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Khama should undertake state visit to China – study

A recent research study on China/Botswana relations has advised that President Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama should undertake an official state visit to the Peoples Republic of China to enhance diplomatic relations, which already are in deteriorating state.  

According to the study titled: “A study on perspectives on how to enhance Botswana – China relations” authored by renowned ex-University of Botswana (UB) Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic Affairs) Professor Frank Youngman an official visit between the two countries is crucial to mend relations and should take place. “Frequent high-level visits of politicians and government officials between Botswana and China should be undertaken, with priority given to a state visit by the President of Botswana to China,” the research study posits.

The research points out that the Chinese are trying hard to get President Khama to visit China. He is the only President of Botswana who has not visited whilst in office. He seems to be not favourably disposed towards China. The study which was released on March 2017 has been duly approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Government of Botswana.

Where the loathsome relationship started

According to the study, the nature of Botswana-China relations has become much more complex since 2000, under the former President Festus Mogae. The high point in terms of the political/diplomatic dimension came with the then President Mogae’s state visit to China in November 2006 to attend the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Beijing Summit. Although the study indicates that he made clear at the time that he valued the relationship highly, including its economic benefits, he subsequently noted that there were problems in the relationship but these were outweighed by its advantages.

“On our part in Botswana, we are grateful to China for the various projects completed under our joint efforts… This doesn’t mean that there haven’t been bumps in the road; there have been… We have issues to sort out and in that regard we encourage the Chinese to heed our aspirations to hire more of our local workers, to help us further with capacity building, to not consider our countries as dumping grounds, and not to overrun our countries with Chinese businesses…”

The study highlights that problems in the relationship have been primarily in the economic dimension, though Botswana has had differences on a number of diplomatic issues, such as China’s veto in the United Nations (UN) Security Council of a resolution on Syria in July 2012. The research study observes categorically that: “despite active interventions by the Chinese Embassy (including diplomatic activity, media coverage, meetings with Chinese companies, donations to local schools and charities, cultural events and so forth), there is public evidence that the Government’s attitude towards China has deteriorated in recent years.”

It says in early 2013, President Khama gave a newspaper interview in which he was very negative about China. “In the interview the Head of State expressed dissatisfaction with three aspects of relations with China, namely: the poor quality of work by Chinese construction companies on major Government projects; the excessive level of Chinese migration into the country; the fact that Chinese were undertaking economic activities and jobs that could be done by Batswana,” the study states.

The research study states that when asked if other African presidents had similar views Khama responded: ‘they probably won’t say it publicly, but when I’ve spoken to others they’ve expressed frustrations as well,’ he said. ‘People feel that China is now the second-biggest economy in the world. You say things like that, do you really want to upset such a huge power? But there’s no point in having a huge power investing in a country if those investments at the end of the day don’t do you any good,’ Khama reportedly said.  

The majority of respondents in the study cited the difficulties that have arisen since 2010 because of high profile problems with Chinese construction companies undertaking major Government of Botswana projects, in particular the Francistown Stadium, the Shakawe Senior Secondary School, the Sir Seretse Khama International (SSKI) Airport and the Morupule B power plant. These projects have had problems of quality, delays and cost over-runs, which in some cases have led to the termination of contracts. Although the problem is essentially economic, the failed constructions projects have had significant political ramifications, especially affecting views within the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which did comparatively poorly in the 2014 elections.

Subsequently, in July 2013, in terms of the study, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Phandu Skelemani spoke critically at a reception for the new Chinese Ambassador and warned him to ensure better behaviour by the Chinese community.
“While Government ministers continue to make positive formal statements on the bilateral relations, such as the Minister of Health on Chinese medical assistance, negative views persist among significant state actors about the extent of Chinese small businesses in the retail sector and about the performance of Chinese construction companies on major government projects,” the findings as per the study maintained.

The study mentions a newspaper report of remarks attributed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on July 1, 2015 after returning from a visit to China, including a meeting with her counterpart: Dr Venson-Moitoi said in an interview that government had “drastically reduced”’ retail licenses to Chinese nationals, the research continues. Moitoi is claimed to have said: “retail is a preserve for Batswana and it is an area where we believe that Batswana should have a higher percentage because we are seeking jobs and employment for Batswana,” she said… “We need a spell of cooling in our relations because over the last couple of years, we have had a few projects that failed and thought it was necessary that we spoke at a higher level with Chinese government to express our feelings and ensure that we remove misunderstandings.”

“I had to meet him to inform him that our country suffered because of Chinese companies which did not invest in the country, but only came on contracts to make money and go out after delivering the jobs,” she said. In response, the research study highlights that the Chinese Embassy then gave a press briefing on July 7, 2015 in which, according to newspaper reports, it made public its frustrations with visa and work permit problems, sudden deportations, the insecurity felt by Chinese investors, and the tendency within Botswana to regard all Chinese construction companies as problematic.


Subsequently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation found it necessary to make a press release on July 8, 2015 stating that “relations between the two countries remain excellent and mutually beneficial.” Nevertheless, the study says that a public impression had been created of significant tension in the bilateral relations. This tension it says was exacerbated in February 2016 when the Government of Botswana through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations issued a press release criticising approach to its territorial claim to islands in the South China Sea.


“This was regarded by China as a public attack on its core national interests and it reacted with extreme displeasure that the press release was inaccurate and that diplomatic channels had not been followed. Botswana’s Ambassador in Beijing was called in to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and admonished. Undoubtedly, this diplomatic dispute was the lowest point reached in state-to-state relations since diplomatic relations were established in 1975 and it impacted very negatively on political/diplomatic trust between the two nations.”
According to the research study, the dispute reflects the wider trends in Botswana’s foreign policy that have emerged during the presidency of Ian Khama, whose personalised and idiosyncratic approach has led to a number of differences with the policies and behaviours of his predecessors.

How Botswana can strengthen relations with China

The question that arises then is what practical measures can be taken by both sides to enhance Botswana-China relations on a continuing basis. This is the problem that the research study addressed. Apart from suggesting that Khama embarks on an official visit to China, the study says the Government of Botswana should develop a coherent and explicit strategy towards its bilateral relations with China. In terms of the economic relations the study points out that the two governments (of Botswana and China) should resolve expeditiously all outstanding issues related to the problems of the Morupule B power plant.

“The Government of Botswana should ensure that existing policies on citizen reservation in the retail sector are enforced and that the two governments should concentrate on restructuring economic relations to focus on investment from China, especially in the manufacturing sector.” Chinese companies, the study says, should undertake skills training, engage in technology transfer, employ more locals (including in senior positions), carry out corporate social responsibility programmes, and integrate with local business organisations.

The findings show that economic issues were viewed as fundamental, whilst development assistance and formal political/diplomatic exchanges constitute important components of the state-to-state relationship. The respondents on both sides (Chinese and Batswana) and across occupational groups agreed that the relationship between Botswana and China is important and they suggested a number of practical measures that could be taken to improve it. “Chinese companies should employ public relations experts and the Chinese Embassy should establish a strong Public Relations Unit,” the study recommends.

According to the study, the Government of Botswana should ensure there is expertise on China within relevant ministry departments and parastatals, and that within the Botswana Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, a specialised cluster should be formed of staff with in-depth knowledge of China and proficiency in the Chinese language. In addition: “the University of Botswana B.A. in Chinese Studies should be enhanced so that its graduates can provide the capacity that the Government needs.”

The research further states that a think-tank on China should be developed at the University of Botswana to undertake applied research and the Chinese Government should continue to sponsor Botswana media practitioners for training and study visits in China.
It was also said that the Government of Botswana and the Chinese Embassy should work together urgently to resolve all immigration issues affecting Chinese citizens. However, the relationship between the two countries will be put to test once more next month when the religious cum political separatist Dalai Lama visits Botswana for the first time, against China’s will.

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Government ignores nurses’ COVID-19 anxieties

4th August 2021
Nurses

Health workers are at the front line fighting the deadly, contagious COVID-19. These workers have an immense challenge of welfare and government has since turned a blind eye to dares and crushing odds throttling health officers, particularly nurses.

Botswana Nurses Union (BONU) has once more called on government to invest in the country’s nurses and give the nursing profession dignity.

In May 2020, BONU President, Obonolo Rahube said government should, in line with the advocacy of World Health Organisation (WHO) invest more on nurses and midwives, and further advised government to address challenges that nurses are faced with. The proposal was made on International Nurses Day.

At the time, Rahube urged government to provide subsidised accommodation for nurses and midwives as it has emerged that during the fight against the Corona-virus, accommodation for nurses and midwives is very important. Rahube called on government to provide nurses and midwives with 100% medical cover.

He also called on government to introduce risk allowance for nurses and midwives, noting that as frontline workers during the pandemic, they are at high risk. Nurses also demanded Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a matter which they lost with costs in court. Also critical during the COVID-19 era for health workers, psychological support is what BONU maintains is still lacking.

In the same year (2020), the Union raised a number of other challenges they are being faced with. These challenges, they asserted, make it testing for them to undertake their duties, especially now that COVID-19 has shaken Botswana’s already weak health system.

BONU expressed disappointment at nurses’ pay, nurses who tested positive for COVID-19 at an alarming rate, violence against nurses, nurses’ contracts which were never renewed and a poorly coordinated vaccination plan for health workers.

Clearly, nurses are not only battling the COVID-19 virus, but also government who has since refused to come to the party.

This week once again, BONU tested waters and slammed government with more demands, some of which have turned into an everyday song while COVID-19 continues to kill more nurses.

At a press conference on Tuesday, BONU President Rahube said over 800 nurses have been infected with COVID-19. Of this number, 34 nurses lost their lives due to COVID-19 related infections.

WHO and other health experts say for countries to emerge victorious from the COVID-19 pandemic, they must fast-track the roll out of vaccine. In Botswana, there is no clear explanations of how the vaccination plan is going.

The situation around vaccination is chaotic, and this is evidenced by only 28% of nurses who have been vaccinated. President Mokgweetsi Masisi is also disturbed by the COVAX programme as Botswana vaccines arrive in the country missing, every time.

Debates in Parliament on which vaccine to adopt are failing to conclude, in fact, they never gained energy. Rahube told members of the media that nurses are overworked.

“Shortage of nurses puts those available at risk. Some nurses are on isolation, quarantine and some passed on. Nurses do both testing and contact tracing so they end up working stretched hours, at times from 6am to 10pm. There is no how nurses will be able to deliver while exhausted,” he said.

He further indicated that infection control practitioners are not recognised and deployed appropriately, and some regions have shortage of commodities and supplies such as water resistant gowns (nurses are forced to re-use those availed), masks, gloves, scrubs and uniforms.

Oxygen supply is said to be in shortage, something that mounts COVID-19 deaths.

“Patients lose their lives whilst still awaiting to be put on oxygen. Psychological services are in serious need as nurses continue to lose their significant others, faced with resource constraints and many of them are not vaccinated,” said Rahube.

Accommodation still remains a huge challenge for nurses. BONU President said nurses overcrowd with families and colleagues.

In Kauxwi, four nurses share a single house, in Moshaweng two nurses share a single bedroomed house together with their families, with no electricity yet the village is powered. In Kazungula, there are only two staff houses for 11 nurses and their families.

The union stressed that the Chief Nursing Officer is not coming to the party, and the expectation is that the office should be coordinating all nursing issues at the Health Ministry. Rahube indicated that transfers have been frozen, promotions stalled and they continue to lose nursing posts to other Ministries.

In a number of recommendations, BONU urged government to consider compensation and risk allowance for staff affected by COVID-19 related deaths and those infected. “COVID-19 has been declared an occupational health illness, in essence, the employer should facilitate its occupational health division, and there are lots of occupational health nurses who are wrongly deployed, who could be running such programs at the facilities.”

In regard to vaccinations, BONU underlined that there should be clear information relating to vaccines and they should be made accessible. “Local franchise manufacturing of vaccine could use Botswana Vaccines Institute (BVI) and government should be clear and transparent concerning procurement of vaccines. It should also allow stakeholders with capacities of procuring vaccines to do so.”

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Gov’t reforms public procurement

4th August 2021
-Masisi-Serame

Government is moving swiftly to completely overhaul public procurement — a new Bill has been tabled before Parliament this week by Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Peggy Serame and is scheduled for debate in the coming days of the current parliament sitting. 

Through this Bill the country’s purse bearer seeks to dismantle existing public procurement pieces of legislation, transform, merge and form a new public procurement arrangement. The existing public procurement high command base — the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPDB) would cease to exist.

This organisation will transition and assume the reigns of a regulator and oversight authority; the actual procurement; floating of tenders, accepting bids, adjudicating and awarding tenders will be fully taken over by Government departments accounting officers.

Accounting officers are Permanent Secretaries and statutory organisation heads and directors or any person who is responsible for the administration and day-to-day management of the affairs of a procuring entity, and any other person, who may be designated as such by the Minister under the act.

Speaking to this Bill this week, Serame revealed that the current Public Procurement and Asset Disposal arrangement will be merged with the local authority’s procurement Act.

“We will now have procurement under one roof, all overseen by accounting officers, it’s all government money coming from one port,” she said.

Minister Serame explained that PPADB will no longer be player and referee at the same time, with a view to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the regulation and management of public procurement processes.

According to Minister Serame, the new public procurement Act will promote competition among suppliers and contractors, and also provide for the fair, equal and equitable treatment of all suppliers and contractors.

PUBLIC PROCUREMENT REGULATORY AUTHORITY 

Should parliament pass this bill the current Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) will transition into a new body called Public Procurement Regulatory Authority.

The new Authority will be  mandated with setting standards and practices for the public procurement system, regulate and control the public procurement system, ensure the application of fair, equitable, competitive, transparent, accountable, efficient, non-discriminatory, honest, value for money and public confidence in procurement standards and practices.

Furthermore the Authority will monitor and enforce compliance with the new Act and any relevant law by a procuring entity.

For standardization and  ensuring of world class procurement best practices the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority will  monitor, assess, review and report on the performance of the public procurement system to the Minister and advise on desirable changes, and further issue standardized bidding documents to all procuring entities

This oversight and procurement regulator will conduct periodic inspections of the records and proceedings of a procuring entity to ensure compliance with the Act.

The regulator will institute periodically, in respect of any procurement —a procurement audit during a tender process, a contract audit in the course of execution of an awarded tender, a performance audit after the completion of a contract, and an investigation at any stage of a procurement process.

The Authority will continue to keep and maintain an up-to-date register of contractors, known as the “Contractors’ Register”, in works, services and supplies, or any combination thereof, however classified.

The new Public Procurement Regulatory Authority will be governed by a board of nine (9) non-executive directors appointed by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development.

The Public Procurement Board will be charged with directing the affairs of the Authority. Day to day executive activities of the Public Procurement Authority will be run by a Chief Executive Officer who will be appointed by the Minister on the recommendation of the board.

PROCURING ENTITIES AND ACCOUNTING OFFICERS 

The actual procurement will now be handled by the Accounting Officers who will lead their procuring entities. The entities will consist of the procurement oversight unit, a procurement unit, an ad hoc Evaluation Committee, the user Department; or any other appropriate structure put in place by the Government.

The Accounting Officer will be in charge of establishment of appropriate procurement structures to undertake the procurement functions under the new act, which shall be staffed at an appropriate level in line with the model structure issued by the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority.

The Accounting Officer will also be charged with establishment, as may be prescribed, of a committee within a procuring entity which will oversee procurement activities, establishment, as may be prescribed, of an oversight committee to monitor procurement activities in a procuring entity.

The primary role of the Accounting Officers will be adjudication and award of tenders, including the adjudication of a bid recommendation submitted to him/her through a procurement oversight unit.

The Accounting officer will have powers to cancel a tender process and reject a tender offer at any time prior to entering into a contract, in the manner as may be prescribed, and the Accounting Officer shall not compensate the bidder of a tender that has been cancelled.

Under this proposed Act new set of regulations and guidelines will direct procurement complaints and appeals.

COMPLAINTS & TENDER DISPUTES

A procuring entity  will, after the publication of an award decision — allow a cooling-off period of 10 days in order for the procuring entity to receive and address complaints, if any, from any contractor who is aggrieved by the award decision; and not enter into a contract relating to the award before the expiration of a cooling period.

A contractor who is aggrieved by a breach of any provision of this Act or claims to have suffered or is likely to suffer loss or damages due to a breach of a duty imposed on a procuring entity shall, at the first instance, lodge a complaint before an Accounting Officer for review.

A contractor who lodges a complaint shall have the right to participate in the review proceedings before an Accounting Officer. A contractor who fails to participate in the review proceedings shall be barred from subsequently lodging the same complaint.

Under this proposed Act an Accounting Officer will not entertain a complaint after a contract has entered into force. After considering a complaint and determining that the complaint is a frivolous or vexatious complaint, Accounting Officer shall dismiss such complaint.

Notwithstanding subsection (1), an Accounting Officer may refer a complaint considered and determined to be frivolous or vexatious to the Tribunal for the Tribunal to take any appropriate action as may be prescribed.

An aggrieved person shall submit his or her complaint in writing to an Accounting Officer within 10 days from the date of the publication of an award decision by the Accounting Officer, relating to the complaint.

The Accounting Officer will not entertain a complaint unless it is submitted to him/her within the period referred to under subsection.

A contractor who is aggrieved by a decision of an Accounting Officer may appeal to the Tribunal within 14 days from the date of the decision of the Accounting Officer.

Where a contract has been concluded by a procuring entity, based on an award decision of an Accounting Officer, the contract shall be irrevocable and its execution shall proceed without interruption whether the award decision by the Accounting Officer may in itself remain disputable by a contractor through the Tribunal.

Notwithstanding subsection (5), the Tribunal may suspend and subsequently revoke or terminate the execution of a contract if in the opinion of the Tribunal, sufficient evidence has been adduced to demonstrate that the execution of the contract may cause substantial loss to the public revenue or prejudicially affect public interest.

A complainant who wishes to lodge a complaint shall exhaust the dispute resolution processes provided in this Act before the complainant refers the complaint to a court.

PUBLIC PROCUREMENT TRIBUNAL 

The Tribunal will be a body established independently from Public Procurement Regulatory Authority, and shall constitute retired High Court judges or practicing attorneys who qualify to appoint high court judge.

The Tribunal shall adjudicate over any matter brought before it by a complainant for a breach of any of the provisions of this Act, or any appeal brought in accordance with the provisions of this Act.

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COVID-19 hits hard on BITC

4th August 2021
BITC

The COVID-19 pandemic which weakened world economies had left a devastating impact on Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) existence in 2020. According to the group’s 2019/2020 Annual Report, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) was sluggish for the first two quarters at P126 million and P426.96 million respectively. They then took an upward trajectory in Q3 and 4 at P1396 million and P1456 million respectively.

The year closed with a reduced performance at 73% for Q4. According to the financial report, export earnings opened the year at 83% which is approximately P671 million, before dropping to 81% (P1299.55 million). However, Quarter 3 experienced a slight rise in performance to 82%, or P1978.42 million before a drop in performance to close Quarter 4 at P74.9%, which was P2403.91 million.

Even if that is the case, the Centre continued to promote local investors by facilitating for local entrepreneurs to produce and find markets for their products both locally and internationally. The trend for Domestic Investment/Expansions indicated a continual upward performance surge from Quarter 1 through Quarter 4.

In percentage points, performance results reflected opening of 93% performance followed by a dip in performance to 82% Quarter 2, and then an increase to 100% in Quarter 3 and closing performance of 84.2% in Quarter 4.

For this financial year under review, BITC posted solid financial results with a surplus of P872.968, representing a decline from the previous year’s surplus of P13.991.337. The Centre started on track from the beginning of the financial year with successful execution of activities planned for the year.

However, following the subsequent onset of COVID-19 in the last quarter for the financial year, a few of the activities were negatively affected resulting from restricted cross border transfers. The impact is expected to be severe in the following financial year, especially on the Centre’s financial statements, clearly reflecting the negative impact of COVID-19.

In the financial year ended March 2020, BITC received a total subvention of P96.504.860 which represents a 5% decrease from the previous year’s subvention of P101.830.560. the Grant subvention received for the past 5 years has not been constant due to the financial constraints that the government has experienced over the years which prompted for alignment of financial resources to cover the Centre’s strategic imperatives.

For the year under review BITC’s annual FDI capital inflows realised stood at P1.456 billion against an annual target of P2 billion, which is largely attributable to more than expected performance from the Financial Services sector. The total Domestic Investment for the period was P875.5 million against the set stretched target of P952 million. The total number of jobs registered by the organisation during the year under review was 3329, against an annual target of 3340.

BITC ACHIEVEMENTS

Notwithstanding that, BITC realised high level achievements for the year under review. Chief Executive Officer Keletsositse Olebile said facilitated to establish the Selibe-Phikwe citrus project, which has a job creation expectation of 1000 vacancies as well as the expansion of Kromberg and Shubert Company through the allocation of land for construction of 7000 square metres factory to manufacture wire harness for Mercedes Benz, with over 800 jobs expected this year.

Further, the Centre continued to deliver improved investor facilitation services to both local and foreign investors through the Botswana one Stop service centre (BOSSC). “BOSSC houses relevant government departments under one roof to provide prompt, efficient and transparent services to investors. The services offered by this Centre have grown from slightly above 130 applications for government authorisation in 2013 to 752 in the year under review,” said Olebile.

BITC continued to monitor Botswana’s performance in global competitiveness indicators such as the World Bank’s ease of Doing Business Index. “In an endeavour to improve the investor facilitation mechanism in the country, we have motivated for the drafting of a Business Facilitation Law, which will expedite the setting up and operations of businesses in Botswana.”

ECONOMIC DIVERSIFICATION DRIVE

BITC continued to respond to government’s call to stimulate direct investment and growth of local companies by procuring goods and services from locally based manufactures and services providers. The message to promote locals to actively grow the national economy has been driven through campaigns such as ‘PushaBW’ which utilised an Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) approach. As at March 2020, local purchases constituted 84% (2019:85%) of the total procurement with foreign purchases at 16% (2019:15%).

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