Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Mogae administration is partly to blame for BCL’s premature death

For the past few years, it has been painful to watch, one occasion after another, as President Ian Khama and his team took an eternity to confront the economic challenges that Botswana is facing. The latest being the imminent closure of the Selebi Phikwe based copper miner ÔÇô BCL. Just this year, two quarters of consecutive negative growth under Khama could lead or has led the country into an economic recession. Technocrats at Finance ministry have already projected budget deficits for atleast the next three financial years.  

The closure of the BCL mine therefore will certainly add to the already high numbers of people roaming our streets without jobs though employable. These are just amongst a few economic indicators that call Khama administration to put its act together.  What appears to be a spirited and sincere effort at diversification of the domestic economy should not just be in talk-shops that masquerade as summits. We need more action than talk at this juncture. 

In his recent tour of the Botswana Meat Commission ÔÇô another ailing government company, Khama is said to have raised concerns regarding the closure of BCL mine. But unlike you and me, Khama and his cabinet cannot continue to lament like helpless persons, when they are pilots that should be flying our economic plane.  If economic plane is floundering like it is now, the question that should be asked is what is happening in our economic cockpit and who should be blamed? 

While the question remain unanswered ÔÇô for now, the nation also needs to acknowledge that it is the government policy or plans of more than ten years or so back that have failed the now on spot Phikwe economy. If there is any administration that failed the people of Selebi Phikwe is that of the former President ÔÇô Dr Festus Mogae. We shall shortly share the “obvious” why we believe Mogae and his administration are to be blamed, atleast partly for the economic failure of the once gloomy copper town of Selebi Phikwe. 

We also need to state that we strongly believe that it was a result of lack of foresight from the then government to turn mining into Phikwe’s comparative advantage. We all know that at some point there were suggestions made to the Mogae administration have Selebi Phikwe house the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST). As expected, Mogae and his technocrats decided to let politics prevail over rationalism. BIUST went to the then dusty village of Palapye when we all know that Phikwe was more advanced in terms of infrastructure development.

As it later turned out, the dusty village of Palapye was not ready for such a project. Lack of infrastructure readiness in the village compelled BIUST to team up with BCL in projects like mining museum, tourism enterprises and educational facilities for science and environmental research. The university was also to use the decommissioned shaft at the mine for research. For those who doubt the economic power that a university can have, we argue them to study the model that was adopted by the old town of Grahamstown in neighbouring South Africa. The town’s economic life is premised on Rhodes University. The university employs hundreds and at the same time home to thousands of students who drive the economy of Grahamstown. Indeed Phikwe could have been our Grahamstown had we taken BIUST there. 

For now we are only left with, “if” and “only if” kind of talk. All we do now is point fingers and blame the global markets. But like we have said before, much more is needed to bring Phikwe back on its feet. That this once glorious town, Selebi Phikwe, now finds itself on its knees, on the brink of collapse, is living proof of government’s flawed and destructive policies. This situation is a result of poor economic planning by the then government, if there was any planning or any policy in existence then and even now. 

This could all have been avoided if past leadership had acted differently and paid more than lip service to diversification. Worst still the every week conferences took place in but failed to take the country forward as there were no commitments, no targets nor action plans.

Sadly the Khama administration has adopted the same kind of approach of conferences. Except that the current administration decided to give it a fancy name ÔÇô Pitso. Fancy name or not, we all know that Botswana conferences have a reputation of being a gathering of those who want take a break from offices, eat three meals a day and sleep in nice hotels.
After winning and dinning at a closing day ceremony, the next morning they have forgotten about what was discussed at the conference and this is said because it comes at the expense of a taxpayer.

This is to say the Khama administration also dithered and plodded where it should have hit the ground running. Its recent acknowledgement that we can no longer afford to continue pumping money into the now on death throes ÔÇô BCL mine will be a welcome development only if it was prepared to do something about it. To show that they are serious about developing Selebi Phikwe, let’s see government being bold enough to take one of the major projects in the country to Selebi Phikwe. Now that would be a serious statement of intent ÔÇô Atleast to the business community which is worried about its investments and future prospects of their business in that town. 

The #Bottomline as such remains that the next few months will be decisive for the Khama administration as some of its economic policies hopefully begin to yield visible results or falter. For Phikwe, if Khama policies don’t falter, things will look up again. It was always going to be bad before it gets better. The good days will return as surely as they left, if efforts at diversification by those entrusted in doing so translate to action and if corruption becomes a thing of the past.

 

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The Telegraph October 28

Digital edition of The Telegraph, October 28, 2020.