Sunday, September 20, 2020

BTC should not be privatized just for the sake of it!

It is now a long time ago since the privatisation agency, PEEPA, was created.

At its inception, PEEPA had one staff member accommodated at a little, dark corner somewhere in the Ministry of Finance.

Today’s PEEPA is a huge organization with a huge budget, employing a good number of executives, not to mention a good number of consultancies they commission each year.

Although we do not have an exact amount, looking at the reputations of the consultancy firms involved, we can safely guess that the total value of such consultancies runs into millions of Pula.

Upon its creation, PEEPA was mandated to advise government on the privatization process.

By creating PEEPA, our understanding, or so we thought at the time, was that the Botswana government had voluntarily taken it upon itself to shed into the private sector some of its extra weight and fat that was now impeding efficiency.

The resistance that has since characterized government’s attitude towards privatisation has left us with no choice but to come to the conclusion that PEEPA, expensive as it has since become, was cobbled as part of a public relations gimmick by government to stave off the then increasing bloated government stemming from such institutions like the World Bank and IMF.

As we have lamented over the years, the PEEPA’s Achilles Heel was that instead of being powered by a statutory instrument, the organization could only look up to a Policy.

This has denied the organization the force or power to dictate to anyone what they felt was the best way to go about privatization in Botswana.
In the process, people began to doubt PEEPA.

Worse, PEEPA has, on a number of occasions, been ignored even by the state departments and ministries on whose support and cooperation it counted most.

Since its inception, other than helping produce the Privatisation Master plan, PEEPA has, to our knowledge, not privatized a single entity.

This should be of concern to the only man who PEEPA has ever known as its Chief Executive, Joshua Galeforolwe.
Approaching the end of his career at PEEPA, it therefore is not an exaggeration to surmise that Galeforolwe must be an anxious man, flapping around not only for a big idea with which to wrap his tenure at PEEPA, but also to ensure that he leaves behind an enduring legacy with which he will be forever remembered.

If what the minister of finance, Baledzi Gaolathe, said in his budget speech this past Monday is to be believed, then we are not far off from seeing the privatisation of the state owned Telco, Botswana Telecommunications Corporation.
BTC is arguably the most precious jewel in the armour that forms government’s crown of parastatals.

If BTC privatisation does indeed go through, that will be a big achievement for PEEPA.

It should also come as some form of relief for Mr. Galeforolwe who, at least, would henceforth be partially right to say his stay at PEEPA was not entirely in vain.

A big catch that it will no doubt turn out to be, BTC privatisation will make up for all the lost time and frustrations that Galeforolwe endured during his stay at PEEPA.

It is a catch, we want to believe, he would never have imagined even in his wildest dreams even as an upbeat CEO and only official that he was as he set out in the early days of him establishing PEEPA.

As we congratulate Galeforolwe for seeing through the BTC transaction, we want to once again, perhaps for the millionth time, warn that BTC should not be privatised just for the sake of it.

BTC’s infrastructure on whose back the other telcos in the country survive has national security connotations attached to it.

As such PEEPA and its consultant advisors should always bear in mind that in today’s economy, telecommunications play a central role in every country’s national security interests.

With that in mind, Botswana’s interests should be protected not only in the shareholding structure that will emerge but also in the legal clauses that form such a structure.

In short, Botswana should have what is normally called the sunset clause through which the government, on behalf of the country and the nation, could pull out of the privatised formation if, by any instance, it is determined or found that the country’s interests are in danger.


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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.