Residents of the Khwai Settlement about 130 kilometers outside Maun, have been told to lease their concession area to Wilderness Safaris or risk having their Trust dissolved.
Khwai Development Trust (KDT) is worried that the Botswana Tourism Organization (BTO), formerly Botswana Tourism Board (BTB), is helping to push through the deal done without regard to the implications it has for the future of the Khwai Community.
This emerged after the KDT Board of trustees refused to sign a Memorandum of Agreement for a joint venture partnership with Soren Lindstrom Safaris (SLS) PTY (LTD), on the basis that they didn’t know what was contained in the proposed agreement.
Before the board stated that rejection of the deal, BTO Business Development Officer, Bigani Setume, had presented about four comprehensive documents which she stated were each part of the main agreement.
Speaking at the Khwai kgotla last Thursday, Setume said, “As you would all recall, today’s signing ceremony is the culmination of our close to a year period of engagement on various issues, including issuing and assessment of tenders, which as the community you ultimately decided who you wanted.” “I also have the pleasure to introduce to you Mr Grant Woodrow, Managing Director of Wilderness Safaris, who happens to be majority shareholders in the SLS and will therefore be the ones you will be dealing with for most of the time once the agreement is completed ,” Setume added.
But no sooner had Bigani taken her seat, than the community members started shooting the top table for what they described as “a tendency by those who are supposed to facilitate, to arrogate to themselves a role that did not belong to them.”
Weakness Gaoganetswe, one of the members of the community complained that, “as far as we are concerned it was never mentioned at any point in time that we were dealing with, not even whether we were being set to enter into agreement with Wilderness Safaris.”
However, Gaoganetswe indicated that although the community was aware that Wilderness Safaris had apparently subleased part of NG18 area from Greg Buttler of SLS, even though they were never consulted about the arrangement, it was surprising that neither BTO nor Tawana Land Board (TLB) ever found it apposite to mention that at any point during the consultative process.
Against that background, it was then suggested by some committee members that the agreement be deferred pending further consultations. Kaaleta Motswadi concurred with Gaoganetswe that they should be allowed to peruse the documents and see whether the community was adequately protected from any possible indulgences.
“Moreover, we need to understand the nature of the relationship between Greg Buttler and Wilderness Safaris so that we know what it is they will do differently, especially since a lot of things which were promised in the previous agreement never materialized,” argued Motswadi.
Responding to the queries, Setume said that it was presumed that since the community had been responsible for appointing people to draft the agreement, it was, therefore, not necessary to read out the details.
To show how much she meant about what she said, the BTO official said, “There are some minor mistakes in the document to be signed, some of these relate to dates, so since this in law might not be considered insignificant I would rather the parties also acknowledge them by appending their signatures next to the mistakes.”
Setume’s statement notwithstanding, the project became collapsed as the Chairman of the board of KDT, Samuel Amos, pronounced, “Indeed as it emerges, there has not been proper feedback to the community and it would there be out of place to continue with the agreement.”
Thabang Dikatlholo, Principal District Officer, Development of the North West District, concluded, “The current board is new, therefore it’s not clear who is being blamed since ordinarily the old board would have been expected to have handed over to them but now that has not happened.”
Thus, on conceding to the proposal for deferring the signing to a farther date it Dikatlholo said there was need to explain to the board what the agreement contained, “Although it’s unfortunate we have come a long way,” stated Dikatlholo.
Despite the acknowledgement, Vice Chairman of KDT Board, Patrick July, told the Sunday Standard that they were told in plain terms by Dikatlholo that the draft agreement was closed to any changes by either the board or the community.