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Boko, Saleshando begin talks in April

UDC cum BNF president Duma Boko and BCP president Dumelang Saleshando

Opposition parties, Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and Botswana Congress Party (BCP) this week stated that the official opposition cooperation talks will commence in April this year.  

The consultations come after both parties have in the past committed to cooperation towards the decisive 2019 General Elections – which is expected to be more competitive.

Towards 2014, the umbrella talks which were inclusive of all opposition parties then, Botswana National Front (BNF), Botswana Congress Party (BCP), Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) and Botswana Peoples Party (BPP) collapsed although BNF, BMD and BPP forged ahead and contested under UDC banner.

Excluding the BCP in the cooperation, UDC went on to garner 17 seats against BCP’s paltry 3 which reinforced the conspiracy theories that the nation may be yearning for one opposition block that will make the buoyant ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) which has been in power since independence, run for its money.

In his preface statement the BCP president Dumelang Saleshando set the tone to allude that there are divisions in the BDP and indeed even on opposition. “Of course we have a divided opposition and on this one we have to take responsibility as opposition parties, to try and heal the society and come up with something to make them closer to each other,” he told a fully packed press conference on Thursday afternoon in Gaborone.

The former Gaborone Central legislator highlighted that indeed opposition division creates room for BDP’s misrule and mischief.

“And so we are here today not to sign any agreement yet, but to inform you that we have agreed on the document that will regulate the bye elections from now going forward, which documents will be signed on the 13th of this month in Sekoma where the UDC candidate will be launched for the coming bye election.”

According to Saleshando, the signing of the agreement will be the first step towards building the unity that the nation desire and possibly building a consensus of Botswana we all want to build and that it’s a very important milestone that they plan to celebrate when they actually get to it.

“It sends a strong message that the plan is to succeed. But I must also admit that its insignificant compared to trials that are ahead for us as BCP and UDC.”

Ofcourse the prophets of doom, he said will say ‘we have seen this before, they have done this before, but they ultimately failed.’ “Yes we have not succeeded in the past, but you know if life it’s not how many times you fail that matters, is what you do after failing whether you are able to stand up and dust yourself from the failures and say I will do a better job next time. So we are ready to do a better job,” the calm and collected Saleshando highlighted.

He also said that their members need to come closer to each other, as it is not only about the leadership of the parties coming together. In any case, he continued, “contrary to what many people have always suspected, there has never been any acrimony whether intense or mild between myself and UDC leader Duma Boko.”

Past failures he said were not on account of personal differences but was because they represented separate organisations that held separate positions and therefore it must never be construed that the 2 of them had not get along well.

“But ofcourse now we realize that we need to dialogue with each other for us to succeed and we want our members to do the same,” the BCP leader asserted. “And that is why we have decided to call our parties’ structures, constituency committees as well as regional committees that during the months of February and March we expect all structures to jointly hold at least one activity in their respective areas.”

Saleshando also maintained that he pins his hope on the nation to also support the activities that will be held countrywide as a build up to the full proper talks.

However he pointed out that “let’s remember that this agreement is only about bye elections and we believe it will keep the BDP away from victory stand on all bye elections that will be held until the 2019 General Elections.”

The BCP president added that it doesn’t matter what the locality is and that even in constituencies of BDP stronghold they will go there. He said the plan is to deny them any chance of victory nationwide while adding that it doesn’t help them if they only plan to win their strongholds against the BDP.

Of course we expect members of the cooperating parties to be cordial to each other and use the language that is consistent with people trying to build a relationship, he cautioned.

On his part, his counterpart UDC cum BNF president Duma Boko asserted in his prologue account marking the official declaration for the dates leading to the cooperation talks, “we will begin engagements,” he told the press conference.

“And to pre-empt the question that you will ask me members of the press, we have had formal engagements amongst ourselves at this level of leadership because it is important for us.”

He also added that they had informal whereabouts while emphasizing that it is important for them sometimes to hold these meetings away from the public and even away from their members, and he said some of these have not been discussions on the issue of cooperation but just to break bread together and just to have a cup of tea together as they have always done before.

Boko, who is also the leader of opposition chunk in parliament highlighted that “so those informal contacts, are a prelude to more formal engagements that we hope to begin and if I may put some time frame to it, the hope is that the beginning of April we may commence these formal discussions between Umbrella for Democratic Change and Botswana Congress party.”

According to the top notch qualified lawyer, “the nature, the scope and depth will define itself as we go out so I just wanted to clear this out so that you remain in absolute no doubt about what we are doing and that we make no apologies for it because it has to be done – as it’s about time” he asserted.   

In those recent wine and dine meets, Boko told the journalists that they have touched on the thorny issue in the process of finding out what it is that has separated them from working with each other from the past.

“So yes we have met, all over the place in this country and even at each other’s houses so that you may be shocked and surprised,” he stated wearing his signature laugh with his eyes glued down from the audience.  

He cleared the air by stating that it goes to reinforce the fact that there is no acrimony between him and BCP leader Saleshando, “we are not fighting with each other and we have never fought, and we have never insulted each other at least at the level of leadership,” the Gaborone Bonnington North law maker stressed.

So, he also insisted that “we are here today as you can see, in part to begin another step. We have responded to the budget speech yesterday, some issues that arose from our intervention yesterday are issues we will pursue together, both the leadership of UDC and that of the BCP and going forward we will jointly pursue these matters. And one of these matters include skyrocketing military expenditure.”

The Member of Parliament has also underscored that both parties acting jointly need to pursue the government to push it to account. “These are the things we need to pursue for the betterment of this country. We will call on this government to be as transparent as the situation demands. There are many issues that we will deal with together. Issues will be tackled from a common platform.”

He added that they will also refine their own issues together. We want solutions that work for our country, he said. He however cautioned that when they get to the terrain (of opposition cooperation talks) they should approach it with open mind. “We will quarrel from now and then, and we will strike a compromise here and there,” Boko stated.

He also advised that politics is more dynamic, more interesting, more engaging and that we need to rescue it from this caricature of “ideologues” but do what works for the country.  

“So as I said to you, April we will engage in formal discussion about unity. I have no doubt in my mind that we will succeed. I have absolutely no doubt. And this is an ominous message to the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). They must be quaking on their boots as I speak and I know they are freaked out because if there is anything they don’t want to hear and see is in fact this opposition cooperation,” the UDC leader postulated.

So now we are giving them a sneak preview so that when they run around and tell us who their president is or is not they know, he stated to a thunderous applause from both the UDC, BCP party members who were present alike.

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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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