The Citizen Empowerment and Development Agency (CEDA), leapt to the defence of government stance clamouring for the public sector to aggressively support local businesses but warned that the country has to take a much more bold move to ensure that a meaningful economic citizen empowerment exercise takes place.
Thapelo Matsheka, chief executive officer of CEDA, said they take government’s directive “positively” but for a meaningful citizen empowerment to take place, the private sector also needs to play its role.
“We think that for citizen empowerment to take place, it will take both public and private sector’s involvement in their procurement exercises. Right now, a lot of decisions (in big companies) are still being done from South Africa in terms of procurement,” he said.
“For this course to move forward, we need a voice from the top and making certain of conditions so that the message can get to the private sector. There has to be an integrated approach if we are going to realize import substitution,” he added.
Matsheka said his organization is undergoing a number of raft measures aimed at ensuring that all Batswana entrepreneurs ÔÇô including the informal sectorÔÇö get assistance from the venture capital fund. Some of the measures will include the lowering of the average minimum loan from P 5000 to P 500 to ensure that the informal sector is also covered.
“Since the announcement of the directive, everybody is under pressure to involve those who were not ordinarily covered. We have started to redefine our products, including the minimum average loan.
“We are currently repackaging our minimum loan so that even the informal sector can sustain their business,” he added.
However, Matsheka pointed out that there are a number issues that need to be ironed-out for the new directive to start leap-frogging, including the amendment of the PPADB Act so that it is geared towards assisting Batswana owned companies.
“We can not just depend on the reservation process which talks about big projects; it has to also include the small business people. The tendering process of PPADB must be opened at all levels.
“We can not achieve empowerment without defining the constraint that we do have,” he said.
Matsheka said the empowerment process is quite necessary and long overdue because Botswana has been slow to prepare its people to the emerging international protocols which will, in future, see the trade boundaries being removed.
“That remains a challenge and when the World Trade Organisation says trade barriers should be removed, our businesses will not be able to compete with those from the developed countries,” he said.
The World Trade Organisation is gearing for the liberalization, in 15 years, of trade and that would see international companies competing head to head with the small companies from the developing world without citizen reservations and most likely the likes of CEDA will be forced to closeÔÇôdown because they are offering loans at subsidized rates.
“We are going to have a problem unless we build capacity right now. And I see the problem with our inability to develop the agricultural sector and our beef would not compete with some of the world’s biggest producers even at home,” he added.