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Tenderpreneurship – A corruption initiation

For six of my eight years as an entrepreneur I had combined estate agency, business development training, and tenderpreneurship under one company. Eventually I exited tenderpreneurship because of its unsustainability coupled with the unsavoury nature of such business. I say it is unsustainable due to its erratic short-lived, measly earnings, and unsavoury due to rampant bribery and corruption among both suppliers and the purchasing officers.

Tenderpreneurship, as I understand it, involves a business dealing and surviving on tender and quotation bids, through supply of either services or products, mainly to government departments. Services vary from construction, engineering, and various forms of consultancy, all of which require specialised skills and training whereas products are the tangibles ranging from stationary, machinery food, and various chemicals.

It follows therefore that the higher the skills required for any business undertaking, the higher the value and returns from such tender. And for sure the higher the expected returns the high the level of corruption dealings, and the higher the officials involved.

In this article we look as tenderpreneurship at goods supply level. Tenderpreneurship at goods supplies level is the easiest and less capital intensive business start-up to venture into and it is the level at which many of those who play in the upper league of high value businesses have started. Because of the ease of entry into this business, there has been increasing competition in the last few years due to the escalating youth unemployment and the laying off of employees by some organization.

To start, one must register either a company or a business with the Registrar of Companies and have funds to open and maintain an office for at least two months, open a bank account, apply for a trade license as a Supplies Agent (SA), acquire a Tax Clearance Certificate from BURS, and eventually register with the PPADB.

Other items required include a computer with a fax/printer machine, a small table and chair, telephone/fax line. Most furniture and machinery can be acquired at public auctions or borrowed from friends and relatives to cut costs. A car is a luxury to add some efficiency and a feel of professionalism, even though many do start without even a bicycle.

Many Batswana, especially the youth, open up offices across the country to run businesses as tenderpreneurs, specifically licensed as SA, supplying various items to government department offices in an attempt to gain a living and shake themselves up from slipping into destitution.

Since the government is both the biggest employer and consumer of many items such as office machinery, stationary, cleaning chemicals, food, and many items, the supplies business thus forms the core undertaking and main income generator for the businesses as many of their owner-directors do not possess any special technical skills to do anything else.

A few, like ourselves then, do survive on tenders, which are on a one year fixed-term contracts won by satisfying all requirements of an invitation to tender (ITT) before final selection is based on price competitiveness.  Given that it would be a blow on efficiency and effectiveness for government employees to run around sourcing these from manufacturers and distributors.

This therefore provides an opportunity to Batswana, especially the youth to fill the gap by bringing such goods and services to government offices’ doorsteps and adding a little mark-up to the buying price to make some profit. Depending on the length of service required, in case of tenders, and the mark-up earned, one could earn a decent survival for some time. Those who may graduate to an upper level may even use a friends’ qualifications, experience, and machinery to register with the PPADB as providers of services that require technical skills.

Almost all of the SAs toil on a daily basis to earn an opportunity to supply one item or another through quotations done upon invitation to quote (ITQ). For an ITQ a government department Supplies Officer would select at least four companies from the usually long list of registered suppliers and issue out an ITQ against which the companies have to competitively bid mainly on price in order to gain an opportunity to supply.

Those who aggressively market do move from office to office in search of ITQ whereas the well-connected get them ITQs faxed to their offices, probably followed by coaching on how to do the pricing. Unlike ITQ on which a decision to award is mostly done by one Supplies Officer (SO), tenders are to a large extent fair and transparent as they are adjudicated by a panel of more than two persons. It takes a really well-connected and loaded person to motivate a panel of tender adjudicators in one’s favour, and that happens when the returns are really good.

Unfortunately, the same suppliers/distributors/manufacturers from which the SA buy their products are also allowed, without restrictions, to bid and compete with their supposed clients for the same customer; government. This result with the SA losing out to the suppliers/distributors/manufacturers who cut their bid prices further lower than what they quoted the SA. Interestingly, over the years this has not been a concern to any of government ministers and officials whereas it is one of the factors that pressure SAs to be involved in underhand dealings.

This supply business behaves like a wild beast running whilst slowly being eaten away by wild dogs because of the slow build-up of costs during their lifespan up to a point where the proprietor runs into a brick wall of financial burdens. As indicated, within government service and product are acquired based on price rather than quality.

While a lot many young Batswana continue to open offices across the country, there are serious cost areas that slowly knock holes into the proprietor’s business until such time the undertaking is fully submerged in financial challenges, resulting with closure of such venture and even threat of litigation by BURS. Nowadays, it is an open secret that to gain a competitive edge over other businesses one has to be well-connected with government Supplies Officers.

Many of them SAs either have to part with at least 5% of the invoice amount, reserved in advance to pay the opportunity to supply or have a close acquaintance who would allow them to use multiple companies, sometime borrowed from friends, for submission of their bid.

Depending on a proprietor’s willingness to ‘oil officer’s hands’ they could get as many as five purchase orders at a time, which would assure them of their continued survival in the jungle for next few months. However, this continued practice eventually kills a good man’s conscience. As for women, add their nature’s blessing to their competitive advantage – I’m stating a fact as it is herein.

Despite the small intake volumes by these government departments, the stiff competition on price forces many of the suppliers to add slim mark-up on the buying price of their supplies in order to gain a competitive edge over others.  In doing so many fail to take into consideration other operational costs such as rent, transport, handling labour, and time. An addition to these costs is the deliberate delays of payments by government revenue officers, probably due to their determination to earn their share of proceeds like the Supplies Officer.

There is also scarcity of opportunities due to fact that a company name may be given only one opportunity in a long time to bid and/or supply which many of the businesses attempt to circumvent by the either the use of multiple company names to bid or the ‘greasing of hands’. It therefore follows that so long as there is inflow of cashflow, from supply of quotations or a tender, the proprietor gets shield from the pain of holes being punched by operational costs into their businesses. The proprietor would play a cost-shifting game up until such cumulative costs hit the heart of the business.

Eventually, this type of business fails to pay rent, tax, VAT, and staff. Unless the proprietor is wise enough to diversify from this business while they still are valid on the market and have the opportunity, one would be forced to close down and even play hide-and-seek with BURS.

On the other hand, recently for some few days the Botswana Vice President, Rre Masisi, has been trying explain to the nation his key role in creating employment through partnership with the private sector. Well, I would be a little impressed if he could openly appreciate the importance of tenderpreneurship in job creation among the youth and start getting his government to address the challenges faced by those who venture into this business.

My big concern is that so long as government continues to ignore quality in preference price competitiveness as well as fail to categorise supply businesses so that small tenders are reserved for these tenderpreneurs, there would be uncontrollable levels of corruption within the business community. The country will continue to breed corrupt tenderpreneurs who would one way or the other find their ways into key positions within both the ruling and opposition parties thus resulting with a complete corrupt government, be it current or future. Eventually, Botswana will be like any other African country.

Omongwe Samuel Ramakoba
Managing Director
Volksplek Botswana (PTY) Ltd (Estate Agents, Business Development Trainers)
Tel. +267 72307505
Facebook: Omongwe-Samuel Ramakoba

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The Taiwan Question: China ramps up military exercises to rebuff US provocations

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosi’s actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as ‘international waters’.

Pelosi’s visit to China’s Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqués.  In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

To give context to China’s position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.

The People’s Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been  the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades — first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwan’s administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.

However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials – this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Biden’s words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan – another statement that has provoked China.

Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region.  The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as “Taiwan independence”.  The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: “The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”  Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?

As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for China’s People’s Liberation Army to “safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests”. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to “prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard China’s overseas investments, projects and personnel.  It then follows that President Xi’s administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part.” Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.

The People’s Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, “We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces.” This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.

Beijing’s military exercises will certainly shake Taiwan’s confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support Taiwan’s central role in global technology supply chains. Should a humanitarian situation arise in Taiwan, the blame would squarely be on the US.

As China’s military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit China’s Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to “Taiwan independence” separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie

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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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