Selibi-Phikwe Diversification Unit (SPEDU) is possibly an endangered organisation at the moment, after falling under the stewardship of two men who are currently embroiled in financial mess at other entities they lead, that is, Bammangwato Concessions Limited (BCL) and Botswana Meat Commission (BMC).
Even Parliament is worried about the direction in which SPEDU is seemingly headed. Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies and Enterprises was this week not convinced with the ambition of the SPEDU project given the poor level of success since its formation. The committee is of the view that there could be a leadership problem at SPEDU, given the ability of the organisation’s failure to appreciate the real reason it was formed.
The current chairperson of SPEDU board is BCL’s general manager, Daniel Mahupela. His deputy is BMC’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Akolang Tombale.
One committee member, speaking off the proceedings, highlighted that at Board level, the organisation is steered by the people who themselves are struggling to salvage their entities from financial crisis they are ensnared in, yet SPEDU is expected to successfully fulfil its mandate under their leadership.
Chairman of Parliamentary Committee, Samson Guma also expressed concern at the manner in which SPEDU is running its affairs. Guma stated that the organisation’s management does not indicate if indeed it appreciates the reason behind its formation.
Guma is of the opinion that the CEO of SPEDU and its Board should know what is going on with BCL affairs because, SPEDU was formed to respond to BCL’s situation. He mentioned his concern that such is not the case and is a grave error, given the dire situation that BCL is in.
Ndaba Gaolathe, a committee member was worried about SPEDU’s seemingly lack of familiarity with the affairs of BCL. Gaolathe said at present moment, SPEDU should know how they want Selibe- Phikwe economy to look like without the mining activities.
The committee was also not impressed by SPEDU’s spending. Out of its total expenditure, salaries accounts to more than 50 percent of the money, and in the next few years the salaries are event expected to account for more than 60 percent of the organisation’s expenditure.
Mahupela – General Manager of BCL and Chairperson of SPEDU
Daniel Mahupela, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Bammangwato Concessions Limited (BCL) is the Board Chairperson of SPEDU, while Dr Akolang Tombale, the CEO of Botswana Meat Commission (BMC).
Mahupela took over the reign at BCL in 2011 following the departure of Montwedi Mphathi, who left to join Botash. Mahupela joined BCL Limited in 2008 as Divisional Manager of Resource Planning prior to his ascendance to the top position. While during Mphathi’s tenure, BCL endured profitability, Mahupela has watched BCL failing to near collapse, with government coming to its rescue on more than two occasions.
While the BCL situation have also been brought by external factors such as falling commodity prices, there have been reports that lack of shrewd administration have led to the dire financial crisis which the organisation found itself in. Commodity prices fell by more than 57 percent earlier this year making it one of the worst falls in history.
Amid this crisis, Mahupela has resisted calls for him to resign despite mounting pressure that including job losses. Government has engaged a consultant on the future of BCL, which will lead the way on what government would do next with the mine.
SPEDU formation, had anticipated that should BCL close, they would be great economic shock to the Selibi Phikwe economy and surrounding areas. Mahupela as the chairperson of Board is not only entrusted with saving BCL, but leading an organisation which would transform the economy of Selibi Phikwe away from the mining activities.
When the chairperson of the parliamentary committee asked for the professional opinion on whether or not government should put more money into the BCL, SPEDU’s CEO, Mokubung Mokubung noted that, while it could be important to do so to save jobs, there is no “business case” for doing that.
A common concern has always been whether it would make business sense for injecting money into BCL without change of model which will ensure that the entity is able to be financial stable again.
Tombale- BMC CEO and Vice Chairperson of SPEDU
Tombale first came into BMC picture in 2012, after being appointed on the initial agreement of 12 months. This was the time when reports were emerging about BMC corruption and dubious business practices which led to an instigation of commission on inquiry.
Tombale, with a background in Geology, has spent the better part of his career as a civil servant and had the opportunity to serve in boards such as of Debswana Diamond Company. He was brought to the BMC with clear believe that he will effectively turn its fortunes around over a short period of time
However, Tombale has not been able to transform BMC from its crisis, despite his assurance when he was appointed four years back that he will ‘fix’ BMC. For the past three years, BMC has continued to make perennial losses, and government have had to come to its rescue on number of occasions.
Until recently, Tombale was resistant to efforts of ending BMC monopoly as a way of ending BMC troubles. BMC has also been accused by parliamentary committee, under Tombale for failing to practise best management as far as public procurement procedures are concerned.
Both Tombale and Mahupela will be in charge of SPEDU direction, but are still fighting their own wars and from a spectator’s view, they are on the losing side. Both BMC and BCL are still in dire financial crisis, their situations have not improved over the last few years, and they would still rely on government for survival.
Tombale and Mahupela have even been associated before. Until June this year, Tombale was the chairperson of the troubled BCL board of directors. The two have worked closely together at BCL, and presided over the mine’s possible worst crisis in its own history.
SPEDU’s risky investment
Meanwhile, SPEDU could be headed for a partnership with an undisclosed company in taking over the business operations of Talana Farms. Talana Farms was operated by Botalana Ventures, which Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) was equity partner. The business involves the horticultural projects, ostrich farming and crocodile farming.
Although SPEDU CEO told parliamentary committee that it is an “ambitious project” the project had failed to produce desired results under Botalana Ventures.
BDC has been operating Talana Farms jointly with Botalana Ventures since 2006 and the two entities had enjoyed what looked like a breakthrough for Botswana’s horticultural produce sufficiency. Talana Farms’ General Manager, Jan Willemse, revealed in the past that for future growth the farm was targeting the South African and Namibian market for their produce.
Following the appointment of Bashi Gaetsaloe as Managing Director of BDC, the partnership was sacrificed leading to liquidation of Botalana Ventures.
Mokubung revealed that already the equity partner, identified by SPEDU have paid P1.5 million deposits to secure the farm.
For so many years, Botswana has been trying to be a self-sufficient country that is able to provide its citizens with locally produced food products. Through appropriate collaborations with parastatals such as CEDA, ISPAAD and LEA, government introduced initiatives such as the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy-IAS and other funding facilities to facilitate horticultural farmers to increase production levels.
Now that COVID-19 took over and disrupted the food value chain across all economies, Botswana government introduced these initiatives to reduce the import bill by enhancing local market and relieve horticultural farmers from loses or impacts associated with the pandemic.
In more concerted efforts to curb these food crises in the country, government extended the ploughing period for the Southern part of Botswana. The extension was due to the late start of rains in the Southern part of the country.
Last week the Ministry of Agriculture extended the ploughing period for the Northern part of the country, mainly because of rains recently experienced in the country. With these decisions taken urgently, government optimizes food security and reliance on local food production.
When pigs fly, Botswana will be able to produce food to feed its people. This is evident by the numbers released by Statistics Botswana on imports recorded in November 2020, on their International Merchandise Trade Statistics for the month under review.
The numbers say Botswana continues to import most of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Not only that, Batswana relies on South Africa to have something to smoke, to drink and even use as machinery.
According to data from Statistics Botswana, the country’s total imports amounted to P6.881 Million. Diamonds contributed to the total imports at 33%, which is equivalent to P2.3 Million. This was followed by food, beverages and tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment which stood at P912 Million and P790 Million respectively.
Most of these commodities were imported from The Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The Union supplied Botswana with imports valued at over P4.8 Million of Botswana’s imports for the month under review (November 2020). The top most imported commodity group from SACU region was food, beverages and tobacco, with a contribution of P864 Million, which is likely to be around 18.1% of the total imports from the region.
Diamonds and fuel, according to these statistics, contributed 16.0%, or P766 Million and 13.5% or P645 Million respectively. Botswana also showed a strong and desperate reliance on neighbouring South Africa for important commodities. Even though the borders between the two countries in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, government took a decision to open border gates for essential services which included the transportation of commodities such as food.
Imports from South Africa recorded in November 2020 stood at P4.615 Million, which accounted for 67.1% of total imports during the month under review. Still from that country, Botswana bought food, beverages and tobacco worth P844 Million (18.3%), diamonds, machinery and fuel worth P758 Million, P601 Million and P562 Million respectively.
Botswana also imported chemicals and rubber products that made a contribution of 11.7% (P542.2 Million) to total imports from South Africa during the month under review, (November 2020).
The European Union also came to Botswana’s rescue in the previous year. Botswana received imports worth P698.3 Million from the EU, accounting for 10.1% of the total imports during the same month. The major group commodity imported from the EU was diamonds, accounting for 86.9% (P606.6 Million), of imports from the Union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, at 8.9% (P609.1 Million) of total imports during the period under review.
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka says an improvement in exports and commodity prices will drive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in the region is anticipated to recover modestly to 3.2% in 2021. Matsheka said this when delivering the Annual Budget Speech virtually in Gaborone on the 1st of February 2021.
He said implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which became operational in January 2021, could reduce the region’s vulnerability to global disruptions, as well as deepen trade and economic integration.
“This could also help boost competition and productivity. Successful implementation of AfCFTA will, of necessity, require Member States to eliminate both tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and generally make it easier to do business and invest across borders.”
Matsheka, who is also a Member of Parliament for Lobatse, an ailing town which houses the struggling biggest meat processing company in the country- Botswana Meat Commission, (BMC), said the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recognizes the need to prioritize the key processes required for the implementation of the AfCFTA.
“The revised SACU Tariff Offer, which comprises 5,988 product lines with agreed Rules of Origin, representing 77% of the SACU Tariff Book, was submitted to the African Union Commission (AUC) in November 2020. The government is in the process of evaluating the tariff offers of other AfCFTA members prior to ratification, following which Botswana’s participation in AfCFTA will come to effect.”
Women continue to shadow men in politics – stereotypes such as ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ cast the notion that women cannot lead. The 2019 general election recorded one of Botswana’s worst performances when it comes to women participation in parliamentary democracy with only three women elected to parliament.
Botswana’s former Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou who is currently the Co-Chair, Global HIV Prevention Coalition & Nursing Now and an HIV, Gender & Human Rights Activist is not amused by the status quo. Tlou attributes this dilemma facing women to a number of factors, which she is convinced influence the voting patterns of Batswana when it comes to women politicians.
Professor Tlou plugs the party level voting systems as the first hindrance that blocks women from ascending to power. According to the former Minister of Health, there is inadequate amount of professionalism due to corrupt internal party structures affecting the voters roll and ultimately leading to voter apathy for those who end up struck off the voters rolls under dubious circumstances.
Tlou also stated that women’s campaigns are often clean; whilst men put to play the ‘politics is dirty metaphor using financial muscle to buy voters into voting for them without taking into consideration their abilities and credibility. The biggest hurdle according to Tlou is the fallacy that ‘Women cannot lead’, which is also perpetuated by other women who discourage people from voting for women.
There are numerous factors put on the table when scrutinizing a woman, she can be either too old, or too young, or her marital status can be used against her. An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends on being a leader when she failed to have a home. The list is endless including slut shaming women who have either been through a divorce or on to their second marriages, Tlou observed.
The only way that voters can be emancipated from this mentality according to Tlou is through a robust voter education campaign tailor made to run continuously and not be left to the eve of elections as it is usually done. She further stated that the current crop of women in parliament must show case their abilities and magnify them – this will help make it clear that they too are worthy of votes.
And to women intending to run for office, Tlou encouraged them not to wait for the eleventh hour to show their interest and rather start in community mobilisation projects as early as possible so that the constituents can get to know them and their abilities prior to the election date.
Youthful Botswana National Front (BNF) leader and feminist, Resego Kgosidintsi blames women’s mentality towards one another which emanates from the fact that women have been socialised from a tender age that they cannot be leaders hence they find it difficult to vote for each other.
Kgosidintsi further states that, “Women do not have enough economic resources to stage effective campaigns. They are deemed as the natural care givers and would rather divert their funds towards raising children and building homes over buying campaign materials.”
Meanwhile, Vice President of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi agrees that women’s participation in politics in Botswana remains a challenge. To address this Mmolotsi suggested that there should be constituencies reserved for women candidates only so that the outcome regardless of the party should deliver a woman Member of Parliament.
Mmolotsi further suggested that Botswana should ditch the First Past the Post system of election and opt for the proportional representation where contesting parties will dutifully list able women as their representatives in parliament.
On why women do not get elected, Mmolotsi explained that he had heard first hand from voters that they are reluctant to vote for women since they have limited access to them once they have won; unlike their male counterparts who have proven to be available night or day.
The pre-historic awarding of gender roles relegating women to be pregnant and barefoot at home and the man to be out there fending for the family has disadvantaged women in political and other professional careers.