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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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No end in sight for Nam, Botswana borderline feud

27th July 2021
Namibian-report

Despite the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and his Namibian counterpart, Hage Geingob giving an impression that the borderline security disputes are a thing of the past and that diplomatic ties remain tight, fresh developments from Namibia suggest otherwise, following Geingod’s close confidante’s attack on Botswana and its army.

Giving a Zambezi region state of the affairs last week, a Geingob-appointed governor of Zambezi region, Colonel Lawrence Ampofu, a retired Colonel in the Namibian Defence Force, former plan combatant during the liberation struggle of Namibia, in a written speech, charged at the BDF and condemned their killings of the Namibians as unacceptable.

“The security situation within our borders remains calm. The incidence of the Botswana Defence Force shootings and wanton killings on the Nchindo Brothers on 05 November 2020 and other 37 Namibian lives lost since independence remain a serious challenge with our neighbor, Botswana.

Our residents living along the Chobe, Linyanti and Kwandu rivers are living under constant threats, harassment, fear, intimidation and killings and such activities are condemned and not acceptable,” he said under the safety and security title.

The attack suggests that Namibia has not bought Botswana’s story. Ampofu was part of the entourage that accompanied Geingob to the three Nchindo brothers and their cousin who were gunned down by the BDF, and is reported to be privy to the details of the unpublished Botswana-Namibia joint investigations report about the killings as a governor or political head of the region which has eight electoral constituencies.

The report contains the sensitive details of how the three Namibians referred as poachers by the BDF – and Fisherman by the Namibian government were gunned down on 5 November last year along the Chobe River.  They were Tommy (48), Martin (40) and Wamunyima Nchindo (36), and their cousin Sinvula Muyeme (44).

His views are not really in contrast to his President’s views who also described the BDF as trigger happy in a scripted report to his cabinet.

The Zambezi region is located in the extreme north east part of Namibia and covers a total of 14,667.6 square kilometres. “We share borders with Angola, Zambia to the north, Zimbabwe to the east and Botswana to the South,” he said.

Sampofu was first appointed governor of the former Caprive Region in 2010 by the former Namibian president, Hifikepunye Pohamba and was reappointed as Zambezi governor by President Dr.Hage Geingob in 2015, a term running to 2025.

37 Namibia residents killed by Botswana army so far

Sampofu is a man who continues to insist that Botswana has killed 37 residents of his region. A video posted by the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) shows him alleging that at least 37 Namibians were killed by the BDF, after he met with the community at Impalila.

“It is true, the BDF started long ago. As we speak 37 lives have been lost here in Impalila along the Chobe river going to Linyanti and Kwado rivers up to Lizauli. All those families lost their loved ones,” Ampofu said in the video posted by NBC.

It is not known how the BDF, which has maintained their position that the Namibians were engaging in illegal activities of poaching, treats the constant attacks by the Namibian authorities, but they have repeatedly vowed to continue protecting the country’s sovereignty and natural resources.

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Masisi gives KBL the “middle finger”

27th July 2021
President Masisi

Botswana’s premier brewer and leading distributor of beer, Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL), this month dragged the government of Botswana to court after President Mokgweetsi Masisi imposed an alcohol ban with immediate effect. KBL labelled the decision as unjustifiable, irrational and that it overrides the rights that are enshrined in the constitution.

This week, Masisi through attorneys representing the government disparaged the case in his written affidavit of KBL’s application, referring to it as frivolous and that it ought to be dismissed with costs on a punitive scale.

In his court papers, Masisi reminded KBL that Botswana is a Republic whose laws find validity from the constitution, and in terms of Section 17 of the constitution the President is empowered to declare a State of Emergency and that it is a common cause that Botswana is under such state.

“It is common course that there is in existence emergency powers (Covid-19) Regulations 2020 as amended from time to time which is solely designed to regulate the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

Masisi pointed out that he denies that the application before Court is proper such as to challenge the lawfulness and validity of a regulation made and a notice published in the exercise of a legislative function in accordance with the Emergency Powers Act which empowers the President to make regulations as appear to him to be necessary and expedient for securing public safety.

Furthermore, the President revealed that the decision to ban alcohol sales was not arrived at willy-nilly, but rather that there had been careful considerations that the risks posed by Covid-19 had increased and therefore it was expedient and necessary to suspend all liquor licenses.

Moreover, Masisi denied that the decision to reinstate the ban should be made by the Director of Health Services as indicated by KBL in their nature of the application, “the Director is to cause the notice to be published in the Gazette after consultation with the President.”

Masisi indicated that the role of the Director of Health Services is to publish a regulation made by the President.

He further, reminded KBL that the power to make regulations in a State of Public Emergency in accordance with the EPA lies with the President, “such power includes the amendment of any enactment, suspending the operation of any enactment or modification of an enactment.”

According to Masisi, his decision to ban alcohol sales was based on evidence provided by the Director of Health Services who indicated to him that there was a sudden spike in the transmission of the Covid-19 virus following the reinstatement of liquor licenses.

Another piece of advice tendered by the Director of Health to Masisi was that bars and other liquor outlets were some of the major hotspots in the sense of such being high-risk areas at which the virus spread rapidly.

“Alcohol was one of the major causes of non-compliance with the health protocols that were put in place to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Further, there was an indication that more arrests were made on people failing to adhere to Covid-19 protocols more particularly at places where there were gatherings,” he contended.

He pointed out that therefore, it was expedient and or necessary to preserve lives and to reduce the risks of transmissions of the virus to reinstate the suspension of liquor licenses.

Moreover, the President says that it must be noted that he avers that the Director of Health Services is a credible source on matters of public health of which he also accordingly gave due weight to the Director’s advice on deciding to reinstate the ban through the impugned notice.

“I am aware and was always aware at the time of promulgating the regulation complained of that it shall negatively affect some sectors of the economy. However, after due consideration and receipt of advice, I decided to give priority to the safety and health of the nation,” Masisi said.

He presaged KBL that it would not be prudent and in the best interest of the nation to ignore a health emergency such as Covid-19 and gave preference to trading and making of profits by the applicant. “The results would only be catastrophic to the extent that when we emerge from the scourge we would be left with a depleted and ailing nation from Covid-19 and its side effects.”

Furthermore, his written affidavit further pointed out that the decision to reinstate the ban on alcohol was taken notwithstanding understanding and appreciation of the economic hardships that would befall the country.

However, he said he deliberately made the decision based on the evidence provided to him by the Director of Health, whose evidence he believes to be credible to give public/safety and health priority over economic considerations in some sectors.

In making the decision, Masisi states that he was and considered different options including allowing for sale of alcohol consumption off premises, however the evidence he had been provided with suggested that such other alternatives would not achieve the overall objective of securing public safety and health by reducing the risk of the spread of the virus.

“By the time I imposed the ban, alcohol was already being sold for consumption off-premises. This did not work. The information provided to me by the Director and the Presidential Task-Force team demonstrated that consumers purchased alcohol and then loitered and consumed it within the peripheries of bars and other liquor outlets,” he said.

Attached to the affidavit as emphasis, were photographs and videos of Gaborone West, Phase 4 in mid-June 2021, which he explains circulated on social media and was brought to his attention.

“I need not say much about the photos as they depict a crowd exceeding 50 gathered at the parking area of a bar. There is little or no regard to Covid-19 protocols. It was clear to me and my advisors, including the Director of Health Services and members of the Presidential Task-Force team that the total ban of alcohol was necessary to manage the risk of increase in infections, to understand what seems to have led to an increase in the risk of infection when alcohol is present I was advised by the Presidential Task-Force team that scientifically there has been evidence that alcohol narrows physical distance,” he argued.

Masisi says that allegations made by KBL are serious allegations of infringement of fundamental rights yet they fail to state how imposition and reinstatement of the suspension of liquor licenses out of necessity and expediency of the health of the nation infringes on the rights as alleged.

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Gov’t gives parallel statements on COVAX

27th July 2021
COVAX---lelatisitswe

In  an embarrassing turn of events that depicts disintegration in government communication on the fight against COVID-19, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and Assistant Minister of Health & Wellness, Sethomo Lelatisitswe gave two conflicting statements on the same matter, same day, just minutes apart.

The Commander-in-Chef told health practitioners and residents in Ramotswa that the COVAX facility has scammed African countries after billions were paid in a crowd funding effort to procure COVID-19 vaccines in bulk.

“We have pumped money as developing countries of the African continent into the COVAX Facility but the returns were not satisfactory, they cheated us,” the President said in Ramotswa.

According to President Masisi, the COVAX facility Vaccine only came in bits and pieces, frustrating the continent ‘s head immunity targets amid rapidly spreading Delta Variant which is currently reversing all progress made by Africa in containing the contagious virus.

“What we are getting is very small portions of the vaccine, they keep telling us that there is shortage of supply, this is not fair, but we have paid in advance, however what can we do, we have no choice but to spend more  money and look for other avenues of securing other available vaccines,” he said.

Meanwhile in Gaborone, Assistant Minister of Health and Wellness told Parliament that vaccine from COVAX facility is anchoring Botswana’s vaccination program.

“I am not aware of such information that COVAX facility is not delivering as expected, we are actually bolstered by COVAX facility in this country,” he said responding to a question from Mahalapye West Member of Parliament David Tshere who is also Chairman of Parliament Committee On Health and HIV/AIDS.

“We have received doses as ordered from the COVAX facility, and we are still receiving more, I have not seen that information which is purported to have been revealed by the President, unless its new information, we as the Ministry we are not aware of any frustrations by the COVAX facility,” he said.

COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi and the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside key delivery partner UNICEF.

Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.

The facility is a global coalition that works to ensure fair and equitable access of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. So far, 190 countries have joined the COVAX initiative, including all 22 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.

The COVAX Facility aims to have 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines available for distribution across the globe by the end of 2021, targeting those most at risk (e.g. frontline health workers) and most vulnerable severe diseases and death (e.g. elderly and people with co-morbidities).

On other vaccination issues President Masisi revealed, still in Greater Gaborone vaccination centre visits, that Botswana has placed orders with Pfizer, a United States vaccine producer noting that they have promised to deliver next year.

Meanwhile, government kick-started phase two of the Covid-19 vaccination program this week, opening up for ages between 30 and 54.

President Masisi revealed that this was done because some elderly were reluctant to be inculcated.

“We can’t take forever trying to convince people to take vaccine, we moved to the next age segments because we cannot afford to have vaccines-which are already in shortage supply to just lie there,” he said.

On Friday, Ministry of Health revealed that it was receiving large numbers of people below the age of 55 lining up to be vaccinated.

In a statement the Ministry of Health said it, “acknowledges the huge turnout that marked the commencement of the Phase two COVID-19 vaccination program”.

Given this high turnout, especially in the Greater Gaborone region, the ministry announced an extension of operation hours in order to serve the huge crowds that had come for vaccination.

Of the nearly 85 000 doses that were being doled across the country as first doses, the majority of the Greater Gaborone vaccination sites were already getting depleted by 1800hrs on 22 July 2021.

As a result of this development, the ministry took a decision to discontinue the extended hours of operation announced yesterday for vaccination sites in Gaborone.

This means that vaccination sites in Gaborone and elsewhere in the country which still have some vaccines, will offer them in the normal working hours and days of the week.

The Ministry says it appreciates the great desire to be vaccinated shown by thousands of citizens and residents of this country and wishes to assure them that it will continue to expedite their vaccination every time vaccines become available. As has been communicated in various fora, more vaccines are expected in August 2021.

As at July 2021, Botswana has so far received 62, 400 doses of AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD bought through the Covax facility, 30,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine donated by the Republic of India, 19, 890 doses of the Pfizer vaccine bought through the COVAX facility, 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine, donated by the Peoples Republic of China and another 200, 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine bought through bilateral negotiations with Sinovac company in China.

“We encourage Batswana to remain hopeful that although it’s taking longer than anticipated, enough COVID-19 vaccines will eventually arrive in our country. We urge them to always strictly abide by all COVID-19 protocols so that they protect themselves and others from this deadly virus,” the ministry said.

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