Thursday, June 4, 2020

More transparency needed in all deals, agreements between Botswana Government and Development

Corruption thrives in darkness. It is appalling that in this day and age a government purporting to be democratic and a company feigning openness and transparency could see nothing wrong keeping away from public scrutiny the contents of Agreements that have so much material impact on the economic wellbeing and even existence of a nation.

Our enquiries with Botswana Government why the contents of the deals are made secret have been answered by saying De beers liked it so because the company interpreted the Agreements as part of their commercial and trade secrets.

A similar enquiry to De Beers has yielded an answer to the effect that the company had no issue with the contract being made public, but that it was keeping it secret only to honour the wishes of Botswana Government.

The two answers cannot be both correct. If anything they expose the possible lies behind the dark curtain.

Such duplicity and its resultant opacity can no longer be tolerated especially given what is at stake.

Basically our leaders are demanding from the nation a leap of faith that they will always act in the best interest of the nation.

History however teaches us the opposite, that without guaranteed scrutiny, leaders tend to act against national interest.

As a nation we have no reason to trust De Beers, and no interest to trust our leaders who negotiate with De Beers.

Given the expansive and oversized importance of diamonds to Botswana, there is no need to emphasise that what happens between Botswana Government and de Beers can very easily go as far as to undermine the sovereignty of our country. In short there is a lot at stake. And as a people we cannot give our leaders such blanket loyalty and trust that they will always do what is in the best interest of the country.

The negotiations that will be starting between the two parties add fresh impetus for transparency.

This in the backdrop of lower than expected returns for Botswana after De beers relocated its sales and marketing arm as had been envisaged in the Sales Agreement that is now coming to an end.

For those of us who have had the (mis)fortune to look at the current Agreement, it is so clear that key aspects that are so crucial to Botswana’s developmental path have not been observed.

For example the increase in the number of cutting and polishing factories is a big requirement for Botswana given the country’s high unemployment figures.

Yet we have seen a drastic reduction in the number of such factories.

De Beers would rather have such factories located in Antwerp (Belgium), India and of course Israel.

For their part De Beers insist it is not their responsibility to monitor the rough utilization, which is the amount of diamonds sold here proceeding also to be cut here.

In the new Agreement that is still to be negotiated it is important ÔÇô in fact it is in everybody’s interests that De Beers clearly spells out what its Corporate Social Responsibility to Botswana.

At the moment De Beers is involved in the marketing of handcrafts and other artifacts, and also some entrepreneurship training. We honestly do not think even De Beers believes that is enough.

A lack of clear social involvement is also behind a groundswell of public hostility to De Beers.

Of course it is highly possible that De Beers’s executives do not sense this hostility because they live in isolated cocoons totally detached from the local population.

Diamonds have been good to Botswana. De Beers has played a huge role in converting those diamonds into roads, medical care, schools, education etc.

But as a nation we cannot live on history.

Our ambitions have grown and we demand more not just from our government and De beers, but also from our diamonds.

Governance is one such demand. Transparency is just one component of governance we talking about.

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