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Botswana rejected two soft loans from China

Korea offered P30 billion to develop infrastructure

President Lt Gen Dr Ian Khama’s recent visit to South Korea could be the latest indication of a turbulent relationship between the government of Botswana and that of the People’s Republic of China. What could be a further sign of strain is the fact that Botswana has reportedly scoffed off Chinese soft loans.  


Chinese in Botswana this week celebrated 40 years of bilateral relations with Botswana, but it was apparent that amid the fanfare glossed with cultural night at Maitisong, the Chinese are deeply concerned at the state of affairs. Chinese companies have enjoyed a cosy relationship with the country’s procurement system but things have changed.


President Khama’s visit to South Korea resulted in a lot of undertakings and this could spell uncertainty for the China-Botswana relationship going forward. The Chinese are already experiencing problems in Botswana in the form of rejected work permits and VISA applications. Senior Chinese officials revealed this week that “we do not know what the problem could be.”


A litany of complaints, both from the Government of Botswana and on the other hand from the Chinese in recent years has created diplomatic strain between the two countries. Botswana is not happy with the quality of construction work by some Chinese companies and the country has lost billions of Pula is failed projects.


According to the Korean Times, a publication based in South Korea Khama has offered South Korean government US$2.6 billion (equivalent to P27.4 billion) to solve the power crisis which is besieging the country and also threatening the economy. Meanwhile a Chinese company is at the helm of the costly and failing Morupule B Power Plant.


Khama is also reported to have offered the South Koreans an opportunity to partner with Botswana government in development of other public infrastructure as part of the P27.4 billion worth of projects. Khama’s visit to South Korea also came in the wake of announcement of the Economic Stimulus Package (ESP) at the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Special Congress last month.


Khama’s gesture towards the South Koreans essentially means Botswana is now extending an olive branch to Koreans at the expense of long time partner in infrastructure development, China.


In 2013, Khama told South African publication, Business Day that Botswana has had bad experiences with Chinese companies and going forward Botswana will be looking very carefully at any company that originates from China in providing construction services of any nature.


Since the two countries established diplomatic relations, bilateral trade between the two countries has now reached over P300million.


The relationship between the two countries began to diminish in the last five years following failure by the Chinese to complete projects on time, and on budget. Of all the projects under question, the Morupule B, the P11 billion World Bank and African Development Bank funded projects and the Palapye Glass Project were the most contentious.


Khama has not hidden his disappointment with the turn of events as far as delivery of projects on time and on budget is concerned. This is succinctly described by his remarks in 2013 at Tlokweng addressing a Kgotla meeting, where he told attendants that, “Bagaetsho re jelwe…’’ meaning “We were sold a dummy.”


However, Khama recently defended the Chinese and other foreign owned companies from those who called to them to be compelled to partner with local companies in order to be awarded government tenders. Khama said he did not want a situation where the citizens will ride on the back of the Chinese and remarked that Chinese were welcome as long as they hire citizens.


Currently there are 16 Chinese State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) operating in Botswana, 13 of which are top construction companies, all of the construction contractors being ranked at the top grade granted by the PPADB. 


PPADB has a contractor grading ceiling in which companies are graded into different categories depending on the experience of the company, qualifications of its employees and equipments/assets the company has to determine the magnitude of tenders they can be awarded.


The threshold of tenders a company can be awarded falls under the following categories are; Grade OC (P1.5 million), Grade A (P4 million), Grade B (20 million), Grade C (P40 million), Grade D, (P85 million) while Grade E has an unlimited threshold. All the Chinese SOEs are grade at E, which means they are dominate most tenders worth over P85 million.


Information reaching this publication indicates that the Chinese government has proposed various projects to the Botswana government on how they could help Botswana to further strengthen her economy. Among the proposals was the setting up of a plant that converts coal into diesel.


WeekendPost inquiries have revealed that the Chinese government in recent times made offers of soft loans to Botswana in the form of interest-free or low-interest concessional loans. It is reported the Botswana government has shown little interest in taking up the offer to develop the country’s infrastructure.

Instead Botswana has turned to her foreign reserves and South Korean companies are likely to benefit.  Some Chinese officials who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity at the celebrations indicated that the offers will be passed on to other African states.


What emerges as the biggest concern for the Chinese is the continued rejection of their citizens when they apply for residence permits and or Botswana Visas. On average it has emerged that China offers 3500 Visas to Botswana citizens annually with a turnaround time of two days. But Botswana issues less than 100 annually, and the Chinese may wait for months to have theirs approved.

A Chinese national who spoke on condition of anonymity at the celebrations at Maitisong recounted a story of her his neghbours, a couple who had a toddler daughter. He said they had applied for residence’ permits only for both parents to be rejected and only the toddler permit was approved. He said they have since gone back to China. 

The Chinese are confused they are never certain if they are guaranteed a tomorrow in Botswana, and the potential Chinese investors are almost next to nil because of the current situation with VISAS and permits.

THE VISA, PERMITS PROBLEM IS FAR REACHING

However the Chinese are not the only one crying foul over the matter as a number of key stakeholders, including Botswana Investment Trade Centre (BITC) and Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HAATAB) has over time complained of unexplained rejections of foreign entrepreneurs and tourist VISAs and work permits.
 
Earlier this year the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was told that, reports indicate that an estimated P4 billion was lost by the country on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the past year alone, and said the practice could hurt the country’s economy and reverse its gains.

This publication has established that earlier this year, an Indian billionaire and his 60 entourage all had their VISAs but was rejected by the immigration department. It is reported that the billionaire, who’s linked to one of the former presidents and is into diamond business had plans to invest in Botswana.


Reports have been rife that the VISA situation has been aggravated by interference by Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DIS) which is being blamed for rejecting applications supposedly for security reasons.


Former President, Festus Mogae has expressed his frustrations at the rate at which Botswana is expelling foreign nationals as he noted that it is self defeating for a country like Botswana which needs skilled professionals and foreign investors.


Businessman and legislator, Guma Moyo has also expressed concern at the sudden exchange of Botswana’s policy towards foreign nationals. “There is chaos at immigration regarding work permits and VISAs,” Moyo told PAC earlier this year. “It is creating a negative impact and countries like India are beginning to think Botswana is a no go area for business.


Part of the problem to the economy has been uncertainty that foreign investors face in Botswana. WeekendPost has been told that investors are not willing to put their money into a country where they are not certain whether they will be here tomorrow or not, hence opting to look elsewhere.

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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