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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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Dingake talks about gay rights in tribute to Kirby

11th January 2022
Dingake

Former High Court Judge Professor Key Dingake has made his opinion known about gay rights in a glowing tribute to his retired former colleague Justice Ian Kirby.

Late last month a panel of Court of Appeal (CoA) led by Judge Kirby upheld a 2019 High Court ruling that decriminalised same-sex relations and stroke down two sections in the penal code. In his seminal judgment, Justice Kirby said these sections served only to incentivize law enforcement agents to become keyhole peepers and intruders into the private space of citizens.

In this case one Letsweletse Motshidiemang, a homosexual had instituted an application in the High Court challenging the constitutionality of Sections 164 (a) and 164 (c).

Paying tribute to Justice Kirby, Justice Dingake said overall the Kirby court was restrained and brilliant in its genre of conservatism. Judge Dingake said the case of Motshidiemang is evidence of the latter. “In a stroke of a pen, he ended the long and tortuous road to equality of gay people.

I was reminded of this long and tortuous road by a piece written by, Zackie Achmat, that indefatigable human right defender, recently, when he reflected on a union of gay men, one Khoi and the other a Dutch sailor, way back in 1735, who for their love for each other were brutally murdered,” Justice Dingake said.

He said in truth Botswana’s Constitution never denied the right to equality for gay men. It was society and the judges who did – some arguing that the time is not right to extend equality rights to gay persons – forgetting the self-evident truth that we are all born equal and that rights are not negotiable – not even with Judges.

“It ought to be remembered that the Motshidiemang case was similar to the case of Kanani that preceded it. Justice Kirby was part of the panel that sat in Kanani. In Kanani he agreed with the other Justices and refused to strike down the offensive legislation. The same legislation he struck down in Motshidiemang.

There is no doubt in my mind that Kanani was wrongly decided at the time, as several of my writings thereafter contended, having regard to the legal injunction to always interpret constitutional rights liberally and to treat the constitution as a living organism,” Justice Dingake wrote.

He added that in Kanani the Court of Appeal held back “our march to freedom for more than a decade – and perpetuated the suffering of gay persons as their being was criminalized based on an inaccurate and narrow reading of the Constitution”.

The truth of the matter is that, he said, our Constitution never denied gay persons the rights to equality and the right not to be discriminated against. “Some sections of society (may be the majority) and the bench did so. The bench did so because of the choices they exercised.

They chose to interpret the constitution restrictively, which is not permissible; they chose to be blown away by ‘public opinion’, which was not right, and they chose not read: ‘sexual orientation’, into section 15 of the constitution, which they could have done.”

Botswana’s Constitution he said commands that it be interpreted in a manner that saves humanity from the scourge of indignity – and with a sense of the future – and to secure the rights of generations yet to be born. It is always the duty of Judges to breathe life into the Constitution – and to effect the promise of the Constitution – by among other things rejecting the tyranny of the majority.

“Section 3, the principal section conferring fundamental human rights in Botswana has always been there. It was ignored in Kanani, and thankfully given effect to in Motshidiemang.  A big lesson here is the often overlooked fact: Judges matter! Who the Judge is may be life changing in any given matter.

When one considers the decision in Kanani and Motshidiemang, based on similar facts and the diametrically opposed conclusions, one may be given to think that may be: ‘the constitution is what the Judges say it is’, at any given time, as that brilliant luminary judge and scholar, Charles Evans Hughes (1862 -1948) LLD, once ruminated.”

Interestingly, Judge Dingake wrote about homosexuality more than 12 years ago in his book ‘Key Aspects of the Constitutional Law of Botswana’. Justice Dingake expressed his views on what was said then to what was said in the recent judgment.

In that book, he began the debate by stating that homosexual issues are not frequently debate in Botswana. “Empirically, the extent of homosexual tendencies is not known. In any event the phenomenon does not appear to be widespread,” the Judge wrote.

He said serious debate however cropped up sometime around August 1995, after president Robert Mugabe’s much publicized anti homosexuals speech at the Harare International Book Show. Even then, he said, the debate was only confined to a small circle of intellectuals, with the broader community generally contemptuous and not willing to engage in serious debate about the issue.

“Although the intellectual community is by no means unanimous, there are some voices, particularly emanating from the University of Botswana, that are calling for equal treatment for homosexuals. Despite the enormous capacity of such arguments to court controversy general response of the public was one of cynicism. This general lack of interest among the general populace contrasts sharply with the enthusiasm and interest on the issue, just across the border, in South Africa, where there are numerous homosexual associations,” he said.

He explained that the South African Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which has paved the way for homosexuals to be employed in the army, an advance that is unparalleled in modern democracies. He also explained that Botswana’s criminal law prohibits consenting adults of the same sex from having a sexual relationship, because that is said to be unnatural.

“Within the framework of Botswana’s Constitution there can be no doubt that the prohibition of sexual relationships between consenting male adults of the same sex is unconstitutional. No free society can, in this era, afford to treat its citizens differently on the basis that is patently irrational.

Every individual, is in terms of the Constitution equal before law and has the right of equal benefit of the law without discrimination. The legal recognition of homosexuals will confirm Botswana as a democratic country that is advancing with time.”

He added that it needs to be said that it is however fruitless to bury “our heads in the sand and hope the issue will disappear for good”. He concluded: “In time we will have to confront the issue head on. In time blind prejudice that stigmatizes homosexual relationships will have to stand up to rational scrutiny. It is advisable not too turn a blind eye to the pain of discrimination suffered by few of our fellow countrymen and women. In a democracy it is unacceptable that the majority should oppress the minority”.

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Electricity prices could go up

11th January 2022
BERA CEO - Rose Seretse

Consumers could pay more for electricity this year, as the government owned power producer, Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) plans to increase prices for electricity by 5% with effect from the 1st of April 2022.

BPC recent statement on tariff adjustment shows that with the planned 5% increase in electricity tariffs, electricity prices per kWh could increase by 111 thebe for household users, 226 thebe for government, 148 thebe for commercial businesses and 111 thebe for the mining sector.

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Botswana GDP in upward trajectory as economy recovers

11th January 2022
Peggy Serame & President Masisi

Botswana economy is registering growth as the country emerges from one of its worsts economic recessions since independence, following the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.

In late December 2021 Statistics Botswana released the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures for the third quarter of 2021.

The nominal GDP for the third quarter of 2021 was P49, 260.5 million compared to P48, 684.0 million registered during the previous quarter. This represents a quarterly increase of 1.2 percent in nominal terms between the two periods.

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