Thursday, November 30, 2023

Lessons from the botched “BR Express” passenger train re-launch

A few weeks ago, the corruption busting agency, DCEC pounced on the management of Botswana Railways. The media reported that it was a result of suspected corruption surrounding the purchase of passenger carriages by Botswana Railways. There is a history to what we are seeing playing out at Botswana Railways. A few years ago, Botswana Railways sold off for a song carriages of the passenger train that the corporation had been running at a loss. At the time, Government held that the days of the passenger train had come to an end. Yet without any goading, the same Government was to later announce the re-introduction of the same train. No information was given as to how circumstances have changed during the time so as to allow the coming back of such a train service. Is Botswana Government now ready to bankroll such a service? And for how long? Only time will tell.

At the time the whole fracas was dismissed as a populist stunt by the Ian Khama led Government. But then that is a story for another day. The current concern for now is whether or not BR has gotten any value for money in the purchase of its just arrived carriages. Questions abound! As it was launched with all the fanfare, the train service was met with all the handicaps that are proving much bigger than just a teething pains. There is a big question surrounding the integrity of the entire procurement of the carriages. Compared to all the previous ones, the current administration has been embroiled in far greater scandals. It would seem that the current administration deliberately sought to create well organized networks of corruption ÔÇô including at all levels of Government.

The severity, frequency and depth of those scandals have tested the public faith in the potency of our institutions. Regrettably, many such institutions have failed the tests. Reports indicate that while Botswana Railways paid for new carriages, the ones delivered are old but have only been re-tuned and refurbished. This leaves the question of who really has benefitted from the procurement of this train. So far all figures seem to point towards some senior members in cabinet as the true beneficiaries.

The troubles experienced in the launch of the train have exonerated the media reports that something was amiss with the purchase of the terrain. Not for the first time, the public has been sold a dummy. With the alleged corruption surrounding the son called new train, it would seem like the culprits have redoubled the stakes. Not only did the train breakdown on the first day of the launch, the journalists who had been invited for  a ride have come reporting that even to an untrained eye, the defects in the carriages are too glaring to miss. Leakages, electronic defects and the general unkempt appearance of the carriages are too much to be associated with factory faults, said the journalists. This should get us worried.

We are well aware of the extent to which the public has lost confidence on the DCEC. That much is understandable. DCEC has failed the public in a manner that is generally unpardonable, especially when it comes to investigating corruption by those in positions of power and authority ÔÇô especially those inside President Khama’s inner circle. We however are of the view that on this one, DCEC should be given the benefit of doubt. We are also of the firm view that dark forces are at play here. Time will tell.


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