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.
While there is no hard-and-fast rule in politics, former Molepolole North Member of Parliament, Mohamed Khan says populism acts in the body politic have forced him to quit active partisan politics. He brands this ancient ascription of politics as fake and says it lowers the moral compass of the society.
Khan who finally tasted political victory in the 2014 elections after numerous failed attempts, has decided to leave the ‘dirty game’, and on his way out he characteristically lashed at the current political leaders; including his own party president, Advocate Duma Boko. “I arrived at this decision because I have noticed that there are no genuine politics and politicians. The current leaders, Boko and President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi are fake politicians who are just practicing populist politics to feed their egos,” he said.
Former Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) parliamentary hopeful, Lawrence Ookeditse has rejected the idea of taking up a crucial role in the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) Central Committee following his arrival in the party this week. According to sources close to development, BPF power brokers are coaxing Ookeditse to take up the secretary general position, left vacant by death of Roseline Panzirah-Matshome in November 2020.
Ookeditse’s arrival at BPF is projected to cause conflicts, as some believe they are being overlooked, in favour of a new arrival. The former ruling party strategist has however ruled out the possibility of serving in the party central committee as secretary general, and committed that he will turn down the overture if availed to him by party leadership.
Ookeditse, nevertheless, has indicated that if offered another opportunity to serve in a different capacity, he will gladly accept. “I still need to learn the party, how it functions and all its structures; I must be guided, but given any responsibility I will serve the party as long as it is not the SG position.”
“I joined the BPF with a clear conscious, to further advance my voice and the interests of the constituents of Nata/Gweta which I believe the BDP is no longer capable to execute.” Ookeditse speaks of abject poverty in his constituency and prevalent unemployment among the youth, issues he hopes his new home will prioritise.
He dismissed further allegations that he resigned from the BDP because he was not rewarded for his efforts towards the 2019 general elections. After losing in the BDP primaries in 2018, Ookeditse said, he was offered a job in government but declined to take the post due to his political ambitions. Ookeditse stated that he rejected the offer because, working for government clashed with his political journey.
He insists there are many activists who are more deserving than him; he could have chosen to take up the opportunity that was before him but his conscious for the entire populace’s wellbeing held him back. Ookeditse said there many people in the party who also contributed towards party success, asserting that he only left the BDP because he was concerned about the greater good of the majority not individualism purposes.
According to observers, Ookeditse has been enticed by the prospects of contesting Nata/Gweta constituency in the 2024 general election, following the party’s impressive performance in the last general elections. Nata/Gweta which is a traditional BDP stronghold saw its numbers shrinking to a margin of 1568. BDP represented by Polson Majaga garnered 4754, while BPF which had fielded Joe Linga received 3186 with UDC coming a distant with 1442 votes.
There are reports that Linga will pave way for Ookeditse to contest the constituency in 2024 and the latter is upbeat about the prospects of being elected to parliament. Despite Ookeditse dismissing reports that he is eying the secretary general position, insiders argue that the position will be availed to him nevertheless.
Alternative favourite for the position is Vuyo Notha who is the party Deputy Secretary General. Notha has since assumed duties of the secretariat office on the interim basis. BPF politburo is expected to meet on 25th of January 2020, where the vacancy will be filled.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) big wigs have decided to cancel a retreat with the party legislators this weekend owing to increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases. The meeting was billed for this weekend at a place that was to be confirmed, however a communique from the party this past Tuesday reversed the highly anticipated meeting.
“We received a communication this week that the meeting will not go as planned because of rapid spread of Covid-19,” one member of the party Central Committee confirmed to this publication. The gathering was to follow the first of its kind held late last year at party Treasurer Satar Dada’s place.