This week reports emerged that President Ian Khama has appointed former Bank of Botswana governor Linah Mohohlo as the coordinator of the Selebi Phikwe economic revitalisation/recovery program. We have to admit from the word-go that we do not necessarily know nor do we understand what that means. Mohohlo’s appointment statement circulated in the media this week also does not help.
This has left us with one key question though ÔÇô By appointing Mohohlo to such a role, what could the President be communicating about the existence of the Selebi Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU)?
Over the years, since inception SPEDU’s key mandate has always been implementation of projects and/or programmes for the economic regeneration programme for Selebi Phikwe and surrounding regions.
However, from where we stand, it seems President Khama and his administration seems not to be quite on the same wavelength with regard to what the mandate of SPEDU should be or have been.
While some of us had initially thought that SPEDU would tackle developmental challenges in its area of jurisdiction, the unit has not being as proactive as we had all hoped.
For those who might not be at par with us reading this issue, the unit was established following a study on Selebi Phikwe town’s economic diversification that was commissioned through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning with funding from the European Union. The study recommended the establishment of a diversification unit to spearhead the implementation of the regeneration programme proposed for Selebi Phikwe. Afterwards, SPEDU was established as a regional economic development agency in 2008 through a presidential directive. Its functions are to manage the diversification programme; identify projects and progress them to potential investors; work with existing project promoters and with government in respect of public sector projects; help promote and enhance the image of Selebi Phikwe and identify and secure outside technical assistance to carry out feasibility studies and other specialised tasks.
Given the recent decision by the government to shut down the BCL mine it therefore makes sense to those who can rationally think to expect SPEDU to start “showing off” on some of its key appointments.
Since saving Selebi Phikwe and ensuring that the town remained alive even after the closure of BCL mine has been a big national priority for the several years, SPEDU must come out, with its chest out, and tell President Khama to stop interfering on its mandate by appointing retired persons to compete with it.
But perhaps SPEDU does not have such guts since it has failed the town of Phikwe. SPEDU failed to implement its own strategy, the six year Regional Economic Development Strategy (REDS).
We read elsewhere previously that the strategy’s aim was to improve the economic performance of the region; enhance the region’s competitiveness and address market failures that prevent sustainable economic development, regeneration and business growth in the region.
SPEDU’s history traces back to December 2006 when CSA Consultants embarked on an EU-funded study on how to save the town and surrounding areas. The agency was launched in 2008, the same year when Khama became the President. Since then very little has been achieved. In fact, nothing has been achieved.
Even key projects such as Pula Steel that were meant to help are going down the drain with BCL. The imminent closure of BCL mine has touched Batswana where it hurts most. Not only has it taken away confidence from the town, it also has in a big away eroded the gains made by our people over the last forty years that turned the town into one of the country’s biggest economic centres. We have to state this: reversing the tide will not be easy. In fact it might prove more costly than the initial round of building the town from scratch.
This is what we hope Mohohlo had in mind when she agreed to this new well paying job that she likes so much such that she had to cut short her retirement. We hope that Mohohlo, just like us has realised that SPEDU, which was created to save Selebi Phikwe has been too slow to prove its worth. We hope she does not follow suit.
Having said that, and given the recent misfortune, instead of recalling Mohohlo from retirement, we had hoped that Khama will revamp SPEDU by putting strict raft of targets backed by a regime of performance measurements on those mandated to run that unit.
We however hope that when President Khama made a decision to recall Mohohlo from retirement he reminded himself of the fact that what transpired in Selebi Phikwe is entirely the fault of his government, for centralizing everything in Gaborone.
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 government, if there is any planning or any policy in existence.
The #Bottomline is that the appointment of Mohohlo actually confirms that indeed there is a great deal of scepticism among relevant stakeholders about the role of SPEDU. This includes President Ian Khama or whoever advised him to create a new post for Mohohlo despite existence of SPEDU. More crucial is however the fact that SPEDU success will see Selebi Phikwe gravitate towards a more sustainable future that is predicated on economic certainty, economic confidence and long term stability that are all necessary for a complete turnaround.