Ntuane against awarding of big gov’t tenders to foreign companies
President Lt Gen Ian Khama publicly differed with the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Secretary General, Botsalo Ntuane at the party’s Special Congress as he defended government’s decision to continue awarding tenders to Chinese owned companies.
Following Khama’s speech announcing that government will draw funds from foreign reserves in a bid to stimulate the economy across various sectors, Ntuane later expressed concern that government was more charitable to foreign owned companies in awarding tenders at the expense of citizens.
Ntuane, a proponent of citizen economic empowerment, gave the example of the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, a foreign owned institution, where he said government is spending millions by sponsoring students to study at the institution, and the entire profit is taken offshore since locals do not have a stake in it. “For the Majority of these companies that set-up shop in Botswana, you cannot do business in their home countries if you don’t partner with locals,” stated Ntuane.
Ntuane is of the view that big projects should be joint ventures and also remarked that it is important that government ensures that Batswana assume centre stage in public procurement.
When responding to Ntuane’s remarks, Khama who admitted that he does not like differing with Ntuane publicly said government will not compel foreign owned companies to partner with citizens. “We are encouraging investors to come to Botswana,” he said.
Khama said opportunities have been availed to citizen owned companies but a lot of them continue to disappoint. “To what extent are we going to nurse them?” Khama asked rhetorically. “I do not want Batswana to ride on the back of the Chinese.”
Khama said Batswana should not be cry babies and have themselves to blame because even when preferential opportunities are given to them they don’t utilise them. Khama pointed out at a number of worrying instances where projects awarded to citizen contractors were abandoned before completion.
Khama however expressed concern with Chinese companies which come to Botswana and employ their nationals at the expense of the citizens. Khama said Chinese are welcome if they are going to create jobs for Batswana. “I know foreigners are complaining about permits but I am not here to create jobs for Chinese, but for Batswana.”
Ntuane who is clearly not a big fan of Chinese contractors has been consistent in his call for citizen empowerment. In 2011, as the Leader of Opposition, when responding to the Budget Speech, Ntuane pointed out that government preaches citizen economic empowerment, but it was obvious the rhetoric did not measure up to practice.
The former legislator then observed that citizen-owned contractors were collapsing at an alarming rate because the Chinese had taken over as he said the Chinese undertake every project of significance.
There has been a misgiving on the competence of Chinese companies and their ability to deliver big projects on budget and on time. A majority of big projects including the P11 Billion World Bank and African Development Bank funded Morupule B, were not able to be completed on time. This has also recently sparked some sort of diplomatic tensions between the two governments.
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 awarded the biggest tenders.
Members of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) constituent parties especially from Botswana Congress Party (BCP), have called on the leadership to hasten the “Democratisation of UDC” by adopting reforms and the new constitution.
A number of BCP MPs have expressed their displeasure with the transitional constitution and therefore want the NEC to put pedal to the metal and accelerate implementation of a democratic constitution which was agreed by congress in 2018.