Botalana Ventures which operated the largest horticulture and ostrich farm in the country sought President Ian Khama’s intervention before Botswana Development Company (BDC) applied for its liquidation, documents show.
Botalana Ventures was a joint venture with BDC holding 33 percent and Managing Director Botalana Ventures Jan Willems, through his company Itiya Holdings, holding 67 percent.
BDC applied for the liquidation of the company citing failure to pay creditors among other issues.
In a letter dated June 6, 2014, Botalana Ventures Managing Director informed Khama that his company invested heavily and took the leading role in both industries adding that the government has also invested in both industries of which the ostrich industry exceeded P40 million.
“It is with great frustration endured over the past two years that I have decided to write this letter as a last resort to your Excellency, The Highest Authority in the country. The will to maintain the important role Botalana Ventures plays in the industries mentioned hereunder has kept me pursuing for this time,” he said.
He informed Khama that the company had been under severe financial pressure over the past two years which was caused by; four years closure of the ostrich abattoir in Sebele which is now open for export to Europe.
“As result we had invested as BDC audited figure of P157 million into this project with no returns. The investment was made in light of the business potential, earning of foreign currency, the value adding potential and the diversification of the farm,” wrote Willems.
He said another factor that put financial pressure on Botalana Ventures “over the past two years was the worst floods in recorded history along the Limpopo River in January 2013 which is likely not to occur in the next 100 years.”
These floods, Willems said, wiped out the crops “we had in the ground at the time and put us out of effective production for a period of five years.”
As a result, Willems observed, the company did not perform well and incurred significant losses for the years 2012 and 2013 and cash flows were and remain under severe pressure.
“There are outstanding creditors that need immediate payment. The situation does not allow us to pay for basic farm inputs; fertiliser, feed, chemicals, wages etc … which will ensure good returns,” he said.
He added that: “After the floods in January 2013 I injected P2.622 million equity into the project and BDC have still not met their proportion due to reasons elaborated further on in this letter.
According to Willems, in mid 2012 he contacted the then Managing Director of BDC Mariah Nthebolan and General Manager to visit the farm and explained the financial predicament “we will be facing in the near future”.
“In October 2012 she sent an officer from Agric Division to spend five weeks on the farm and come up with a turnaround strategy for the Company,” said Willems.
He said in early 2013 the strategy was complete and BDC got a newly appointed Acting Managing Director, a certain Mrs Phutego.
“She visited the farm around June/July 2013 and immediately ordered a task team to evaluate the business. It is my understanding that this task team never finalised their assignment. Following this the project was passed on to a number of BDC personnel,” he said.
He said the report compiled by the last team to access the project was never submitted/accepted and was passed onto the same desk officer of 2012 to present in the BDC format.
“I am not sure what happened after this. During this period we had done and redone accounts and projections, probably 50+ times working till night, only to find the goal posts shifting again and again,” said Willems.
He further revealed that: “After nearly a year of intense communication between Botalana management and BDC I realised that we were going to get nowhere and requested Minister (Shaw) Kgathi to intervene.”
Later on, Willems said, the newly appointed Managing Director Bashi Gaetsaloe visited the farm and called for a Botalana shareholders meeting in Gaborone. During the meeting he said BDC was going to assist the company and a funding model should be agreed on.
“From this meeting a resolution was drawn up with a number of strings attached from BDC. The said resolution was sent to BDC and this morning Mr. Gaetsaloe indicated that BDC was not going to assist financially as he communicated by sms two weeks earlier although his sms was not clear,” said Willems.
He further noted that: “BDC seems to look at the current financial position and not recognise the past performance, growth and diversification and are continuously paining a dark picture of the business. Our financial predicament can be justified and easily understood.
“I never thought that BDC being a partner in the business would turn its back on the business. Instead I thought they would assist when challenges arise as I did in early 2013.”
“Botalana has been supporting the horticulture market in Gaborone since it opened in spite of calls from retail stores to rather supply directly to them and bypass the market. We have been patriotic in the sense that we believe that the horticulture industry needs an established market in order to have a growth platform which will ensure stability and in turn benefit commercial and small scale famers across the country. This support comes with a sacrifice of a combined 12.5 percent commission on sales paid to the market authority and sales agents.
He said the importance of Botalana Ventures in the successful resurrection of ostrich industry cannot be disputed.
He said they had established an export market in Europe which will benefit not only Botalana but also the small scale farmers in the country. These EU buyers, he said, were introduced to BDC representatives by the Assistant Minister of Agriculture in 2013
“Your Excellency I’m hereby humbly requesting that you intervene in this situation and request that BDC financially assist the company. Without Botalana the Horticulture Industry will not be the same … The funding required for the turnaround strategy per BDC communication is P16 million, which includes outstanding proportionate equity.
According to other documents in possession of Sunday Standard, on June 24, 2014, BDC Chairman Blackie Marole convened a meeting to discuss and elaborate on the issues pertaining to the letter Botalana Venture had written to President Khama.