Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Secretary General Ndaba Gaolathe says the economic problems besieging the country will not go away until government think-tanks make proper diagnosis of the economic crisis.
In an exclusive interview with the Weekend Post this week, Gaolathe charged that what government offers as a solution to the problems facing the country certainly indicates the extent to which much is being misunderstood about the country’s economy.
“We are clearly making wrong diagnosis of what the country needs,” he said.
The Ministry of Education and Skills Development (MoESD) recently announced a new initiative called Target 20 000 Up skilling programme. The initiative will see youth who failed Junior Certificate (JC) and Botswana General Certificate for Secondary Education (BGCSE) being enrolled for tertiary programmes through bridging courses.
The Gaborone Bonnington South legislator pointed out that the Target 20 000 Up Skilling is a prime example that government does not know what the country needs. “There are no clear objectives of what the programme intends to achieve,” he said. “Education should form a cog of economy’s transformation and should have put emphasis on certain key elements like; technical skills and managerial skills.”
Gaolathe contends that the new initiative by MoESD is target based and not driven by potency to transform the economy. What the government wants to achieve is to increase the quantity so that they make the case, he contends.
“It serves no purpose because it does not build the right skills that we need,” he said. “It does not increase the base of artisans, engineers, and doctors− simply it has no clear objective.”
Gaolathe, who is also the President of Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) noted that the government would rather have used the millions which are going to be spent on the Target 20 000 initiative to send unemployed youth abroad. He said, the youth would then be trained through attachment so that they earn the skills that the country needs. Gaolathe mentioned countries like India, which has a blossoming diamonds industry as prime area, which Botswana can use for skills transfer.
Gaolathe, who spent his early career as a think tank at Botswana Institute for Development and Policy Analysis (BIDPA) further suggests that government should first do away with bottle-necks that hinder opportunities for economic prosperity.
He wants government to do away with monopolies in key sectors such as the beef industry and power production. Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) remains the only abattoir in the country allowed to export beef to foreign markets. Gaolathe wants government to end BMC monopoly and bring other players on board and establish a regulator. “You will then have broad based participation, which means more demand for cattle and more jobs,” he said.
With the country besieged by unprecedented power crisis, Gaoathe opines that it is a self created crisis. He mention government‘s inability to bring on board independent power producers and create a regulator as well. “We failed to invest on energy despite having independent power producers ready as far as 2009,” he said. “We are also lost jobs in the process.”
Gaolathe asserted that when it comes to parastatals, government gets a lot of fundamentals wrong. “Government uses iron fist as haphazard strategy on managing quasi-government institutions,” he observed. Parastatals need autonomy with clear mandates not interference.”
There are reports that the ruling party in its bid to retain power is contemplating increasing the number of constituencies from the current 57 to 120, more than double the number. Gaoathe says it’s a futile exercise and does not address the inefficiencies of parliament. “If you compare the number of MPs in Botswana to other jurisdictions such as United States based on the population-representation ratio, we already have more legislators and councillors,” he said.
Gaolathe said the biggest challenge facing parliament today is lack of independence from Office of the President. He wants parliament to consider having the budget office manned by economic experts who will do finance estimates for MPs. “Parliament should be able to have capacity to make their own assessment independent from those of the executive,” he said.
This, according to Gaolathe should be coupled by the establishment of an office manned by lawyers responsible for drafting the bills for MPs. “If we can augment expert support base, parliament can be more effective,” he said.
Gaolathe also identified public procurement as one area where the country can use as a lever for broader based participation. “We are based more on price forgetting factors such as potential and consortia,” he said.
“The system [procurement] is bad at identifying potential and has resulted in the breeding of tenderpreneurs for the politically connected,” he charged.
The Tshesebe-Mosojane-Masunga road estimated costs stand at P500 million, the tender which was awarded to Bash Carriers in 2017 has not taken shape four years after the project was commissioned.
Tshesebe-Mosojane-Masunga road when it was commissioned, was estimated at P500 million in value, this included construction of 22.50km of the two lane carriage way and 28.70km of access roads including associated bridge works, cross drainage works, storm water drainage works and relocation of services.
When it was first tendered the contract was awarded to Bash Couriers but was terminated after it was alleged that the contractor failed to deliver. It was said that Bash Couriers Construction Company was lagging behind schedule.
This publication visited the sites of Tshesebe-Masunga road last year December and it was evident that the project was at a standstill as deserted machinery on site could be seen with the gravel road also in a devastating state.
Information revealed then indicated that there had been issues of mining rights for aggregates, availability of structural engineers and manpower and a criteria for awarding tender to the specific company when the contract was terminated.
In 2016, as part of the ESP projects, government funded the 25 kilometres (Km) road project to link Tshesebe and Masunga.
Construction of the road, which also connects some of the villages within the district, commenced early in 2016 and was scheduled to be completed within 18 months.
The company had done nothing when their contract was terminated with allegations that it never had the capacity to carry out the project in the first place.
The major ESP project had ultimately robbed a lot of people potential employment when it succumbed to termination.
It was then that the government restarted the tendering process.
The project was awarded to Bango Trading Company and Zebra Construction in a joint venture at a value of P319 Million Pula.
However, information reaching this publication from the Ministry of Transport and Communications confirms that indeed there are no current works carried out on the Tshesebe Masunga road.
Responding to a questionnaire sent to them by this publication through their Public Relations Officer Doreen Moapare, the Ministry indicated that the Tshesebe-Masunga road project is before the courts therefore their response is limited by such a pending outcome.
“As a background the project had been awarded to Bash Carriers at a contract sum of P400, 044,365.68 to begin the works in May 2017 and complete the project in January 2019. Scopes of works included 51.2km main road inclusive of seven access roads. Due to non-performance, Bash Carriers contract was terminated on the 25th of September 2018. ”
Further, Moapare indicated that upon termination of Bash Carriers, a process began to ensure that the development project completes.
Five companies went for a selective tendering bid which she listed as; Lobkom Investments (Pty) Ltd, Landmark (Pty) Ltd and Truck Hire (Pty) Ltd Joint venture, ACE /Excavator Hire (Pty) Ltd and Asphalt Botswana (Pty) Ltd Joint venture, Cul De Sac, Bango Trading and Zebra Construction Joint venture.
“Some companies have since queried the results of the tendering adjudication landing the issue in the courts. We are currently awaiting a ruling expected in February/March 2021, and this will determine the course of action thereafter,” concluded Moapare.
At one point last year, reports indicated that Bango Trading Construction Company had faced raiding by the Directorate on Intelligence and Security, Botswana Police and Botswana Unified Revenue Services, with allegations that there was an emerging pattern targeting overscheduled construction companies with powerful political connections.
Bango Trading Managing Director, Moffat James, was reported to have had close links to former DIS Director Isaac Seabelo Kgosi. Bango Trading and Estate Construction Company which has obtained close to P 1, 5 billion government contracts under former President Lt Gen Ian Khama has been the subject of a parliamentary probe due to the many government contracts awarded to them.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.