Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) Managing Director, Bashi Gaetsaloe’s drive to push the Corporation to profitability and eliminate unworthy investments may come down hard on small investors in the BDC portfolio.
Government’s investment arm is said to be on mission to push out its partnering company at Talana Farms with the view of establishing new partnership with a new partner who has financial muscle.
WeekendPost has been availed with information indicating that Botalana Farms, which jointly operates Talana Farms with BDC has had a troublesome relationship with BDC as the horticultural project continues to struggle. Despite the project showing a promising sign, heavy rains in the past few years soured the relationship between BDC and Botalana Ventures, as the farm suffered financial difficulties.
BDC has been operating Talana Farms jointly with Botalana Ventures since 2006 and the two entities had enjoyed what looked like a breakthrough for Botswana’s horticultural produce sufficiency. Talana Farms’ General Manager, Jan Willemse, revealed in the past that for future growth the farm was targeting the South African and Namibian market for their produce.
The bone of contention however in the last few years has been the BDC’s unwillingness to put more capital into the project to increase production and even rescue the business from unforeseen fates like the floods which occasionally destroy crops and other produce.
Close sources at BDC have revealed to this publication that, occasionally when BDC puts in capital to rescue the project, it demands Botalana Ventures, as its partner to repay part of what it put towards the projects, regardless of whether the farm recovered the money or not. But observers say as business, BDC has every right to make such demands because it has invested.
Sources also revealed that in the last few years, BDC has been sceptical about pumping more money into the project, and if it offers incentive, it does so with “unrealistic demands” on the conditions put on offer.
Informants inside BDC indicate that, the government owned entity holds the view that it has not benefited from the partnership, as it is forced to pump money onto projects, while the farm is struggling to raise the money.
In April 2014, BDC announced the appointment of Bashi Gaetsaloe as the new Managing Director, taking over from Maria Nthebolan, who had resigned a year earlier. The appointment of the new Managing Director saw BDC adopting transformations under the new BDC business model which places more focus on minimizing risks. The arrival of Gaetsaloe has however not changed the perception of the corporation towards the feasibility of Talana Farms under the current partnership.
According to sources, the major concern with regard to Talana Farms’ produce is inability to sell in Botswana as local retailers prefers cheaper produce from neighbouring South Africa which are not necessarily of good quality when compared to Talana Farms produce. Retailers are the biggest buyers of horticultural produce in Botswana.
This publication has also been furnished with information to the effect that, one of the leading local retail giants is said to have expressed desires to take over Talana Farms, and operate it either jointly with BDC, or solely.
BDC Head of Marketing Communications Boitswarelo Lebang could not divulge information to the publication regarding the current relationship between BDC and Botalana Venutres. “This information is confidential between BDC and our joint venture partner,” she said.
“What we can confirm is that BDC insists that all its projects and joint venture companies operate on a sustainable and commercially viable basis,” she added.
The BDC spokesperson could also not confirm nor deny that BDC is courting Choppies Group to establish a new partnership to operate the farm and noted that the information around discussion of such matters is strictly confidential.
“BDC insists that all its projects and joint venture companies operate on a sustainable and commercially viable basis. If achieving this goals means that the project / JV Company seeks assistance financial or technical from third parties then this is welcome as long as it is done within the scope of our agreement with our JV partner,” she explained.
Lebang said Botalana Ventures is an important and major producer of fresh produce to the local market. She noted that the fact that Botswana is still importing up to 80% of horticultural produce from South Africa presents a significant opportunity for both Botalana and other local Batswana farmers to step up and fill this demand.
Botalana Ventures Managing Director, who is based fulltime at the farm, could not be reached for comment at the time of going to press.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.