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Of anti-business rhetoric…

Poor state of projects: Who is to blame?

Over the past few weeks there have been reports in the media of the negative comments made by Ministers targeting Foreign owned companies and other worrisome ‘anti-business’ comments.

Leading the pack is the litany of complaints against some Chinese companies, particularly in the construction sector for their poor performance in executing some Government projects. Quite rightly we have reasons to complain after all they left behind unfinished projects, shoddy construction works and other failed projects that cost the nation greatly. But I am surprised that we are focusing so much anger and venom only against the construction companies. Let me explain my thinking.

For every construction, engineering, civil, building or any such project there are steps that need to be followed. Firstly, we all have to make up designs and draw up plans; this requires the expertise of the likes of architects, engineers, quantity surveyors and all sorts of other professional people depending on the complexity of the project. Thereafter the normal procedure is for the plans to be approved, tenders floated and the usual process of awarding etc.

But here is where the crux of my argument comes in: before construction starts we employ those consultants to oversee the project implementation. It is a requirement that these people inspect every stage of the construction, from the siting, digging the foundation, slab level, and all the in-between stages and finally to completion and hand over stage.

Depending on the terms of the contract there are stages at which the contractor submits a claim for payment for the works done so far. It is the responsibility of these professional consultants that WE employ to oversee the project, to inspect and pay regular site visits to ensure that the works carried and the materials used have been according to specifications.

ONLY IF OUR CONSULTANTS overseeing the project are happy that the work complies with the standards, specifications, quality and workmanship will they sign a certificate for the contractor to use to submit a claim for payment.    

The contractor cannot and will not be paid if there is no accompanying certificate of completion after various construction phases. Now what surprises me in some cases is that ONLY AFTER completion and handover, AFTER we have FULLY paid the contractor do the problems surface. We complain of the poor quality of the workmanship, the quality of material used and other such examples of the unfinished projects that we have witnessed of late.  

It is not only the construction companies who should be taking the blame, as the saying goes ‘it takes two to tango’. Why are we not blaming those individuals and companies who oversaw the Government projects or even naming and shaming them. Why don’t we investigate deeper? Who signed on the bottom line?   

Has anyone been held responsible for their negligence in carrying out their duties in the oversight of these projects? Why blame only the construction companies without even looking at the failings of our ‘employed’ professionals who did not or failed to monitor those projects?

Now we are talking of closing Chinese shops, after granting them trading licences. What law are we going to use to do that? Very easy, we use tactics like refusing to renew their permits, cancel and withdraw them, or even as is now happening, approve the husband’s permit and reject the wife’s, or vice versa.

Delay the renewals, I know some who are waiting for over seven months, they have to make the monthly trek to Immigration for a 30 day extension! The effects of rejection and cancellation of permits is so widespread countrywide that many investors are now thinking of relocating to options elsewhere.

In Francistown a building complex worth millions was completed over three years ago and is still standing unoccupied and vacant…the Chinese were never allowed to open the ‘China Town’ mall for trade.

Closing these foreign owned businesses will destroy Francistown’s economy. Our local economy relies heavily on cross-border Zimbabwean trade. Hundreds of Zimbabwean shoppers come here to do their shopping and spend a considerable amount of money in our town.

Should you close these shops, the whole of Haskin’s Street will be shut down and so will a part of Blue Jacket Street. What about the landlords who will have vacant premises with no rental income? What about the massive unemployment as a result of the shut downs? The mines around Francistown are going through a trying period with talk of some of them shutting down…more unemployment.

Do we realise that China is now a major player in the world economy? They are part of the grouping called BRICS, (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). They are about to launch a Development Bank like the IMF and World Bank. Should we need development funds in the future will we be comfortable to go begging because of our ‘soured’ relations with China, a major contributor to this bank? With these anti-foreigner sentiments being expressed against foreign owned businesses we are unwittingly sowing the seeds and beginning to fan the flames of xenophobia and racism. Today it is them, which nationality is next in line?

We now hear of a Minister’s intention to compel major South African clothing stores not be allowed to open in malls unless they have citizen partners. Be serious guys. Every mall relies on anchor tenants, so if we refuse to licence these major stores, premises will remain vacant. This could prove to be a major disincentive for future property / mall development. Already there is talk of a glut in the market as a result there is an oversupply of retail space…so we want to add to the problem? These companies are worth multi-millions of Pula, which Motswana has the money to buy a share in them? Unless…

If we so desperately want to hold shares in them, why don’t we encourage Batswana to buy their shares on the JSE stock exchange? Many of these companies have been listed publicly, so who is stopping us from buying those shares on the stock exchange?

The United States is a world power, and it has developed to this level because it opened its doors to the people of the world as the land of opportunity. Here we tend to chase away any investor despite the use of the so-called ‘points based system’ which is supposed to ‘vet’ investors.

Give this a thought: the developers of Microsoft and many other computer applications and systems started their experiments and development stages in their backyard garages, store rooms and even in their homes, with little more than a few dollars in their pocket. Today they are known worldwide and their businesses are worth multi- billions of dollars.

I am sure had they been starting out in Botswana, we would have had their permits turned down and asked them to leave because they did not meet the investment / qualification criteria of the ‘points based system’. Businesses are not only founded through ‘money’, it is about ideas, experience, hard work and an open mind.

Think about it.

What we don’t realise is that in the business world when you create uncertainty in the business climate you create a domino effect. This effect ripples throughout the business community as they begin to question their future investments going forward. There is a marked deterioration in business confidence right now and this can translate into negative economic growth.

I am raising these questions because we seem to be blinded by our anger and embarrassment and pinning the blame onto anything that moves, rather than identifying the real problem areas. We should get away from knee jerk reactions, we need to step back, think logically and broadly, lest we shoot ourselves on the other foot in an effort to ‘get even’ with others.

Today we are fortunate to have diamonds to drive our economy, but remember that tomorrow, when they are gone, we will have no economy to drive us.

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Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world.  By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy.  But the people of Ukraine are resilient.

They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world.  The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country.  By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.

When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.

United in Our Response

This will not end well for Vladimir Putin.  Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable.  As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.

President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.  After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.

Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.

By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime.  In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.

We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military.  We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy.  And we are prepared to do more.

In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.

We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies.  President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.

He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks:  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.  Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense.  There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world:  NATO is more united than ever.

The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies.  We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time.  He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border.  He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.

He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.

Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do.  We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas.  We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine.  We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.

Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there.  We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.

And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law.  Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine.  Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.

We have been transparent with the world.  We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up.  Putin is the aggressor.  Putin chose this war.  And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed.  In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity.  We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.

Putin has failed to divide us.  Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies.  And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.

The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine.  Putin has unleashed great suffering on them.  But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.

The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically.  The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.

Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression.  In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake:  Freedom will prevail.

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