Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) Chief Executive Officer, Paul Taylor, has appealed to the private sector to save Francistown from becoming a ghost town.
Giving a keynote address during the BOCCIM Northern Trade Fair last week, Taylor said that the quest to develop Francistown must be seriously undertaken by the private sector.
“History will judge us all harshly if we let one of the oldest settlements and the second city in Botswana succumb to the economic challenges it is currently facing. I therefore call investors and entrepreneurs to identify opportunities and re-invent the city which is the regional center and gateway to the north,” he said.
He said that Francistown which has a population of close to 100 000 residents has much potential as it has a number of dams within a 200km radius and mines that operate within its vicinity.
He added that the city boasts of ample freehold land and state land which if serviced could provide facilities for companies to set up and develop Francistown into a more vibrant economic centre.
“Time is not on our side, more especially that there is speculation that Tati Nickel Mine may suspend its operations in the near future owing to a drop in metal prices. The closure of the mine could have serious consequences for the city which is already experiencing a high unemployment rate,” said Taylor.
He said that although it is hoped that the mine management will mitigate, devise and implement a turnaround strategy to keep the operation of the mine afloat, it is important for the economy of the city to be diversified to reduce reliance on a single or a handful of employers.
He said that although there are opportunities and abundant resources, it is a concern that the city is not growing economically at the desired rate.
“A report compiled by Statistics Botswana in 2013 titled ‘Botswana Core Welfare Indicator Survey 2009/10′ shows that during the period, Francistown had 30,078 people in paid employment, 1,338 owning businesses with employees, while 3,843 had businesses without employees; 4,983 were unpaid family work and 373 worked in won lands or cattle posts,” he said.
He said that it is important for the number of people owning businesses with employees to increase which will help foster diversification and growth in the city.
He however said that BOCCIM has identified a number of challenges hindering business development in the city.
Among these are delays in land servicing, lengthy processing of permits for businesses, ineffective environmental and waste management strategies, congested and inaccessible road network and poor infrastructure and maintenance.
“I am however encouraged that the city leadership has taken steps to address these challenges including taking steps towards re-branding “Ghetto” as Francistown is commonly called,” he said.
He further lauded the decision by the Francistown City Council to set vision 2022 in its quest to transform the city into an investment center.
He urged the private sector to play a meaningful role in delivering the vision. He also pleaded with the local authorities to provide a favorable environment for businesses to operate in. Taylor also said that it is high time that Botswana benchmarks from other countries to learn how other countries transformed their cities and the lessons they learnt.
Among other important issues, Taylor said that his organization (BTC) is in its final stages of separation of assets between Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Limited (BTCL) and Botswana Fibre Network Limited (BOFINET) in readiness for privatization.
“We envisage that the whole process will soon be complete and the company will list in the Botswana Stock Exchange with government retaining 51% of the shares while 49% is reserved for Batswana and citizen owned companies. We have been active in preparing for the new environment that we will be operating in,” said the BTC boss.
The BOCCIM Northern Trade Fair was held under the theme: “Investment: My opportunity to play a role in evolving global economy. Tapping into unlimited opportunities.”