The government of Botswana is faced with a challenge of protecting its infant economy and boosting its citizens so that they take control of major sectors of the economy. However, efforts by Botswana to attract foreign direct investment and boost economic growth have been hampered by overly restrictive bureaucratic procedures in applications for permits and a dearth of qualified and capable workers that are able to undertake mega projects.
Speaking at a labour and immigration compliance workshop sponsored by Ernst and Young Management Services on Thursday, Director of Immigration, Mabuse Pule said the challenge for government has been to remain competitive while protecting its infant economy, with a desire to maintaining citizen control of major economic sectors.
Pule said the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs is tasked with the responsibility of creating an enabling environment for economic diversification. He added that the Ministry offers services that enable investors and imported skills to acquire the necessary permits, visas and labour administration services to ensure a conducive industrial relations environment for improved supply of human resources and investment.
“We are in the process of increasing the number of immigration attaches and roll-out of electronic systems to our missions abroad. There are newly appointed attaches in China, Australia and India. We also have attaches in South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Namibia and Ethiopia,” said Pule.
He revealed that almost all missions have been connected while immigration officers who man ports of entry have been trained on customer care and protection. However, Pule admitted that Zimbabwe and Pretoria offices, though connected to the system, are not yet operational due to low bandwidth. He said there is slow processing of documents at borders as employees are adjusting to the new system. The delays are also caused by presentation of manual travel documents by some customers.
“Any person who wishes to enter Botswana shall produce a valid travel document and a visa if you come from a country where you are required a visa to enter Botswana,” said Pule.
More initiatives will be introduced with a view to promoting doing business in Botswana, including facilitation of diamond purchases. He explained that government improved the visa regime with the sole purpose of supporting the diamond business.
Mabuse also told attendants that permits may be issued to categories of applicants such as investors, employees and dependents. He emphasized that the authority to process permits lies with the Regional Immigrants Selection Boards.
“Currently there are nine boards across the country. Funds permitting, these boards will be increased to cover the whole country. Non-citizens who have resided lawfully in Botswana for at least five years under the terms and conditions of a residence permit and have made significant contributions to Botswana may apply for a certificate of permanent residence,” said Pule.
Principal Industrial Relations Officer-Work and Residence Permits, Oagile Mokibelo said the Immigration Act regulates employment and engagement in occupations for reward or profit by non-citizens while in Botswana.
He explained that workers are granted permits not exceeding five years and not exceeding ten years for investors.
“Section 32 of the Act empowers the Minister, by order published in the gazette, to exempt any person or class of persons from the requirements of work permit,” he said.
However, said Mokibelo, a person in the listed category does not receive automatic exemption as he or she has to apply to the Commissioner of Labour or Director of Immigration. He pointed out that after consideration of the application, it can be granted or rejected and the decision will be communicated to the applicant.