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China Ambassador opens up on Africa, Botswana relations

The Chinese Ambassador to Botswana H.E. Zheng Zhuqiang is confident that Botswana – China relations have not taken a knock. “I have every confidence in the future growth of China-Botswana relations,” he said.  
 
Speaking on China-Botswana relationship, Zheng noted that this year also marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between our two countries. He also pinned his observations on today’s China-Botswana relations under the framework of FOCAC, and what China-Botswana relationship could benefit from FOCAC.

Zheng said the friendship between China and Botswana is well established and long lasting.

“Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1975, especially after the set-up of FOCAC in 2000, our bilateral exchanges and cooperation in all areas have been improved greatly thanks to the effective implementation of FOCAC initiatives by both sides. For the past 15 years, our two countries have enjoyed frequent high level exchanges. Former Botswana President H.E. Mogae attended the first FOCAC summit in Beijing in 2006, and Botswana has attended all the 5 previous FOCAC conferences,” he observed.

Bilateral economic and trade cooperation between the two countries has been pushed forward greatly under the framework of FOCAC, said Zheng. The bilateral trade volume was US$11 million back in 2000, while this number has increase almost 30 times to around US$300 million in 2014, making China one of the largest trading partners of Botswana and the second largest consumer of Botswana’s diamonds.

Zheng said under the guideline of FOCAC, China has been providing selfless assistance to Botswana, out of which 32 projects have been implemented.

On infrastructure area, Zheng said China has helped to renovate 587-kilometer-long railway, build 200-kilometer-long Letlhakeng-Kang road, 717 residential houses and Gaborone Multi-purpose Youth Center, etc. On the education front, China has donated and built 2 primary schools and is willing to donate 2 more in the coming years. China has provided more than 550 scholarships and 1000 short-term training opportunities to support Botswana’s human resources development.

China also established Confucius Institute at University of Botswana (CIUB) in 2009, which so far attracted more than 6000 ordinary Botswana people to learn Chinese language and culture. In health area, China has been continuously sending medical teams to Botswana since 1981.

“To date, China has altogether sent 418 medical experts to Botswana and treated more than 3 million Botswana patients. China also launched 2 “Brightness Action” and helped hundreds of cataract patients to regain their sights. In wildlife protection area, China donated RMB10 million to support Botswana’s wildlife protection cause.”

“I have every confidence in the future growth of China-Botswana relations. Richly endowed in natural resources and committed to its strategy of economic diversity and industrialization, Botswana enjoys huge development potential. As for China, thanks to its rapid economic growth for more than three decades, it boasts comparative advantages in capital, technology, business and personnel. China and Botswana meet each other’s' demand, enjoy respective competitive edges and provide opportunities to each other. This means there is large potential for our cooperation.”

He said the forthcoming Johannesburg summit of FOCAC will provide a historical and precious opportunity for China and African countries including Botswana, to further strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation in the fields of economic, trade, infrastructure, culture, education, health, among others, thus bringing more tangible benefits to our peoples.

“I sincerely hope that our two countries could make concerted efforts to fully implement the new FOCAC action plans, promote a comprehensive upgrading of our friendly and mutually beneficial cooperation and push China-Botswana relationship to a higher level,” he stressed.

Currently, China is encountered with slowdown in economic growth and some people ask whether Africa can still count on China's development to bolster Africa's development.  In Zheng words, “the Chinese economy is shifting from a high-speed growth to a medium-high growth of better quality, or “rebalancing”. This is not only because of the sluggish recovery of the world economy as a whole, but also a result of China's proactive management to promote structural reform, lower the speed of growth and improve the quality of growth.”

The Chinese Ambassador said they define this as the "new normal" of the Chinese economy. The Chinese economy registered a 7% growth in the first half of this year. Such performance is still one of the best among the world's major economies. The long-term prospects of the Chinese economy remain robust and sound, Zheng said.

China and Africa enjoy a profound and long-term friendship and are bound by this community of shared future and interests. In the 1960s and 1970s, the two sides forged profound friendship in the fight for national independence and liberation.

Zheng said nothing should stop the two sides from coming together to pursue common development. Africa is blessed with abundant natural and human resources and enjoys huge market and development potential.

The Agenda 2063 and its first Ten Year Plan adopted at this year's AU Summit have prioritized industrialization and sustainable development, ushering Africa into a new stage of development. As for China, with more than three decades of fast growth, it now has rich experience, mature technology, cost-effective equipment and sufficient capital in the field of industrialization.

“More importantly, China has the strong political will to support Africa in achieving economic independence and self-reliant sustainable development. China and Africa will usher in a new phase of win-win cooperation and common development,” said Zheng.

Statistics show that in 2014, trade between China and Africa exceeded US$220 billion and China's investment stock in Africa surpassed US$30 billion, an increase of 22 and 60 times respectively over the figures in 2000 when FOCAC was just established. Moreover, the share of China-Africa trade in Africa's total foreign trade has increased from 3.82% to 20.5%.

“What is particularly noteworthy is China's commitment to helping Africa break the two development bottlenecks of underdeveloped infrastructure and lack of human resources. The efforts have already made a big difference. By June 2015, over 3,800 kilometers of railways and 4,334 kilometers of roads have been either built or under construction in Africa with Chinese financing. More than 200 schools of various kinds have been established with Chinese assistance or financing. The Chinese government provides Africa with more than 7,000 government scholarships each year and holds over 100 multilateral and bilateral technical and management training programs and senior officials workshops for Africa each year,” said Zheng.

Some people criticize China’s involvement in Africa as similar to the colonial policy of the developed countries in the past. However Zheng said the criticism is absolutely not true.

He said in recent years, with the expansion of economic and trade cooperation between China and Africa, the hat of “New Colonialism” sometimes was added to China's head by some people, which is totally inconsistent with the facts and logic.

Zheng is of the view that the development of China-Africa relations over the years has proved that such assertions are completely nonsense. He said African countries will not accept such a point of view because China-Africa cooperation brings them practical benefits. He said History has proved that China developed equal and friendly relations with African countries and developed economic and trade relations with them in accordance with the international conventions and economic rules on the market.

“We purchase African resources at the international market price and through business negotiations. Due to the huge demand on the Chinese market, the prices of African resources on the international market have increased and African countries have reaped in more benefits. In comparison, how can we find any connection between China and colonialism? Therefore, the label of colonialism, new or old, will never stick on China.”

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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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