The flipside of the imminent exit of President Ian Khama from Office of the President on 1st April 2018 is that Dr Akolang Tombale will also at the same time end his tenure as Chief Executive of the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC).
Tombale’s three year contract which was signed in 2015 ends this coming April and he has no intention to seek renewal.
“I have played my part. I think it is time I give way for the young executives within the company. I will certainly avail myself in other capacities such as board member if need be”, Tombale told Sunday Standard over coffee at Mugg & Bean restaurant, Riverwalk mall in the capital Gaborone this week.
But how has Dr Tombale fared at the seemingly impossible task of turning tables at the troubled meat agency over the past six years whilst holding the top post?
At the time of his arrival at BMC in 2012, Tombale set himself two of what he thought are attainable targets. First he wanted to stabilise operations at the cash troubled entity. Before his arrival, the BMC featured frequently on many newspapers headlines ÔÇô mostly on issues related to poor management and governance. The entity was and remains a “non-profit” making one due to various reasons surrounding its operational structures.
Secondly, Tombale’s aspiration was to restructure the commission with the ultimate goal of separating what he calls “social responsibility” from “commercial interest” of the entity.
As it stands, BMC operate three abattoirs across the country, one in Lobatse and two others in Francistown and Maun respectively. Since its commissioning in 1989, the Francistown abattoir has never made profits whilst its Maun counterpart serves as a social responsibility for the Ngamiland region, so says the outgoing Chief Executive.
Whilst the BMC is still reporting losses year in, year out – including during 2016/17 financial year, Tombale is happy that atleast the operations of the company are now stable. Unlike in the past when it was common to have BMC delisted from the European Union market suppliers list, the region now regards the state owned entity as a main beef supplier.
“We have not had any problem with the EU in the past 6 years or so……the client has accepted the product and classifies BMC process by far as the best beef in Africa”, Tombale says.
The soft speaking Bobonong born CEO attribute the certification to control measures that BMC put in place a few years back.
The measurers, he says have also resulted in the company getting accolades from international rating agencies such as the British Retail Consortium and companies like MacDonald.
The A grade for Lobatse and AA graded for Francistown plant in 2016 has guaranteed seaming-less entry into global markets for BMC.
On the financial front, still under stability, BMC has achieved to reach the P1 billion mark annually in revenue since 2013 to date. It is said that 80 percent of the revenue is dedicated to paying farmers.
Despite this allocation, farmers have always complained of delayed payments or low prices even during the tenure of Tombale.
Traditionally BMC has been buying cattle from farmers and pay within 48 hours of delivery. Tombale however says the commission’s current processes allow it to realize cash only after 7 to 8 months, “Although we are still expected to pay within 48 hours”.
The failure to restructure ÔÇô Tombale’s disappointment
Of the two targets that he had set for himself, Tombale is happy at the level of success he got when it comes to stability. He however admits that he has not been able to reach the same level of satisfaction with the other target ÔÇô restructuring.
“I am disappointed that I will not be able to complete the restructuring process but I am hopeful that my successor will give it another shot”, says Mr T, a name that Tombale’s junior colleagues Brian Dioka and Portia Mothabane usually calls him with.
But what kind of restructuring did Tombale want to see at BMC? If wishes were horses, for Tombale the Lobatse abattoir could have long been separated from its Francistown and Maun counterparts for it to be efficient and profitable.
Furthermore he could have pulled a plug on the Francistown abattoir as it bleeds the coffers of BMC and has never made any profits since its commissioning 33 years ago. The Maun abattoir, which has been a “social project” since inception in 1983, he says, should remain that way while the Lobatse unit should be allowed to run on its own commercially.
“BMC Lobatse is a premier abattoir in Africa and we have not taken advantage of that. Our focus has always been in overseas markets thus the need now to look into other countries within Africa”, add Tombale.
The outgoing BMC Chief Executive says the absence of foot and mouth disease in the Ngamiland area during 2016/17 proved that the African as well as other non-EU market is ready to accept Botswana beef.
“In those two years when there was no occurrence of FMD in Ngamiland we were able to export beef to countries such as Kuwait. The purchase prices from farmers were ideally going to rise but unfortunately in September 2017 a new case was reported”.
Given the fact that year in and year out the BMC is listed amongst the notorious State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) by Finance Minister Kenneth Matambo, the last question that the outgoing Chief Executive had to answer relate to the way forward for the entity. His answer, “If we do not restructure the BMC, it will always report losses”. Should the government agree to give back the BMC to the farmers, Tombale says there are many models in countries such as Norway and neighbouring Namibia that Botswana can adopt.
“We once took farmers to Norway so that they can appreciate how the farmers there participate in the chain of meat processing”.
Whilst he leaves BMC partially happy, Tombale says he will be getting back to full time farming.
“I have always been a farmer. That is why I came to work for BMC to help solve the problems it has”, says Tombale followed by his signature giggle.