and highly suspicious and the Director’s business cards raise red flags and the “in Mail” profiles are suspicious.
Dithapelo asserted that Brite Star Aviation is not a multinational corporation specializing in aircraft parts manufacturing and maintenance and pilot training. “I hope this 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.”
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 Palapye Glass Project. The law maker said it is easy to trace aviation industry players because of the transparency of the industry regulatory authorities. “Why all this information eludes our own CAAB, Government, SPEDU and other players, beats me.”Dithapelo wondered while adding that “I warned about Pula Steel and today I'm warning about Brite Star.”
In an email conversation with this publication upon inquiries, Mbaki Ngaiti, an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer with Air Namibia, said the competence of Brite Star is unclear. In a previously released statement titled “The curious case of Brite Star Aviation”, Ngaiti wrote: “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 Brites Star Aviation is just a group of aviation hobbyists and enthusiasts, operating a lodge in a hangar in Fredericksburg. “They have obviously been invited by a well-connected Motswana to try and explore how they could make themselves money, while using them (Brite Star aviation) to convince our desperate government that they know what they are doing,” he pointed out. In return, the Namibian based engineer added that the Botswana government will craft a honey laced package to entice the so called investor, things like fast tracked land allocation, tax breaks, provision of utilities, assistance with access to finance from lenders etc. come to mind.
The Aircraft maintenance Engineer said in reality Brites Star aviation are looking to break into the big leagues of aviation with the aid of Botswana government. He emphasised that “while I wish their plans materialize for the sake of Selibe Phikwe, I also hope we avoid another Fengyue Glass project by picking up obvious inconsistencies in the character of our so called investor.” He continued to state that: “starting up aircraft parts manufacturing entity from the ground is no small task, you need to prove to aircraft manufacturers that indeed your manufacturing process comply with industry regulations, and also gain approval of authorities such as FAA.”
According to Ngaiti, this takes years of research and development and all this would be eliminated if Brite Star aviation where who they really claim to be (as it would mean they already have approvals from certain aircraft manufacturers and civil aviation regulatory authorities), and this would hasten their intervention in Selibe Phikwe.
He said a search on the FAA’ database brings up nothing on Brite Star aviation. During the MOU singing one Imre Katona (CEO) said that they have operations in Hungary and China. However, it appears the Chinese and Hungarian civil aviation regulatory authorities also have no record of an approved aircraft parts manufacturer by the name of Brite Star aviation. He also pointed out that the company fails to identify which components they manufacture and for which aircraft manufacturers.
In addition, an Information Technology expert who preferred anonymity said the website of the company does not appear to be authentic. “For website to be authentic, the Unified Resource Locater (URL) has to start with ‘https://www’ then followed by the name of the website. However with Brites Star Aviation it is not the case – which questions its authenticity,” he highlighted. He added that however we cannot base whether the company is authentic or not only on its website.
According to the company website Brite Star Aviation has seven areas of operation; Production, Research and Development, Pilot Academy, Maintenance and Operation, Accommodation, Eco and Travel, Aircraft Leasing. However in an email enquiry sent to Brite Star Sea Group Managing Director, Nazrul Amri Bin Mohamad Salleh, WeekendPost was advised to contact someone referred to as Mme Simon in their office in Botswana. She however, upon inquiries stated that: “kindly direct all your questions to the Vice President of Brite Star Aviation Advocate Efan Khan. He is currently in Hungary.”
This publication went on to contact Advocate Khan who is said to be the Legal Advisor for the company Brites Star Aviation. â€¨In his response he said “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.”â€¨â€¨He also said the entity has not entered into any partnership or joint venture with the Botswana Government.
Meanwhile a contact number, supposedly for their headquarters in Texas found on their website that WeekendPost tried to call did not go through. However a source at SPEDU who spoke to this publication anonymously however said there was a delegation from their organisation and BITC that went to Texas and they have seen the plant and the aircrafts being produced and the output. “We have seen the planes being done by those people. So how can we say the company is a fly by night when they are busy operating. As SPEDU we did our due diligence.”
He said on October 20, 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.
Despite the government of Botswana’s ambition to have one of its own to lead Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) since its establishment in 1980, the Presidency says there is no budget specifically dedicated to the campaign.
The Government has released the name of Permanent Secretary to the President, Elias Mpedi Magosi, as the candidate for the SADC Executive Secretary position. Magosi is expected to face off with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) candidate, Faustin Mukela. The position will become vacant in August this year.
However, despite the optimism the Botswana Government has not yet set aside a budget to assist Magosi to win against the seemingly DRC giant. “We all know that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the country’s ability to effectively fund any new project. This campaign is not an exception. As such, we do not have any budget for the campaign. However, we have so far managed to take advantage of His Excellency the President’s working visits to the neighbouring countries to also carry out the campaigns,” Press Secretary to the President, Batlhalefi Leagajang, explained.
Botswana has housed SADC since the establishment of the then SADCC in 1980, but has never occupied top most leadership positions at the SADC Secretariat. “We therefore, strongly believe that we should also have an opportunity to contribute to the management of our regional body as it continues to drive the important issues of regional integration industrialization and socio-economic development.
This will also profile Botswana as a strong advocate of regional integration,” he responded to this publication’s questionnaire as to why the Government wants to occupy the plum post. SADC is a Member State driven organization. As such, Leagajang said, needs a well-grounded Executive Secretary with a blend of management and leadership acumen; a transformational leader with political awareness and integrity; private and public sector experience; a deep culture of corporate governance; as well as strategic agility and result-oriented consummate diplomat.
“These are the unique attributes of our candidate,” he said. So far President Mokgweetsi Masisi has visited nine out of 16 SADC member states on a working visit and also taking an opportunity to present to them his candidate.
“The countries have appreciated this effort and we remain hopeful. However, it is important to note that this is a democratic and competitive process which must be respected,” he responded when asked about the reception and assurances from various countries to cast a vote for Magosi.
In 2018, when Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi challenged for the Africa Union (AU) Chairperson, the government appointed former President Festus Mogae to be the campaign leader. Does the Government have anyone apart from Masisi to help with the campaign?
“The campaigns for the candidate are strictly led by the Government of Botswana. Since this is a candidate for Botswana, not just the Government, it will be appreciated if all Batswana, including the media, could also shoulder the responsibility to campaign for the candidate in their own spheres of influence,” Leagajang responded.
While there are sceptics on Magosi winning against the DRC man, the Government is confident and believes that with the unique traits that he possess, Magosi stands a chance. He is said to be a strong advocate of justice and fairness as he has played this role in his current role as PSP and in his previous roles as PS and in the private sector. He has helped individuals and companies to find justice and fairness in most of their dealings with Government.
Magosi is also said to be a proponent of corporate governance and which he has relentlessly pursued in most of his career including in Government and other sectors. A strong believer in following laid down procedures and laws. “He carries a variety of skills as an HR expert with experience in different sectors, a strategist and an Organization development specialist.
His experience and exposure spans government, parastatal, private sector and at regional level as well, thus making him a suitable candidate for the regional role. He has worked with governments, businesses, development partners and politicians and is comfortable navigating through all of them,” Leagajang concluded.
The Minister of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, Kefentse Mzwinila looked a politician set to shoot the moon as he laid bare his billions of pula development agenda recently in Parliament.
His Ministry’s combined Recurrent and Development Budget Proposals for the 2021/ 2022 Financial Year is pegged at Four Billion, Three Hundred and Sixty – Five Million, two Hundred and Nineteen Thousand, Five Hundred and Sixty Pula (P4, 365, 219, 560). This is a budget 38.3% more than the allocation for the 2020/2021 Financial Year.
Mzwinila preluded his request to parliament with a demonstration that his Ministry has no champagne taste on a beer budget – indicating that his ministry’s expenditure at the end of February 2021P2.111 Billion or 96% of development budget; and P910 million or 90% of the recurrent budget.
Notwithstanding the budget dust, the Minister justified this year’s increase in the Ministry’s total budget. He attributed the escalation to the commencement of major projects under the water sector. These include the implementation of the North South Carrier (NSC) 22.2 covering various sub projects. Mzwinila noted that these are all public value projects which are aimed at improving the lives of Batswana.
Mzwinila’s Ministry has projected that the sum of Nine Hundred and Sixty –Three Million, Nine Hundred and Forty – Seven Thousand, Five Hundred and Sixty Pula (P963, 947, 560) be permitted for the Recurrent Budget and stand part of the 2021 / 2022 Appropriation Bill ( No. 1 of 2021).
“55% of the Recurrent Budget is geared towards the Revenue Support Grant for 12 Land Boards and their subordinate authorities while the sum of P5 Million is allocated to the Real Estate Advisory Council (REAC). The remaining 44% is proposed for the Ministry Departments.”
The sum of Three Billion, Four Hundred and One Million, Two hundred and Seventy –Two Thousand Pula (P3, 401, 272, 000), for the Development Budget was approved and stand part of the same schedule of the appropriation (2021/2022).
When breaking down the Development Budget, Minister Mzwinila noted that Water Supply and Sanitation projects will account for P1.098 Billion to finance the Maun Water and Sanitation project, Molepolole Sanitation projects and the Shakawe Water Treatment Plant Rehabilitation.
With all the implementation bottlenecks troubling several projects in the country, Mzwinila had to satisfy the question of whether his Ministry demonstrated a dire need for the budget with reference to its execution of the budget for the financial year 2020/2021 and its delivery of strategic initiatives and projects?
Mzwinila’s pitch found favour with parliament and his ministry will get an aggregate budget of P3.198 Billion for the 2020/ 2021 Financial Year. Within this allocation, P2.188 Billion is for the Development Budget and P1.010 Billion will cover the Recurrent Budget.
The Minister revealed his strategic interventions for land management, water and sanitation services. Highlighting that efforts by Government to provide serviced residential land to citizens on the waiting list are being hampered by limited resources. He shared that his ministry needs P94 Billion to cover such costs which will directly link to water, sewage, roads, electricity, telecommunications and storm water drainage leading to the allocation of 4 587 plots on un-serviced land.
The minister projected that 22 952 un-serviced residential plots are planned to be allocated in the next financial year. However, there is a trend where allocated land remains fallow and undeveloped which raises misgivings that the requests could have been made on speculative plans.
Mzwinila noted that in the spirit of forging stronger International connections, the Ministry will in June 2021 sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Land matters between Namibia and Botswana with the aim of opening doors to the creation of Dry Ports in the country, facilitate international trade through Walvis Bay Sea Port.
Botswana is already challenged by scarcity of naturally occurring water resources due to the aridity of the country creating persistent water shortages. The type of infrastructure required to improve national water security is a true reflection of intensive investment needed in the water sector The Minister stressed.
“An emerging issue such as the COVID -19 pandemic poses serious challenges as the control of the virus requires reliable water supply. In an effort to mitigate the challenge, the Ministry has undertaken extensive bowsing throughout the country which included the provision of additional capacity for supplementary bowsing to areas with pervasive water shortages, plus an additional forty one (41) un-gazetted settlements.
Operational costs due to bowsing were at an average of P6 Million per month before the COVID-19 pandemic and increased to an unsustainable amount of the order of P13 Million per month, since the beginning of the State of Emergency in April 2020,” the minister shared.
Through the support of a World Bank Loan, the Ministry is implementing several initiatives under the Botswana Emergency Water Security and Efficiency (BEWSE) project. Through BEWSE the Raw Water Pricing and Abstraction Strategy will assess the pricing of water in a manner that enables the provision of water to support new economic development, the strategy is planned to be completed in June 2021.
The Ministry has commenced the development of a long term National Water Security Strategy to improve resilience to climate change impacts. The strategy development entails prioritization of the proposed future mega water transfers such as the Chobe – Zambezi water transfer, the Atlantic Ocean water transfer to Botswana through Namibia and Lesotho – Botswana water transfer.
Following the signing of the tripartite Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa in November 2017 for the Lesotho –Botswana Water Transfer project, a 24 months contract for a combined prefeasibility and feasibility study for the development of a bankable Lesotho – Botswana Water Transfer project feasibility study was signed and is to be completed in 2022.
One of the Ministry’s famous major water supply projects such as the North South Carrier (NSC) 2.2 has experienced hiccups; having tenders for contract 1 (Masama to Mmamashia Pipeline) and Contract 2 (Mahalapye to Masama Pipeline) cancelled due to budgetary constraints.
The Botswana Climate Change policy draft of 2021 was tabled in Parliament by the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Philda Kereng for consideration and adoption.
The policy attempts to indicate the country’s environmentally conscious development agenda as Substantial resources are being dedicated to research and policy efforts to mitigate climate change and support adaptation to the current and future impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.
Kereng indicated that Botswana is not immune to the impacts of climate change and it continues to delay the country’s national development efforts and that the key economic development sectors dependent on the climate system have recorded declines over the years due to the variability of the rainfall and other climatic conditions. Experts elsewhere have pointed out that lack of consideration of population dynamics hampers the development of stronger, more effective solutions to the challenges climate change poses – hopefully this policy if effectively implemented could partly answer this question.
Kereng underscored that sectors such as agriculture, water, bio diversity, health and tourism have suffered the most and the consequences of these have contributed significantly to the decline of livelihoods in Botswana especially in rural areas.
To respond to the changing climate, Botswana has embarked on sectoral reform such as climate smart agriculture, poverty alleviation initiatives, building resilience on the economic productive sectors, diversification of tourism for the improvement of livelihoods and income generation, local economic development and sustainable environment.
The efforts require a coordinated mechanism that will provide an enabling environment for an integrated approach to the formulation and implantation of development plans and socio economic related policies in Botswana that are responsive to the changing climatic conditions.
Minister Kereng explained the draft policy is characterized by an inclusive and integrated approach to social, economic development and governance modalities that would enable the country to achieve a sustainable development pathway. It provides opportunities for improved livelihoods through creation of green jobs, development and transfer of relevant technologies as well as creation and ease of access to both local and international markets. It also commits the government, private sector and non-state actors to adopt adaptation and mitigation measures that would facilitate sustainability and building of resilience of all sectors.
While Members of Parliament were trying to comprehend the policy, this publication got in touch with Green Botswana to solicit their views on the policy draft. Ms. Sela Motshwane, the Founder of the Trust highlighted that “the Climate Change policy was meant to be read in August 2019. It is long overdue, and we all need to see it and understand it in full.
I understand the current budget does not allow for a full implementation- but I could be wrong. More funds could have been allocated since. I think generally, Batswana need to understand fully what this means to our daily lives. I believe the true understanding is by policy drafters and the Ministry of Environment only.”
In the same vein, Green Botswana Trust took to the streets to provide a community solution to climate change on World Health Day (Wednesday). Green Botswana held a “Free Trees for Babies” at Extension 2 Clinic where fruit trees were gifted to parents, expectant mothers, 25 health workers, police officers and the prison officers who had accompanied prisoners to the clinic.
Motshwane said: “The decision to do the “Free Trees for Babies” by gifting fruit trees was to raise awareness to our imminent food security issue as stated by the Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Mr. Thabang Botshoma and encourage the general public to plant a tree so that we can reach our SGD Goal 13 : Climate Action. The trees gifted are to be named after the baby recipient”.
Green Botswana is calling for the urgent action from government and members of the public to create a culture of community accountability and collegiality in moving Botswana towards climate action and sustainability. To achieve the 2030 Paris Agreement Pledge, it will take all citizens and not just the government to reach goals.
Parliament resolved to adopt the Botswana Climate Change Policy, 2021.