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Half billion pula gone as Chinese raided Gov’t coffers

The Fengyue Glass project shenanigans are refusing to go away, especially after Specially Elected Member of Parliament, Mephato Reatile took aim at the imbalance demonstrable in the sale of the failed plant equipment and 100 hectares of land. But Government has indicated that it was well aware that it will never recover the P500 million gobbled by the briefcase Chinese company behind the glass project.

The inquisitive legislator had asked the Minister of Trade Industry and Investment whether in view of approximately half a billion Pula of public revenues expended on the Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) Fengyue Glass Manufacturing Plant in Palapye, due regard was made by his Ministry in its decision to sell the Plant for the price for which it was sold by the Liquidator. Reatile also wanted to know how much the 100 hectares of the Plant consisting of a glass producing Plant, Power Sub-Station and the Railway Spur was sold for; and how much was realised after the sale of the 100 hectares of the Fengyue Glass Manufacturing Industrial Estates.

Responding directly to Reatile, Assistant Minister, Biggie Butale indicated that in November 2013, the Board of BDC resolved to place Fengyue Glass Manufacturing Botswana (Pty) Ltd under liquidation and a provisional liquidator was appointed. “Liquidation is a process by which a company is dissolved or wound up, and the assets and properties of the company are sold and the proceeds thereof redistributed to shareholders,” he explained.

The Minister apportioned all blame to the liquidator: “the liquidator is responsible for the process of winding up the company which includes receiving all claims from creditors as well as the distribution of assets. The liquidator works under the supervision of the Master of the High Court. As such, BDC as a company nor my Ministry had any control or influence over this process.”

However, Butale confirmed that BDC spent half a billion Pula on the project, but stated that it was not possible to recover the money. “Whilst it is acknowledged that BDC spent half a billion Pula through its investment of debt, equity and purchase of the assets of the Fengyue Glass Manufacturing Plant in Palapye, it should be made clear that it was unlikely that the Corporation would recover the capital invested.”

Further, the minister said the sale conducted by the Liquidator was not in respect of the business and equity. “On the contrary, the sale was in respect of the assets of the company. I should however indicate that a credible, auditable and fair process was used by the Liquidator to value the assets of the entity prior to the sale. The assets of the entity were in this regard valued by a Certified Professional Valuer.” He said the valuation report demonstrated that the technical equipment to be sold was either used, incomplete, considerably deteriorated and/or certainly out of any possible warranty by the manufacturer or the supplier.

Butale the liquidator opted for an online auction to maximise recoveries hence ensuring that as many local and international bidders would have access to the sale. According to the Minister, the auction attracted a total of 2 713 bids of which 60 per cent or 1 628 were from Botswana bidders.

He further indicated that the Ministry could not have any say in the amount to be realised from the sale of Fengyue Glass Manufacturing Plant’s assets through the sale process.  The junior minister said following a valuation of the assets as explained above, the land, plant, power station and railway spur were sold for the sum of P54 382 000.00 inclusive of Value Added Tax. “What remained following the sale of 110 hectares of Fengyue Glass Manufacturing Industrial Estate was sold for P50 million, these being the movable assets.”

Warren Schewitz’s company was awarded an auction by KPMG for the sale of Fengyue Glass Plant. This publication has established that every bidder who participated was FICA registered and had paid a refundable P5000 deposit. In total there were 2 713 bids placed on 79 assets with an average of 34 bids per asset. Weekend Post understands that following the auction, two high bidders, namely G4 Consulting Engineers and Sable Transport of Zambia failed to pay despite numerous and vigorous correspondence. It has been verified that both actually attended the viewing day and wanted to bid for the entire plant and as such bid extensively on almost every item.

In the first planned auction in 2015, no buyers had shown interest in purchasing the BDC’s Fengyue Glass Manufacturing plant. The plant, situated in Palapye, was sold after the project collapsed amid allegations of corruption and was put under liquidation. The Fengyue glass project was expected to create hundreds of jobs for residents of Palapye and surrounding areas. Amongst the company assets that were up for auction is a float glass plant and equipment. An advert on the sale indicates that the float glass is designed to have a daily melting capacity of 450 tonnes of molten glass and designed in compliance with the China Louyang Float Glass Standards.  The majority of the plant and equipment remained in its original packaging. A list of other goods that are on site has been prepared by the contractor, though it has not been independently checked or verified.

The plant also boasts of a 100 hectare piece of land close to the centre of Palapye and has a dedicated electricity substation with a railway spur. Of the area, 1,000 m by 600m has been fenced. There are also 11 temporary accommodation blocks on site. But these have been temporarily rented out to a third party for a period of two years with 18 months remaining on the lease.

Civil engineering works had commenced on most of the plant and required utilities buildings with the foundations been laid. Also, varying degrees of civil steel and concrete had been completed, though the exact level of completeness is not known. The advert further stated that there are also construction plant and equipment consisting of small tools and heavy plant equipment and machinery, as well as assets from office and accommodation blocks for construction workers. The oxygen plant is believed to be complete and the oxygen is on site but in a self-contained area. The oxygen plant consists of three independent buildings outside the area of the plant, but access to it can only be gained through the main entrance of the plant.

Minister recognizes the BDC journey

This is how Assistant Minister Butale began his response to Reatile’s question: “BDC is a company limited by guarantee which was registered on the 15th April 1970. The company has played a pivotal role in pioneering growth in a number of sectors such as; Aviation with Air Botswana, Car rental with Avis Property Development, Hospitality through Cresta Group of Hotels. BDC has led the industrial development drive of Botswana through the likes of; Sechaba Breweries, Nortex Industries, Kromberg and Schubert, Kwena Rocla and Can Manufacturers.

These companies have been important in the creation of sustainable employment for Batswana. Having started off with an investment base of R20 000.00, BDC now has an asset base of P4.2 Billion. Mr Speaker, let me now respond to the Honourable Member’s specific question on the Fengyue Glass project.” The Minister wants the role BDC played in the past in industrialization and employment creation to be recognized, instead of the Fengyue blemish.

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No end in sight for Nam, Botswana borderline feud

27th July 2021
Namibian-report

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.

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Masisi gives KBL the “middle finger”

27th July 2021
President Masisi

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.

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Gov’t gives parallel statements on COVAX

27th July 2021
COVAX---lelatisitswe

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.

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