The decision to allow some multi-national retailers to import bottled water into Botswana despite the ongoing ban continues to cause division in the retail sector.
Both local chain stores and suppliers of bottled water are now irate as they say the current set-up works against the whole intention of empowering the locals.
In August 2018 Botswana, through the Trade Ministry evoked the Control of Goods, Prices and Other Charges Act to shut out bottled natural and mineral water.
The expectation at the time was that local water purifying and bottling companies will start supplying all the local retailers including the multi-nationals.
However, a year since the ban one of the biggest retailers Woolworths continues to import and sell bottled water from South Africa in all of its stores across the country.
Woolworths Botswana Procurement Manager – Braam Van Staden confirmed that his company imports water from SA but said that the Trade ministry has issued the chain stores company with a special permit to do so.
“The ministry has issued Woolworths with the necessary documentation to import Natural Spring water from South Africa,”
While Woolworths maintains that it is trading within the laws of the country, market pundits on the other hand suggest that the issuance of a special licence to retailers such as Woolworths is unfair and beats the logic behind the restrictions imposed by the same ministry.
Some local chain stores and suppliers observe that there is preferential treatment of some South African headquartered operating outlets in Botswana.
“If the window opens, we will all import and we will all stop when the ministry closes borders again. It also beats logic because it kills the local suppliers because the ban that was aimed at empowering and benefitting them. Again if individual retailers individually ask for permission it will end up breeding corruption and favouritism”, said one local chain store owner.
On local procurement, Woolworths says be in talks with one of the local suppliers to procure bottled water from the local company.
“As part of this journey in supporting local enterprise development Woolworths is in the final stages of establishing a partnership with Kolobeng Springs, whose products you will soon see on our shelves. Progress on all our developments, including the natural spring water supplier development are reported to the ministry on a regular basis,” said Van Staden.
Van Staden further explained that as part of their commitment to supporting local enterprise development, Woolworths has built relationships with local suppliers, service providers and farmers, who currently supply bread (Arona natural foods), agriculture products and clothing exclusively to Woolworths.
Letters intercepted by Sunday Standard from Trade Ministry to a selected local chain stores paints a picture of double standards. Some of the letters sent to “rejected applicants” on numerous occasions’ state, “it is imperative for you to note that local water bottling companies are producing below capacity due to limited support from the local retailers and distributors.”
The Trade ministry maintains that local suppliers have the capacity to supply the domestic market with mineral, sparkling and flavoured water. In some instances, the ministry directed the local retailers to engage local companies such as S24, Kolobeng Springs and Oasis to supply them. The ministry however denies favouring Woolworths.
“The ministry stands firm in the implementation of the statutory instrument in bottled water hence where necessary applications for import permits are assessed on their merits, taking into consideration its benefits to the local market and economic development of the country” says Hazel Reaitsanye – Acting Permanent Sectary in the Ministry of Trade.
Reaitsanye however cannot be drawn into discussing the frequency at which Woolworths has applied for special permits and the times it was granted. Asked why Woolworths continue to import bottled water following the restrictions to do so she said, “Supermarkets and chain stores have not been exempted from the statutory instrument. Those that are permitted to import are by a request which is assessed on its merit.
Meanwhile the Trade Ministry affirmed that the statutory instrument is still in place and there is no intention of lifting the ban.