Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Gov’t begs foreign retailers to accept local goods

Government is still negotiating with some foreign owned retailers who continue to refuse to accept locally produced goods in their shops. Permanent Secretary in Trade Ministry, Peggy Serame last week told the Public Account Committee that some foreign owned retailers are still refusing to accept locally produced goods.

This was after Member of Parliament for Selebi Phikwe West, Dithapelo Keorapetse accused government of not doing enough to promote local produce. He singled out CNA book stores and Musica music stores as amongst retailers who still refuse to sell local products even though they are of international standards.

“CNA only started selling a few local periodicals after a recent parliamentary question. There are many other shops that have closed their doors to good quality products just because they were produced locally,” he said.

Serame then admitted that government is aware of the trend and has been engaging such companies over the past two years.

“We continue to engage such companies. We do so sector by sector and I can confirm that there have been some changes as some of them have started selling local products,” she said.

Keorapetse also asked the Permanent Secretary why government was allowing foreigners to continue operating businesses that can easily be operated by locals, such as selling cosmetics and sunglasses.

“What is so difficult about selling sunglasses that we end up licensing foreigners to sell them rather than giving our people an opportunity to run such business?” he asked.

In response, Serame said some businesses have been reserved for locals, but added that the challenge is brought about by the same locals who sell or lease out their licenses to foreigners.

Insignificant citizen economic participation

In January 2007, Government undertook a review of citizen economic empowerment programmes with a view to formulating a comprehensive citizen economic empowerment policy and strategy for Botswana. The results indicated that citizen participation in major economic activities and opportunities is generally insignificant. Economic experts believe this is not a good indicator for the country’s sustainable economic development. There have been incessant calls for government to come up with a comprehensive law on citizen economic empowerment. Foreign owned companies have been accused of suffocating struggling locally owned businesses with their excessive funds and abundant resources. When presenting the 2015/16 budget speech, Finance Minister Ken Matambo said inclusive growth cannot be achieved without empowering citizens to play an active role in the economy.

As part of government’s efforts to empower citizens, Matambo cited the amended Citizen Economic Empowerment Policy which makes it mandatory for sub-contractors of government funded projects to be 100 percent citizen owned companies. The policy further stipulates that 30 percent of each Ministry’s projects budget should be reserved for 100 percent citizen owned companies.

However Francistown West Member of Parliament, Ignatius Moswaane said this was not enough. He challenged government to enact a law that demands a 40 percent citizen share interests on companies that are owned by foreigners as a way of avoiding depletion of the country’s natural resources by fly-by-night entrepreneurs.

“About 99 percent of Botswana’s population is employed by foreign owned companies. To avoid this deplorable situation we should come up with definite citizen economic empowerment laws,” Moswaane said.

He further urged Botswana to take a leaf from Zimbabwe and demand that foreigners should venture into partnership with locals on a 49-51 percent base arrangement. Another critique of Botswana’s citizen empowerment schemes is former cabinet minister David Magang, who expressed his views in his recently released book.

“A government that is serious about empowering its people does not simply educate them; it educates them predominately in fields critical to contemporary economic needs. Its educational system ought to be competence-based. In other words, it should be tailored as to drill learners with skills that can enable them to make a living on their own even if they are not formally employed”, Magang noted in his book, ‘Delusions of Grandeur Vol 1.’

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