MilkAfrica, a joint project between Lobatse Town Council and a Zimbabwean refugee, which was expected to create around 500 jobs and supply the country with milk as from early 2015, has not started operations and is currently facing a lawsuit over a mere P16 000 debt.
The project was estimated at the value of P100 million. The town council’s political wing has also started casting doubt over the project which was given 1375.4470 hectares of land by the Council. Molaodi Mantle, who sits in the MilkAfrica board and representing the council, had admitted in an interview that pressure is mounting on the Council leadership to produce a full report as to what is happening to the project or release the land back to be distributed to the general public for residential purpose.
“It is true that councillors are demanding answers, but we are still waiting for Mr Matibe to brief us. He is the one who can answer all the questions. As you know, we just have 10 percent share of the project and the 90 percent belong to the company,” explained Mantle. The Councillors fear that the council could have been sold a dummy right from the beginning.
Allegedly, the company’s founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Philemon Thambatshira Matibe, a Zimbabwean refugee, who lives in the United States of America had no or very little money to invest in the project, but planned to get loans from the local bank using the leased land as security. However, the council is said to have refused to sign off the land into his name or that of his company, Lobatse Dairy (PTY) Ltd, thus the delay of funding and launch of production.
The Council leased the big chunk of land to Lobatse Dairy for a duration of 25 years, a period which started in January 2013. According to the agreement, the company is to payout a minimum of P2 Million over that period to the council. At the end of the lease the land is to revert back to the Council, with an option to a single renewal of this lease.
As of this year the project should have already injected P100 000 to the council, but instead it is entangled in minor debts. “The whole project is misguided, everything is so confused. The workers have abandoned the premises, the owners are not always around and the council always washes its hands from the debt,” revealed Charles Tafa, a contractor who was hired to do some jobs for the construction.
Tafa who said he had collected his machinery from the seemingly abandoned project site, revealed that there are other contractor who are owed more money, like the one who supplied manure for the site. Tafa’s matter is currently before the Lobatse Magistrate court. The former Member of Parliament for Lobatse, Nehemiah Modubule has also expressed doubt on the project.
This is what he had to say about the project which at inception, enjoyed the support of the former Vice President, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, “At the time when I was in parliament, I went to see Rre Kedikilwe about this project. At the time, some farmers, especially white farmers were complaining that MilkAfrica project was given such a big land such that it had closed passages to their farms, but I was told that the council is doing appraisable job.
My question to him was, since this man (Matibe) is a refugee on transit was it wise to invest this much on this project, was he to be trusted.” Modubule added that, he never believed in the project from the beginning but the council and the Vice President had a different view and even sent several employees to be trained for the job overseas, “some of who have not been able to complete their training because sponsorship is no longer coming through. Those from the Ministry of Agriculture have returned and resumed working from the Ministry.”
The Ministry of Agriculture was to partner or had partnered with the council on this project to ensure that the cultivation of the leased land is in accordance with good husbandry and the laws of Botswana, “in particular the Lessee shall comply with the provisions of any laws concerning the conservation of natural resources and good husbandry as defined by the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism from time to time.”
The town clerk, Malebogo Kruger could not be reached for comment. Nonetheless, Councillor Mantle who sits in the MilkAfrica board had confirmed that the council still trust that the project will take off as promised. In fact, Mayor Kruger together with Mantle recently travelled to Kimberly, South Africa where they were to view the cattle stocked for the milk project. Mantle confirmed that they indeed saw the 580 cows, which were 3 months pregnant, but maintains that he does know whether they have been bought or not.
“It is Mr Matibe who can confirm the payment part,” Mantle pointed out. However one Councillor revealed that, “the Council leadership went to Kimberly under wrong impression that the cattle had been bought, only to learn from the seller that they have a blank cheque.” But Mantle maintains that the allegation is not true and added that, from Kimberly they were to travel to Capetown to view the water purifying machines which are to form part of MilkAfrica plant. Nonetheless he declined to explain why the trip did not materialise rather saying it is the Mayor who has to answer some of the questions.
Meanwhile Councillors are breathing hard on the Mayor and her team and demand that the land be taken back and distributed to members of the public for residential purposes. The project was expected to bring back life to Lobatse following the transfer of High court and court of Appeal headquarters to Gaborone, which left the town almost abandoned. According to records the leased land shall be used solely for a dairy milking parlour, paddock and pasture establishment, milk processing, offices, staff housing and related amenities only. The lease of the land is to continue for a period of twenty five years.
POWER GAMES BEHIND THE PROJECT The MilkAfrica project was not without impediments from the word go. Sponsors of the project had to force their way into the office of the then Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe for the project to go ahead. The Minister of Environment Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama had refused to give the project and Environmental Impact Assessment certificate. He was first not convinced by the pitch from the Lobatse Council and the Zimbabwean investor. He made it clear that he will not grant the project an EIA.
Kedikilwe had to use his muscle reportedly reasoning that the Council was trying its best to create jobs. With all the drama unfolding Tshekedi Khama will feel vindicated and it remains to be seen whether the project will ever take off.
Government is currently sitting on 4 400 vacant posts that remain unfilled in the civil service. This is notwithstanding the high unemployment rate in Botswana which has been exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Just before the burst of COVID-19, official data released by Statistics Botswana in January 2020, indicate that unemployment in Botswana has increased from 17.6 percent three years ago to 20.7 percent. “Unemployment rate went up by 3.1 percentage between the two periods, from 17.6 to 20.7 percent,” statistics point out.
Leading commercial bank, First National Bank Botswana (FNBB), expects the central bank to sharpen its monetary policy knife and cut the Bank Rate twice in the last quarter of 2020.
The bank expects a 25 basis point (bps) in the beginning of the last quarter, which is next month, and another shed by the same bps in December, making a total of 50 bps cut in the last quarter. According to the bank’s researchers, the central bank is now holding on to 4.25 percent for the time being pending for more informed data on the economic climate.
An audit of the accounts and records for the supply of food rations to the institutions in the Northern Region for the financial year-ended 31 March 2019 was carried out. According to Auditor General’s report and observations, there are weaknesses and shortcomings that were somehow addressed to the Accounting Officer for comments.
Auditor General, Pulane Letebele indicated on the report that, across all depots in the region that there had been instances where food items were short for periods ranging from 1 to 7 months in the institutions for a variety of reasons, including absence of regular contracts and supplier failures. The success of this programme is dependent on regular and reliable availability of the supplies to achieve its objective, the report said.
There would be instances where food items were returned from the feeding centers to the depots for reasons of spoilage or any other cause. In these cases, instances had been noted where these returns were not supported by any documentation, which could lead to these items being lost without trace.
The report further stressed that large quantities of various food items valued at over P772 thousand from different depots were damaged by rodents, and written off.Included in the write off were 13 538 (340ml) cartons of milk valued at P75 745. In this connection, the Auditor General says it is important that the warehouses be maintained to a standard where they would not be infested by rodents and other pests.
Still in the Northern region, the report noted that there is an outstanding matter relating to the supply of stewed steak (283×3.1kg cans) to the Maun depot which was allegedly defective. The steak had been supplied by Botswana Meat Commission to the depot in November 2016.
In March 2017 part of the consignment was reported to the supplier as defective, and was to be replaced. Even as there was no agreement reached between the parties regarding replacement, in 51 October 2018 the items in question were disposed of by destruction. This disposal represented a loss as the whole consignment had been paid for, according to the report.
“In my view, the loss resulted directly from failure by the depot managers to deal with the matter immediately upon receipt of the consignment and detection of the defects. Audit inspections during visits to Selibe Phikwe, Maun, Shakawe, Ghanzi and Francistown depots had raised a number of observations on points of detail related to the maintenance of records, reconciliations of stocks and related matters, which I drew to the attention of the Accounting Officer for comments,” Letebele said in her report.
In the Southern region, a scrutiny of the records for the control of stocks of food items in the Southern Region had indicated intermittent shortages of the various items, principally Tsabana, Malutu, Sunflower Oil and Milk which was mainly due to absence of subsisting contracts for the supply of these items.
“The contract for the supply of Tsabana to all depots expired in September 2018 and was not replaced by a substantive contract. The supplier contracts for these stocks should be so managed that the expiry of one contract is immediately followed by the commencement of the next.”
Suppliers who had been contracted to supply foodstuffs had failed to do so and no timely action had been taken to redress the situation to ensure continuity of supply of the food items, the report noted.
In one case, the report highlighted that the supplier was to manufacture and supply 1 136 metric tonnes of Malutu for a 4-months period from March 2019 to June 2019, but had been unable to honour the obligation. The situation was relieved by inter-depot transfers, at additional cost in transportation and subsistence expenses.
In another case, the contract was for the supply of Sunflower Oil to Mabutsane, where the supplier had also failed to deliver. Examination of the Molepolole depot Food Issues Register had indicated a number of instances where food items consigned to the various feeding centres had been returned for a variety of reasons, including food item available; no storage space; and in other cases the whole consignments were returned, and reasons not stated.
This is an indication of lack of proper management and monitoring of the affairs of the depot, which could result in losses from frequent movements of the food items concerned.The maintenance of accounting records in the region, typically in Letlhakeng, Tsabong, and Mabutsane was less than satisfactory, according to Auditor General’s report.
In these depots a number of instances had been noted where receipts and issues had not been recorded over long periods, resulting in incorrect balances reflected in the accounting records. This is a serious weakness which could lead to or result in losses without trace or detection, and is a contravention of Supplies Regulations and Procedures, Letebele said.
Similarly, consignments of a total of 892 bags of Malutu and 3 bags of beans from Tsabong depot to different feeding centres had not been received in those centres, and are considered lost. These are also not reflected in the Statement of Losses in the Annual Statements of Accounts for the same periods.