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Will Brite Star Aviation pull a Fengyue on Gov’t?

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. 
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.”

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.

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DIS blasted for cruelty – UN report

26th July 2022
DIS BOSS: Magosi

Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.

Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.

She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”

Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.

On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.

“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.

One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.

The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”

The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.

Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.

Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.

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Stan Chart halts civil servants property loan facility

26th July 2022
Stan-Chart

Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.

This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.

He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.

Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”

He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.

Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.

“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.

In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”

In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.

He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.”  Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.

Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.

He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”

Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.

“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.

“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said.  Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.

Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.

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Botswana ranked 129 in female MPs representation

26th July 2022
Minister of Finance & Economic Development Peggy Serame

The Global Gender Gap Index, a report published by the World Economic Forum annually, has indicated that Botswana is among countries that fare badly when it comes to representation of women in legislative bodies.

The latest Global Gender Gap Index, published last week, benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender parity across four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment). It is the longest-standing index which tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time since its inception in 2006.

This year, the Global Gender Gap Index benchmarked 146 countries. Of these, a subset of 102 countries have been represented in every edition of the index since 2006, further providing a large constant sample for time series analysis.

Botswana ranks number 66 overall (out of 146 countries), with good rankings in most of the pillars. Botswana ranks 1st in Health and Survival, 7th in the Economic Participation and Opportunity, 22nd in Educational Attainment, and 129th in Political Empowerment.

The Global Gender Gap Index measures scores on a 0 to 100 scale and scores can be interpreted as the distance covered towards parity (i.e. the percentage of the gender gap that has been closed). The cross-country comparisons aim to support the identification of the most effective policies to close gender gaps.

The Economic Participation and Opportunity sub-index contains three concepts: the participation gap, the remuneration gap and the advancement gap. The participation gap is captured using the difference between women and men in labour-force participation rates. The remuneration gap is captured through a hard data indicator (ratio of estimated female-to-male earned income) and a qualitative indicator gathered through the World Economic Forum’s annual Executive Opinion Survey (wage equality for similar work).

Finally, the gap between the advancement of women and men is captured through two hard data statistics (the ratio of women to men among legislators, senior officials and managers, and the ratio of women to men among technical and professional workers).

The Educational Attainment sub-index captures the gap between women’s and men’s current access to education through the enrolment ratios of women to men in primary-, secondary- and tertiary-level education. A longer-term view of the country’s ability to educate women and men in equal numbers is captured through the ratio of women’s literacy rate to men’s literacy rate.

Health and Survival sub-index provides an overview of the differences between women’s and men’s health using two indicators. The first is the sex ratio at birth, which aims specifically to capture the phenomenon of “missing women”, prevalent in countries with a strong son preference. Second, the index uses the gap between women’s and men’s healthy life expectancy.

This measure provides an estimate of the number of years that women and men can expect to live in good health by accounting for the years lost to violence, disease, malnutrition and other factors.
Political Empowerment sub-index measures the gap between men and women at the highest level of political decision-making through the ratio of women to men in ministerial positions and the ratio of women to men in parliamentary positions. In addition, the reported included the ratio of women to men in terms of years in executive office (prime minister or president) for the last 50 years.

In the last general elections, only three women won elections, compared to 54 males. The three women are; Nnaniki Makwinja (Lentsweletau-Mmopane), Talita Monnakgotla (Kgalagadi North), and Anna Mokgethi (Gaborone Bonnington North). Four women were elected through Specially Elected dispensation; Peggy Serame, Dr Unity Dow, Phildah Kereng and Beauty Manake. All female MPs — save Dow, who resigned — are members of the executive.

Overall, Botswana has 63 seats, all 57 elected by the electorates, and six elected by parliament. Early this year, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) secretary general and Gaborone North MP, Mpho Balopi, successfully moved a motion in parliament calling for increment of elective seats from 57 to 61. Balopi contented that population growth demands the country respond by increasing the number of MPs.

In Africa, Botswana play second fiddle to countries like Rwanda, Namibia, South Africa, Burundi, and Zimbabwe who have better representation of women, with Rwanda being the only country with more than 50 percent of women in parliament.

The low number of women in parliament is attributed to Botswana’s current, electoral system, First-Past-the-Post. During the 9th parliament, then MP for Mahalapye East tabled a motion in parliament in which she sort to increase the number of Specially Elected MPs in parliament to augment female representation in the National Assembly.

The motion was opposed famously, by then Specially Elected MP, Botsalo Ntuane, who said the citizens were not in favour of such a move since it dilute democracy, instead suggesting the Botswana should switch to Proportional-Representation-System. Botswana is currently undergoing Constitutional Review process, with the commission, appointed in December, expected to deliver the report to President Mokgweetsi Masisi by September this year.

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