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Selibe Phikwe economic rebirth faces challenges

Recent news of BCL having attracted lucrative buyers from the cash spinning economy of Dubai was received with mixed reactions by both Selibe Phikwe residents and Batswana at large. The Selibe Phikwe Economic Revitalization strategy, launched last year November is also facing a number of challenges in delivering on the expected jobs.


Controversy surrounds BCL sale
The landing of Arabic Tycoons and their constant visits to Botswana has stirred controversy, particularly on social media, media commentary and the political fraternity. The government is accused of privatizing BCL without consultation and following proper democratic steps to dispose a national asset of BCL’s magnitude. WeekendPost gathered from BCL liquidation critics that government had long wanted to privatize BCL but wanted to trick employees and Batswana by staging a fake insolvency.


“This is by far day light robbery, looking at the money used to liquidate this company and few months later we are told someone is going to buy it, why didn’t the government put BCL under judicial management and scout for investors without being harsh to employees and tricking Batswana,” commented Selibe Phikwe West Member of Parliament, Dithapelo Keorapetse.


According to Keorapetse, government had long drawn up a blueprint to loot BCL as BCL ore deposits are one of the high grades in Africa. Reports link BCL disposal masterminding to Mineral Development Corporation Chief Executive Paul Smith. Smith and his Mineral Development Corporation team have been meeting Dubai investors for the past two weeks now. According to reports associated with BCL privatization, liquidation will be manipulated to accommodate fast-tracked handing over of BCL assets to Emirates Investment Group (EIG) led by Abdulla Mangoosh.


“The Tycoons have met Liquidator Nigel Dixon Warren and we are going to witness different kind of events post March 15 after the court sitting, it is expected that final liquidation will not go through,” a source revealed. According to sources the government enclave through Advocate Sadique Kebonang is moving against time to present an attractive deal to the Arabian.

 

“The arrangements now are moving towards closing everything up to the favour of this Emirates, there will no longer be auction and open bidding of BCL assets as many have been made to believe for the past month, it appears the highest bidder is the Emirates and it is a done deal”


However the unclear undertakings surrounding the BCL disposal have raised eyebrows. Former Minister of Education and Botswana Ambassador to Japan, Jacob Nkate is of the view that selling of BCL assets should have been made a public knowledge, “The Minister responsible should be repeatedly reporting to parliament, to at least put the public and leaders to terms with events surrounding their assets selling,” he said. However not disputing the selling of the company to private investors, Nkate argues that some Batswana and local entities would have been better placed to pop out a stake towards reopening of the mine.


Meanwhile Minister Kebonang, who is in charge of breathing new life to the former copper nickel giant told WeekendPost that the emergency of the matter to strike a deal with the Emirates was of paramount importance before they moved to a different country. “A statement will be delivered to parliament once a direction is clear as to where the investment undertaking is going, we need Batswana’s support, let’s stay away from politics, we are looking at creating jobs here,” he said.


Meanwhile, some in Phikwe are optimistic about the possibility of the mine reopening, regardless of who the new owner is. “BCL sustained Phikwe’s economy and we really don’t care who opens it, whether it’s Motsepe the rich South African who owns Mamelodi Soundowns or the President’s friend, le one maArabea a siame (even the Arabs are fine), we just want our mine to open so as we have business,” said Philip Ngwenya, a taxi man who also hails from the SPEDU region in Bobonong.


Some Phikwe residents however expressed worry that the Arabs might come with their own labour and huge machinery hence few jobs for Phikwe locals. “The other question is will we get our jobs back?, kana manong a ja ka losika (blood is thicker than water) the Arabs are known for keeping it within the family and empowering their own,” a former BCL miner said.


Delayed implementation of revitalization projects
Last year November at the commemoration of African Industrialization Day Government through Ministry of Investment, Trade& Industry unveiled the Selibe Phikwe Economic Revitalization Strategy to be implemented under the coordination of former Bank of Botswana Governor Linah Mhohlo with the first quarter of implementation expected to be evident March 1 2017, however some Selibe Phikwe Councillors have decried that the promise is yet to be delivered.


Councillor Sethulwa  questioned the Mayor about the promised employment opportunities  “Your Worship isn’t this the time we should be seeing job adverts and our youth queuing up since we were told that by March over 2000 jobs would be created ?”
Earlier this year Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Nonofo Molefhi who is also Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe East told residents in one of his Kgotla meetings that Phikwe locals especially the youth should prepare their C.Vs for over 2000 jobs geared up for the first payout at the end of March 2017.


Councillor Evelyn Kgodungwe advised the authorities to engage residents and communities more to come up with inclusive ideas that are tailored for them. “We only hear of seminars and hear say about these investors, this projects, initiatives and all, whereas our people are not consulted and engaged further in revitalization undertakings.”


According to Phikwe residents  and SPTC Council members it was important for even Mhohlo to have an office in Selibe Phikwe and engage residents, the business community on daily bases to get first hand information on the region’s economic issues.


Poor sanitation and drainage system
Selibe Phikwe Councillors are aggrieved by the state of the town’s sanitation and the poor drainage system and say it will hinder efforts to turn the town and region into an investment attractive parameter. Speaking at a full council meeting this past week responding to Mayor Amogelang Mojuta’s address, Councillor Moses Serite of Sesame-Kagiso ward in Distance Township told the council that bad smell caused by drain spills will scare away potential investors.


 “When rich people come here to scout for investment opportunities, one drive around town will scare them off because there is a disgusting smell, drainage spills, running waste water and generally poor sanitation in town,” he said adding that the situation would even chase away the Arabians. “Even the wealthy Arabians were about on newspapers will run for their health if the status quo is not changed,” he added.


The full council pleaded that a significant skate from the money allocated to Selibe Phikwe Town Council in the 2017/18 budget be allotted to fixing the town’s sanitation infrastructure and drainage network to ready the town for investors. “ It will be of no use for government to draw up an investment attraction blueprint that entails incentives under the Special Economic Zones initiative at the same time leaving the town in this state,’’ councillors told WeekendPost on Monday after the session


More trouble at Pula Steel
Information reaching this publication indicates that Pula Steel Casting & Manufacturing, Botswana’s only steel manufacturing entity, is on its last legs. Currently, government financial lender Citizen Entrepreneurship Agency (CEDA) which is expected to inject capital of over 20 million pula to resuscitate Pula Steel, the brain child of BCL Polaris II and the Verma Family is thinking otherwise. Reports indicate that the Thabo Thamane led agency is objecting to pumping more money into the company under the leadership of Verma who on the other side declined giving up the company’s stewardship.


It is understood that CEDA is gearing up for an application to put Pula Steel under judicial management , although information is still sketchy, this publication was tipped off that Thamane has already put his signature to the paperwork that will be presented to Gaborone high court in a week’s time. Pula Steel, as a project put up to diversify the economy of Selibe Phikwe from mining has faced challenges since its inception and is currently being troubled by creditors who want their millions from the indebted entity.

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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