Early last week, social network Facebook was abuzz with “political noise”. This “noise”, (if we are to adopt the name given to the public contributions by the Sports and Culture minister Thapelo Olopeng), was caused by a proposed horse riding course that government is to build. Some of our fellow citizens were happy that just like always that, Palapye, a rapidly growing urban-village had been given the first priority to be home to such a facility. On the other side, some people felt the decision would be unfair to Maun, a dusty but beautiful all time host to the popular Mascom Derby. In March this year, Maun hosted the tenth race with the help of mobile operator ÔÇô Mascom Wireless.
This contention of ideas were of course caused by admission by Minister Olopeng on Facebook that his ministry has taken a decision to build a horse track facility in Palapye village ÔÇô home to the notorious Glass Project, Morupule B Power Station and misplaced Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST).
Following his initial “post” in which he announced or rather clarified that he took the decision to construct the facility in Palapye due to availability of land in that village, the minister later, after a few days came back to Facebook to announce that some local leaders in Maun have approached him and assured him that they will secure land for the much wanted facility. As a result, Minister Olopeng noted: Good morning. Still on horse racing track. I was contacted by Hon Markos and Hon Mbulawa from Maun, informing me that they have engaged the landlord for the appropriate land to develop a racing track. What a focused, mature leadership. If they become successful, we will start with Maun. Thanks to you all that contributed to the debate, both who remained focused to the objective and those who derailed into the political noise. You both made an effort.
This facebook post and interactions by Minister Olopeng and his followers actually made ourselves to ask so many questions that maybe only he can help us answear. Going forward, are we going to award our mega projects such as stadia and other sports facilities based on who make the loudest noise? If not, how long has the government been planning to build the Palapye Horse Track…..and why should the loud cry of Maun sympathizers change the government’s original plans? Was the project under the just ended National Development Plan 10 or it’s under the notorious Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP)…..or maybe it will be under the National Development Plan 11 if its ever coming?
Whatever the case is, the #Bottomline is that we cannot decide on our national projects (more especially mega projects) based on who cries the loudest. What will happen if by next week Palapye start crying louder than Maun/Ngamiland? Is the minister going to head back to his initial decision to construct the first facility in Palapye? Minister Olopeng should not tell the nation that the decision of where to construct the first facility is decided upon through a marathon. From his response to those who interacted with him on Facebook, Minister Olopeng gave an impression that whoever finds or provides lands first will get the horse track. Is that how we are going to make investment decisions going forward? Have we abandoned our proper planning processes that ensured that maximum benefits are derived from the limited financial resources? The same kind of planning that could allow us to set targets against which our performance can be objectively evaluated.
It is however worthy noting that we are happy that although the minister seems to have prematurely announced this project he has since decided to consider building one of the tracks in Maun. It would have been so unfortunate had the government gone ahead and constructed a track in Palapye, which is new to this sport and has shown little interest towards it over the years. At the same, it was delighting to hear the minister in the office of the President Eric Molale saying the government is willing to assist the Mascom derby to grow beyond its current size. Molale was speaking at HATAB conference on Friday in Maun. Walking in the streets of Maun, is sufficient enough to tell one that building a better facility elsewhere could have disadvantaged the people of that region who are already facing high level of poverty. This is so because there is a high likelihood that the sponsor would also end their association with the event affecting the pockets of both horse breeders, jockeys as well as supporting businesses such as hotels and SMEs.
Going forward however, our law makers and economic planners should always bear in mind that political games should be set aside when dealing with issues of national projects, more especially those that involve using a lot of tax-payers money. We cannot flutter with money when our economy is literally on its toes. These are desperate times and they call for desperate measures. We however acknowledge the minster for sparring his precious time to interact with the citizenry. This should however be done in good faith not with populist mentality. It is indeed right for the minister to consult with people though any format, but when it comes to decision making, let them not be made over Facebook lest we found ourselves counting our losses rather than blessings as a nation.