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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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Botswana’s development agenda in jeopardy

21st September 2020
Botswana’s-development-agenda-in-jeopardy--water-construction

Stanbic Bank Botswana Quarterly Economic Review indicates that Botswana will fail to meet some of its Vision 2036 targets, particularly unemployment reduction and reaching high-income status.

The report says this is mainly due to the slow economic growth that the country is currently experiencing. This Quarterly Economic Review focuses on the 2020 Budget Speech.

The first paper reviews the entire budget with its key observations being that this budget is prepared as prescribed by the Public Finance Management Act; the priorities it seeks to address are drawn from Vision 2036 and the eleventh

The 2020 budget Speech, which was the maiden speech by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Thapelo Matsheka, and the first after the 2019 general elections, was delivered to Parliament on the 4th of February 2020.

It has been well received by the labour unions, business community, and the public at large as well as international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

It mainly derived its support from key facets including, emphasis on changing the business-as-usual approach to development; outlining the transformation agenda; fiscal reform that minimizes the negative impact on economic development and human welfare, competiveness and the decision to implement the 2019 negotiated and agreed public sector.

The budget’s progress review shows that economic growth was consistent with the NDP 11 projections, with growth of around 4 percent. At this growth rate, the country would neither ascend to a high-income status nor reduce unemployment towards the Vision 2036 target of a single digit.

Simple calculations of this review confirm that the economy will need to grow the Vision 2036’s target of 6 percent over the next 16 years for per capita income to increase from around USD 8,000.00 to above USD 12,000.00 in current prices.

Further, the population is anticipated to grow by only 2 percent per annum.

For this reason, the focal areas for the forthcoming FY’s budget include measures to increase economic growth towards an average of 6 percent per annum.

Economic diversification is reportedly progressing fairly well. The report says, the share of the non-mining private sector in value added has risen to 66 percent in 2018 from to 63 percent in 2015.

The sectoral pattern of growth showed that the performance of services sector (particularly transport & communications, trade, hotels & restaurants, and finance & business services) has been the silver lining and that of mining sector was subdued whilst the utility sector disappointed.

The drive towards the service sector of the economy, especially to low-productivity activities (tourism, public administration, wholesaling and retailing) does not bode well for the country’s development aspirations.

In the previous versions of this Quarterly Review, it was noted that there is need for the rethinking of economic diversification. Since the country’s domestic market is small, it is inevitable that economic diversification not only focus on broadening the product mix, but also the composition of exports and markets.

This understanding of economic diversification has not been embraced by this year’s budget. Consequently, Botswana’s exports are still overwhelmingly diamonds, which means that the rest of economic sectors are still highly dependent on foreign-exchange earnings from diamonds. Thus, “the transformation programme requires a review of the country’s entire ecosystem”.

The budget review of the economic context also depicts that an economy with positive medium-term prospects, with growth expected to recover to 4.4 percent in 2020 from the expected growth of 36 percent in 2019 largely due to faster growth of services sectors and, thereafter, to slow-down to 4 percent in 2021.

These projected growth rates are comparable to those of the IMF staff’s baseline scenario of 4.2 percent in 2020 and 4 percent in 2021. Thus, the business-as-usual scenario produces growth rates that are still too low to achieve Botswana’s development objectives and create enough jobs to absorb the new entrants into the labour market.

Trade tensions between the two major markets for diamond exports, viz., the United States of America and China, is one of the factors that are cited as contributing to, indeed, undermining not only the domestic growth, but also the fiscal position.

Another notable downside risk to both global and domestic growth is outbreak of the coronavirus in China around January 2020. This has been declared as a global health emergency. In an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pneumonia, the Chinese authorities have ordered city lockdowns and extended holidays, of course, at the expense of near- term economic growth, according to the new Stanbic Bank Botswana report.

According to Nomura Holdings Inc., fewer migrant workers returned for work than in previous years and business activities have been slow to pick up. The havoc wreaked by the virus on the world’s second largest economy is likely to spill over to the global economy. In fact, it has resulted in a glut in crude oil and, thereby placed oil markets into a contango, i.e., a market structure where near-term prices trade at a discount to future contracts.

It also presents significant risks one of Botswana’s main drivers of economic growth, diversification and foreign exchange earnings. According to the Financial Times (February 13, 2020), Chinese tourists spent $130 billion overseas in 2018. Regardless of whether the growth materializes, the projected domestic growth rate would not transform the economy to a high-income one.

Progress towards reduction of unemployment, to a target of single digit, and poverty and achieving inclusive growth has also been relatively slow, the Stanbic Bank Botswana Review says.

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OP leases Orapa House

21st September 2020
Orapa House

Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration (MOPAGPA) has through the Office of the President (OP) proposed to avail Orapa House for use by private training institutions as well as research institutions involved in the area of technology development.

For a very long time the monumental building located in the heart of the city has been a white elephant, despite government purchasing it for nearly P80 million from De Beers in 2012.

However, government has now identified a productive use for the iconic building. “The overall vision is for the building to be transformed into a hub for digital technology research and development to be carried-out by institutions, such as; Limkokwing University, BIUST, BITRI and other relevant stakeholders.”

The decision was taken as government traverse a new path of transforming the economy from a mineral led economy to a knowledge based economy through the promotion of research and innovation. However, the facility will need major maintenance to be carried-out in order to meet the requirements of the proposed change in use.

“The work will include provision of laboratories, work stations, production areas and seminar rooms; audio visual centre, high speed internet connectivity, exhibition areas and offices,” reads the proposal note for the development.

These developments will be done through the refurbishment and maintenance of the main building, workshop, and ablution block, gate house, parking area, grounds, and access control and security service.

“There will be minimal modifications to the structure as it stands. The project is estimated to cost approximately P50, 000, 000,” says the report. In this regard, it is said, the initial scope of the OP facility will be modified to accommodate the envisaged digital technology research and development hub.

With funds needed to improve the building, OP has requested that; “the 2020/21 annual budget provision for Orapa House will need to be increased by P37,500,000 from P2,500,000 to P40,000,000 to kick start the maintenance works.” Funds will be sourced from the projects that have been delayed due to Covid-19 protocols during the 2020/21 financial year.

The building has been a thorny issue for government for years. Initially, OP was expected to move there but the move never materialised. At one point it was a question of whether the Office of the President and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development were planning to override a decision by Parliament which rejected the proposal to buy Orapa House under the belief that government may be buying its own property. The building was to be bought at a negotiated cost of P79 million.

Again in 2012, Government had wanted to buy Orapa House for a negotiated P79m but the Finance and Estimates Committee of Parliament had rejected the request because of the inconsistencies realised in the supporting documents of the proposed procurement. The valuation of the building was put at P74 million.

The Ministry of Lands and Housing had initially offered De Beers P73, 000,000 as the purchase price. However, De Beers countered with P85, 000,000. On negotiation and converging of the minds, the selling price was finally agreed at P79, 000,000.

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Sad state of Brigades: dumped and ignored!

21st September 2020
Brigades

Auditor General, Pulane Letebele, has expressed discontentment at the worrying and deteriorating state of brigades in the country.

In an audit inspection which was carried out at Tshwaragano Brigade in Gabane, a number of observations showed weaknesses and shortcomings in the conduct of the financial affairs of the institution.

According to Letebele’s report, former students of the brigade had been engaged to carry out maintenance works on the school premises, comprising of painting, tiling, plumbing and electrical works, which covered the period from July 2017 to June 2018.

Although the agreed maintenance period had elapsed, the works had not been completed because of unavailability of funds and this situation had persisted up till the time of inspection in November 2019.

Auditor General says arrangements should have been made in time for funds to be available to complete these relatively minor works even before the works commenced.

Various contractors had been engaged for clearing the bush and for the supply of concrete stones, pit and river sand and hiring equipment for digging the trench towards the construction of an auto mechanics workshop, the report said.

It stated that the cost of services and supplies provided totalled P117 949.80. However, despite the services and the supplies having been paid for, the construction works had not commenced for a long period afterwards, resulting in the trench filling back in.

The audit inquiries had not elicited satisfactory responses as both the institution and the Ministry had not accepted the responsibility for the project, although orders for the provision for the supplies had been made. For their part, the Ministry had stated that they had sub warranted funds for the purchase of porta cabins.

Letebele indicated that it is therefore confusing that a project which is critical to the functioning of an institution such as this one would commence without a well-defined plan.

Furthermore, the accounting and maintenance of records for the supplies items were not of the standard prescribed by the Supplies Regulations and Procedures in that the supplies ledger cards, the main accounting records for Government assets, were not properly maintained for the recording of receipts and issues.

This had resulted in significant discrepancies between physical and ledger balances, while in other instances the supplies items had not been recorded at all.

The report says 24 of the 91 new computers found in the computer laboratory at Kumakwane ABC campus were not recorded anywhere, as were the other computers in the storeroom which could not be counted due to the disorderly storage conditions.

The institution had entered into a contract agreement with a security company for the provision of security services at Tshwaragano Brigade, ABC and Horticulture campuses at Kumakwane for a 2-year period which ended in June 2018, WeekendPost learnt.

After the contract expired in June 2018, an extension was granted till the 30th September 2018. Since then, there has been no security service coverage for the institution to-date. According to Auditor General, in the face of prevailing crimes, it is of paramount importance that government properties be protected by provision of security services at all times.

At Tlokweng Brigade, it was noted that the kitchen staff were working under difficult conditions as the kitchen facilities and equipment, such as the cold room, tilting pot, food warmers and solar power for hot water were dysfunctional. The kitchen roof was leaking and men’s restrooms was not working. All these need to be brought to a reasonable and functional state of repair.

The kitchen staff should use a purpose-designed Rations Ledger for the recording of receipts and issues of foodstuffs to reflect the usage of those items. As far back as 2014 the Department of Buildings and Engineering Services had found that the house occupied by the bursar was uninhabitable on account of structural defects, the report said.

A site visit during the audit had established that the house was indeed unfit for occupation as there were cracks on the walls, power switches were not working and the roof was leaking. On a sadder note, there were a number of finished items of clothing, such as dresses, shirts, and jackets from students’ practical exercises from the Fashion Design Textiles Workshop.

Auditor General shared her take on this, saying: “I have not been able to ascertain the policy on the disposal of products from these practicals. A trace of 103 green acid-proof overalls which had been purchased in August 2018 had indicated that there was no record of these items having been recorded or issued, nor were they available in stock. I was not able to obtain any explanation for this situation.”

Kgatleng brigade was also audited and inspected by Auditor General who observed that the brigade has 26 institutional houses at Bokaa, both old campus and new campus. Some of these houses are very old and dilapidated, with two declared uninhabitable. The condition of the houses is a clear indication of lack of care and maintenance of these properties.

At the time of the audit, there was no contractor engaged for the provision of security guard services at the new campus, after expiry of the previous one in July 2019.  It is hoped that steps would be taken to safeguard the security of the premises and government properties against any acts of hooliganism.

In August 2019, there was a break-in at the electrical and at the plumbing maintenance workshops and a number of high value items, such as drilling machines, bolt cutters, spanners and cables, were stolen. The break-in and theft were reported to the police.

“However, at the time of writing this report I was not aware of the outcome of the police investigation, nor of any loss report submitted in terms of the Supplies Regulations and Procedures,” Letebele said.

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