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Inside FNBB Itsose competition row

A business competition which was power-driven by the commercial First National Bank of Botswana (FNBB) in association with Local Enterprise Authority (LEA) and University of Botswana hailed as Itsose Business Idea Competition has missed the mark in funding its last ten (10) front-runners in the business proposal contest.

The Weekend Post has established that the 10 who emerged victorious in the competition were never funded save for one, a bitter pill to swallow for the other nine contenders who have yet to receive their funding.

This is notwithstanding that the competition’s aim as espoused in its information sheet was to “facilitate the provision of funding to entrepreneurs who meet the criteria of the competition’s funding partners”.  

When explaining the row, FNBB Director of Coverage, Boiki Tema, who sat with bank Communications Manager, Kemiso Ben, told this publication in an interview on Monday that, “only one gentleman sought merely P200 000 altogether in his proposal and we thought the amount was slight and reasonable and therefore funded the project fully; while the other required P5. 1 million but we only offered him P100 000 which he outrightly rejected. We suggested he would get the money in phases as the project implicated huge sums of money.”

This basically means that only one participant’s project was fully financed. According to Tema, who has watched the project carefully since inception, said the bank is and was nonetheless “not obliged to fund” the front-runners of Itsose Business Competition, although they benefitted widely from coverage.

He referred this newspaper to the ‘agreement to the competition terms and conditions’ which were signed by contestants. Clause 8 of the agreement states categorically that, “I accept and agree that funding is not guaranteed even if I win the competition, and while FNBB will endevour to fund my proposal, any such funding is subject to satisfactory conclusion of a due diligence investigation or any other investigation which FNBB may deem necessary; furthermore any funding shall be subject to the negotiation and conclusion of an agreement between myself/ourselves and FNBB.”

It is understood that the competition, although widely advertised in the mainstream media, was merely hypothetical. Indications on the ground are that, “the fast-track to funding, business support and success for Batswana entrepreneurs, start-ups and growing businesses”  have gone rather pear-shaped, with the bank somersaulting on the prior arrangements and leaving the contenders on the lurch.

Some of the aggrieved winners who spoke to Weekend Post on conditions of anonymity questioned FNBB’s policy of “donating” money to other projects, including for people and organisations to build parks, for example, but failing to give out (refundable) loans to them. According to them, this probably led to the competition’s miscarriage.

“There was a meeting at some point at FNBB and we were told that we will be funded and asked to apply for the loans. Now they are quiet. So how do you say our businesses nosedived if you have not facilitated the loan to the fullest? The only way out of this dispute is to finance us,” one of the contestants who got a raw deal asserted.    

He added: “the competition created problems for some of us, as we don’t have working capital to start our proposed businesses. There is nothing to generate money with despite our proposals being regarded as the best.”

This publication has been informed that some, who were financed at almost P100 000 for multimillion pula projects are being made to walk on broken glass. It is alleged that they were blacklisted under controversial circumstances at the Citizen Economic Entrepreneurial Agency (CEDA) and therefore could not even be lent money at the loan institution.

For this reason, FNBB is currently dragging some to lawyers for failure to pay despite still having no working capital and therefore not being able to generate sufficient income.

“Some of the lawyers are harassing us and threatening to jail us,” he insisted.  

Meanwhile Tema acknowledged that two gentlemen making up some of the proposal front-runners had launched their grievances with the bank. The duo, Tiroyaone Barung and Tumo Kgopo have started a series of meetings with the bank with a mission to iron out the differences and find a common ground going forward.  

Tema also added that all the other eight contestants have been referred to LEA where they will be advised and guided for alternative funding. Although clause 8 of the competition terms and condition says funding by FNBB is not guaranteed, it is not clear why FNBB found a need not to finance the projects although they had the best business proposals from the 10 contestants.

According to Tema, some of the shortlisted project proposals which triumphed but lack funding ranges from waste management, a piggery business, advertising, a sports academy, a driving school and safari and toll gates among others.

“As a bank we only felt it was a good competition as it will position the SMMEs of Botswana and also build a data base for entrepreneurs, including helping diversify the economy,” he said.

The 10 finalists were shortlisted from the one hundred (100), who were selected from the initial 2 800 participants who had entered the competition. The 100 were taken through training and development, and given three weeks to solicit their business proposals. The proposals were then presented before a panel of judges from which the 10 winners emerged.

The conquerors then took home a package of P10 000 in cash, a business laptop, mobile phone, business training and mentorship, publicity and exposure of business and only lacked “access to preferred funding”.

Itsoseng started in 2008 and was seen as Botswana’s biggest, most exciting small business competition which gave a life time opportunity to upcoming entrepreneurs. Some of the competition’s aims was to fast track the start-up and growth of businesses with great potential and support their successes, encourage entrepreneurs to sharpen their businesses acumen, improve their business plans, thinking and writing skills.

Other objectives included encouraging individuals with good business ideas to take the “first step;” showcasing winning entrants as role models to encourage other entrepreneurs as well as facilitating the provision of funding to entrepreneurs who met the criteria of the competition’s funding partners.   

The project has seen three of the bank’s Chief Executive Officers (CEO’s) exchanging power since it’s commencement in 2008, from Danny Zandamela through to Lorato Boakgomo – Ntakwana to the current Steven Bogatsu.

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Botswana gets P2.750 billion loan from World Bank

14th June 2021
Peggy Serame

Botswana’s efforts to accelerate key economic reforms got a boost following the approval of a $250 million loan by the World Bank today. The Programmatic Economic Resilience and Green Recovery Development Policy Loan (DPL) will support the implementation of Botswana’s Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan and is designed to strengthen COVID-19 pandemic relief while bolstering resilience to future shocks.

This DPL is also designed to support reforms to strengthen private sector development and promote green recovery. It is the first-ever World Bank budget support operation for Botswana and the first of two planned operations.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a great burden on the country’s economy, its people, and firms. With this operation, the World Bank will support the government’s reforms to ensure social spending reaches the poorest and assists Batswana who are most affected by the Covid-19,” says World Bank Country Director for Eswatini, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa, Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly.

“This operation will also support reforms to attract private sector investments, contribute to diversification of exports, and increase job opportunities towards a green economy”. The operation provides both financial and technical support for government reforms to implement a Single Social Registry and to improve targeting of social spending on the most vulnerable while strengthening systems for future shocks.

It will also help strengthen the business environment for increased SME-led job creation and economic diversification through improved access to finance for individuals and small and micro enterprises (SMEs). Furthermore, the program will help Botswana to build the foundations for sustainable, “green” growth by supporting reforms to increase production of renewable energy by independent power producers, promoting and regulating rooftop solar energy generation, and embedding climate change considerations in environmental assessments.

DPLs are used by the World Bank to support a country’s policy and institutional reform agenda to help accelerate inclusive growth and poverty reduction. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a real gross domestic product (GDP) contraction of 7.9 percent in Botswana in 2020 – the largest in the country’s history.

This has also led to a depletion of existing fiscal buffers and has constrained revenue collection, reduced Government’s capacity and resources needed to accelerate the implementation of structural reforms and threatened to reverse progress in poverty reduction.

World Bank Group COVID-19 Response Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Bank Group has committed over $125 billion to fight the health, economic, and social impacts of the pandemic, the fastest and largest crisis response in its history.

The financing is helping more than 100 countries strengthen pandemic preparedness, protect the poor and jobs, and jump start a climate-friendly recovery. The Bank is also providing $12 billion to help low- and middle-income countries purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments.

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UB employees protest against Vice Chancellor

11th June 2021
Professor Norris

University of Botswana Vice Chancellor, Professor David Norris, has lost support of the university staff, with four unions joining forces to demand his removal from office.  

When he was appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of Botswana in December 2017, by the then Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Dr Alfred Madigele, Professor Norris was hailed as an angel sent from heaven.

Professor Norris succeeded Professor Thabo Fako, after the latter led the University during turbulent times — with the university experiencing financial challenges and dwindling enrolment numbers.

Four years down the line, Professor Norris’ presence at the University nauseates many. Academic staff together with manual workers want Norris shown the door as soon as yesterday.

University of Botswana Academic Senior Support Staff Union, (UBASSSU), University of Botswana Staff Union (UBSU) and University of Botswana Manual Workers Union, in a petition submitted to Minister of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, Douglas Letsholathebe, called for the dismissal of Norris. The unions said that under the leadership of the Professor, UB staff members suffered immeasurable pain, agony and frustration, and their welfare is entirely overlooked.

The unions petition Professor Norris on a number of issues: blurred roadmap, inflationary adjustments of salaries, security services, corporate governance, teaching and learning resources, deteriorating infrastructure, staff victimization as well as appointment of staff undemocratically.

In their entreaty, staff members say that Vice Chancellor has failed to provide a clear roadmap to guide a wide range of operations within the University. Prior to Norris’ arrival, they say, UB had developed a strategy using its own scholars, led by Prof Thapisa and Prof Moahi respectively.

“They executed the assignment efficiently with intricate insider knowledge of the institution and a global academic outlook. The result of the process was later subjected to external review by consultants, even though the process was later abandoned at huge cost to the University. The Vice Chancellor is three years into this post, but he has done nothing to show, and always blames staff or his predecessors for the problems at UB,” the unions said in their petition.

The petition signed by UBASSSU President, Motsomi Marobela, acting on behalf of Manual Workers Union President, Oneile Mpulubusi and Ghadzani Mhotsha (Staff Union President), argue that Norris relishes grand standing and cheap rhetoric to project a positive image of the University to outsiders while the institution faces monumental challenges.

“Even the so-called new strategy was imposed on the staff, since unions were never consulted. Staff in faculties were threatened and bullied into submission whenever they revealed flaws in the strategy. In short, this strategy lacks the critical ‘buy in’ from those charged with implementation, something which is crucial for any new strategy to succeed.”

Professor Norris, a renowned scholar, has been fingered in being reluctant to advance staff salaries, something which has been done four years ago. Unions claim that despite several shots to alter this status quo, efforts proved vain.

“The Vice Chancellor has dismally failed to bring about any meaningful action to ascertain that staff remunerations are adjusted to mitigate the effects of inflation, despite his attention being drawn to the erosion of the buying power of University staff. UB staff salaries have not been adjusted for a duration of four years, despite numerous attempts by the trade unions (UBASSSU, UBSU and Manual Workers Union) to appeal on behalf of the constituents for his intervention,” reads part of the petition.

University management are said to be relaxed when it comes to the security of the organization, petitioners claim. They stress that this has happened several times in recent years whereby management has allowed private security contracts, which augment the in-house UB security, to lapse before they can float a new tender.

The loan schemes that the University gets into on behalf of employees, is said to be another dare giving staff workers grief, perpetuated by Vice Chancellor Norris.

“It has happened several times that the contract between the financiers and the University lapses before anything is put in place for employees to continue getting financial assistance. Quite recently, it was communicated by a memo from Staff Welfare and Benefits Office that the loan scheme with FNB is coming to an end on the 30th April 2021 and this communication was made on the 29th, just a day before the end of such contract. This again shows lack of proactiveness on the part of management which is led by the VC,” said the petition.

The Vice Chancellor is said to be overreaching in UB administrative structures. Professor Norris, who chairs the Staff Appointment and Promotion Committee (SAPC), hosts illegal Pre-SAPC meetings, which are usually attended by Human Resources and Executive Management, and make decisions on who to appoint, promote or whose contract to renew before the substantive meeting of SAPC.

The Vice Chancellor, disgruntled petitioners say, uses SAPC to rubber stamp the executive decision – this amounts to corruption. “Three years in the institution he has virtually run the university alone. The core and critical Deputy Vice Chancellor posts of Academic Affairs; Finance and Administration; and Student Affairs, have not been filled. Instead he has appointed people on acting positions and he is shuffling them around as he pleases. Those he prefers have been acting for over two years, which is contrary to the Employment Act.”

Professor Norris is a researcher and lecturer, having served in different capacities in Botswana, the United States of America and South Africa.

Prior to joining UB, he was Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BUIST), a position he held since 2016. He is the sixth Vice Chancellor of UB.

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Gov’t slashes P16 million from YDF budget

11th June 2021
YDF

Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development has announced the return of the Youth Development Fund (YDF), after it was put on suspension by Government last year.

The fund however, has been slashed from P120 million to P104 million with the total number of projects expected to shrink. The YDF programme was temporarily suspended last year due to shortage of funds.

The programme introduced in 2009 by government, was a way of improving the lives of the youth as well as helping to fight unemployment.

When addressing the media, Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, Tumiso Rakgare said the ministry has resolved to start receiving applications for 2021/2022 Youth Development Fund from 09 June 2021 to 10 August 2021.

Rakgare said government was worried about the high numbers of unemployment hence the resolve to restart the YDF programme even in the midst of the pandemic.

He however revealed that due to budget challenges and the continued restrictive environment imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, there would be some modifications to the implementation of YDF.

“Due to budget challenges the allocation for the fund in the current financial year has been reduced from P120 million to P104 million. Constituencies will thus be allocated less than the usual P2 million, which means that the number of funded projects will be significantly reduced,” he said.

He further said priority for funding shall be for businesses with the potential to create a higher number of jobs and those that address key government priorities.

The sectors to be prioritized include; Manufacturing, Agriculture, Tourism, Technology, Digitization and Innovation. Moreover, the threshold for YDF financing remains at P100 000.00 for individuals and P450 000.00 for youth industries or co-operatives.

In addition to funding youth projects, the Minister said P14, 393,066.77 will be reserved for completion and implementation of Special Projects such as development of Land-banks, mentorship partnerships and trainings.

All changes to the YDF programme are to apply only for this year while a comprehensive review is undertaken. The target is to have the revised programme implemented in the next financial year.

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