Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Bring forth the economic hubs….

The Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) state in its website that the special economic zones (SEZ) policy adopted by Government was designed to attract world class domestic and foreign investors.

We were also told previously by both the BITC and the Trade ministry that through SEZs, government intends to offer the global citizenry developed infrastructure, state of the art technology, beneficial inter-sectoral linkages, and improvements in economies of scale, specially trained skilled labour force and targeted economic incentives.

According to the Trade ministry, the main objective of the SEZs policy is to diversify the economic and export base of Botswana into sectors that will continue to grow long after diamonds have run out. When Dorcus Malesu, a minister responsible for trade in our country, launched the Afena Capital Press Club this week at Gaborone Sun resort, the only question that Sunday Standard was eager to ask her on the sidelines was whether they have abandoned the SEZs policy. This is the policy that Malesu told us a few years back that it is going to provide for development of the public sector, private sector and public-private sector partnership SEZs across the country and sectors, as the market would dictate.

Malesu said that this admirable policy was developed within the context of the evolving global trade policy environment, which is characterized by the widespread process of globalization, a global shift towards free trade and the concomitant increased competition in the global economic arena.

So on Tuesday when Afena Capital Managing Director, Bakang Seretse, gave business journalists the chance to throw one or two questions to the minister, who happened to have been the guest of honour at Press club launch, Sunday Standard did ask Malesu the question ÔÇô “How far are we with the setting up of special economic zones?”

Her response was positive but demoralizing. “The process of setting up SEZs is on track but going at a snail pace,” she said.

But while Malesu was still responding to our question, all that came to head was why do our policy makers allow a policy which we were made to believe that was cast within the context of domestic policies, strategies and legislation, to struggle to stay on the shelves for this long. After all, it was the same Malesu who a few years back told us that the SEZs could be used as economic laboratories and demonstration areas for the development and growth of world class enterprises in our country; a country whose unemployment rate is over 20 percent. This is the same country which has over the past four decades been dependant on one commodity for its revenue while thousands of its citizens were enrolled under “mananeo a ga rraetsho”. It is common knowledge that the decline of agriculture, both as a source of employment and as a share of GDP, has been a significant factor in the rural urban migration in our country.

Perhaps before going any further one should state that special economic zone (SEZ) is a geographical region, like Ngamiland or Kgalagadi that has economic laws different from a country’s typical economic laws. Usually the goal is to increase foreign investment. It is also worth noting that SEZs have been established in several countries, including China, India, Jordan, Poland, Kazakhstan, Philippines and Russia. In some other countries policies and law, the SEZs governing such have been used to identify various cities and large towns as gateways and hubs to lead development in their regions, with other towns, villages and rural areas characterised as having complementary roles.

We all know that the National Development Plan concentrates on how sectoral investments will be made, which entails economic infrastructure, enterprise and science, human capital, social inclusion. Although these investments would affect small and medium sized towns, the towns themselves are not singled out for attention. This seems to be the case even in our country despite the fact that we have potential economic hubs such as Maun (Tourism), Lobatse (Dairy and Transportation hub), Sowa (Glass and Salt production) to name a few. In short if at all Malesu or rather Government would at some point ever consider making this policy (SEZs) a law, they should consider aligning it to what other countries call the “Country Development Plans” (CDPs).

Unlike NDP which is broad, the CDP usually provide more detail on how small and medium sized towns like Maun, Gantsi, Selebi Phikwe and Lobatse should be developed but of course not detaching them from the national and regional development plans. As previously said on this space, it will take much more than ceremonial visits, a lavish conference, exclusive interviews and live coverage by the state television to transform potential economic hubs such as Selebi Phikwe.

Much more is needed to bring Phikwe back on its feet. One is forced to repeat this, “That this once glorious town, Selebi Phikwe, now finds itself on its knees, on the brink of collapse, is living proof of government’s flawed and destructive policies.” The same could be said about other potential economic hub centres such as Maun and Lobatse as well as Sowa Town. For instance, Maun, which is the headquarters to many safaris and numerous air charter operations that run trips into the Okavango Delta only got its first set of traffic lights under two years back. Yes, an area with a population over 60 000 still has internal roads not tarred and its fire station, although completed three years back is yet to be operational.

The bottom-line however is that the establishment of economic hubs through the special economic zones has the potential to speed up decentralization which in turn has the potential to expand our economy and could bring an end over dependence on diamonds. #Bring_forth_the_economic_hubs

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