Sunday, February 28, 2021

Botswana ‘hesitant’ to collect P1m debt owed by Zim

Five years after supplying live cattle worth P1million to neighbouring Zimbabwe, the government of Botswana is still struggling to get payment from the government owned Cold Storage Company (CSC) of Zimbabwe.

Permanent Secretary in Botswana’s Ministry of Agriculture, Micus Chimbombi told the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) on Thursday that they are still struggling to recover over P1 million owed by CSC for the supply of live cattle under an agreement penned in 2011.

Details of the agreement show that close to 30 000 cattle from the foot and mouth (FMD) disease infested zones of Ngamiland and Okavango in Botswana were exported for direct slaughter at CSC abattoirs in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. However, a few months into the agreement, as live cattle were tracked to Zimbabwe much to the delight of local farmers who had previously been unable to sell their cattle because of FMD, the trade was halted after CSC failed to deliver on its part of the bargain; paying in full for the cattle.

After the collapse of the initial deal, negotiations commenced once again in 2012. Trade resumed after CSC undertook to pay off the initial debt, and both parties agreed that henceforth payment would be made before delivery of cattle. Dr. Chimbombi told the PAC that Zimbabwe’s CSC obeyed the new rules, much to the delight of Botswana farmers who were now able to sell their cattle for as much as P5,000 per beast, which was unheard of in Botswana at the time. The trade went on until early 2014 when CSC halted importation of cattle, saying the government of Zimbabwe had not given it the necessary permits.

The trade has been suspended since then, much to the chagrin of local farmers. While it is currently not known when the sales will resume, Dr. Chimbombi reiterated Botswana’s commitment to continuing the trade with Zimbabwe, despite CSC’s repeated breach of set agreements. He also told the PAC that the government of Botswana will continue to make follow-ups on the debt, but stressed that they will do so with caution as they still want to maintain a good relationship with the Zimbabwean meat agent even after the debt has been settled.

“They have promised to pay us but they have not said when. They seem to be willing to pay, but somehow they are unable to do so. We will not pressure them because we want to nurture a good relationship with them even beyond this debt. Therefore we will not mess up the good relations we have created so far over this debt,” he said.

When the agreement was signed five years back, Botswana was desperately looking for a market for its cattle from the Okavango and Ngamiland areas, which could not be exported to the European markets due to frequent FMD outbreaks. On the other hand, Zimbabwe provided a ready market as it was looking for more live cattle to slaughter and restock its national herd.

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