Monday, March 8, 2021

China-Botswana tension boils over

The diplomatic tension between Botswana and China which has been simmering behind the scenes boiled over recently when President Lt gen Ian Khama dispatched the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pelonomi VensonÔÇôMoitoi to China to register Botswana’s complaints with Chinese government owned construction companies. The Botswana approached the Chinese government for help in its marathon battle with Chinese companies contracted to build among others, the failed controversial Morupule B power plant and refurbishment of Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (SSIK).

Sunday Standard has gathered information indicating that in a meeting held by Foreign Affairs Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi and her Chinese counterpart, Botswana accused Chinese companies of not only leaving Botswana construction projects in a mess but also ‘milking’ the country. At the meeting Botswana accused Chinese companies of making millions of Pula in government contracts and taking the money out of Botswana instead of investing it in the country. Minister Venson-Moitoi highlighted a number of issues, among them failure of multi-billion Moropule B power station and Sir Seretse Khama International Airport.

“I had to meet him to inform him that our country suffered because of Chinese companies which did not invest in the country, but only came on contracts to make money and go out after delivering the jobs,” Venson-Moitoi reportedly told her counterpart. She said Botswana government was disappointed that of recent some Chinese contractors have dismally failed to deliver government projects.

“Those of serious concern were the two projects that were intended to turn around the country’s economy such as the Morupule B Power Plant project and Sir Seretse Khama International Airport that were intended to boost the economy,” she said. Venson-Moitoi added the projects were intended to be economy drivers through exporting electricity to other countries and boosting the tourism industry respectively.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Clifford Maribe confirmed in an interview on Friday that China “has noted concerns raised by the Botswana Government regarding the failed projects.”

“China’s Foreign Affairs Minister informed her Botswana counterpart that he had noted the concerns raised by Botswana and that going forward his government would talk to Chinese companies,” said Maribe. He said despite a number of failed projects undertaken by Chinese contractors, the Botswana Government was painting all Chinese companies with the same brush. On allegations that the failure of multi-billion projects undertaken by Chinese companies in Botswana was threatening diplomatic relations between the two countries, Maribe said it was important to note that the Chinese government does not have direct control over such companies.

“These are private companies. Their government noted our concerns and agreed to discuss the issues raised such as quality in the spirit of assisting Botswana. The Foreign Affairs Minister of China pledged to take up the issue with Chinese companies in Botswana,” said Maribe.

He insisted that Botswana’s relationship with China remains cordial. He said the government intends to put some measures in place to ensure that only companies with a good track record are awarded multibillion tenders. When it was brought to his attention that despite some measures already in place, projects had failed, Maribe said that if there are loops, they need to be closed. Sources claim the diplomatic row between Botswana and China which had been simmering behind the scenes over failed projects boiled over recently when President Ian Khama dispatched Minister Venson-Moitoi to China. Khama, sources added, had to send a delegation to express the country’s frustration at the way the Chinese government was handling the matter.

Botswana believes that the response it got from Chinese construction companies in Botswana in relation to the failed projects was not satisfactory hence the matter needed to be handled at a higher level. It is understood that Botswana believes that the Chinese government is not doing enough to rein in construction companies that are doing shoddy workmanship in the country.

Instead of responding to Sunday Standard queries, Chinese embassy political officer, Li Zheng said Chinese ambassador to Botswana Zheng Zhuqiang will hold a press a conference “to brief the media on the recent official visit by Hon. Dr. Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation to China, updates on Morupule B Power Plant and other important issues relating to bilateral relations between China and Botswana.”

President Khama has in the past launched a scathing attack against Chinese Companies. In an interview with the South Africa’s Business Day two years ago, he said “You know, we have had some bad experiences with Chinese companies in this country,” Mr Khama said in a recent interview.

“The best way I can put it is that we are very, very particular now; we are going to be looking very carefully at any company that originates from China in providing construction services of any nature.”

A number of Botswana Democratic Party MPs have in the past also lashed out at Chinese investors in Botswana. We re-produce in our INDEPTH page a past interview with the Chinese Ambassador detail the tortured relationship between Botswana and China.

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