Government has been caught pants down trying to steal the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) from farmers and giving it to Israeli and Kuwait investors.
The BMC was created by an Act of Parliament as a farmers’ cooperative.
The Minister of Agriculture, Patrick Ralotsia, has however gone behind the back of farmers to negotiate with Israelis and Kuwaits to invest in BMC.
Ralotsia has already presented an unsolicited bid to Cabinet on behalf of Kuwait and Tel Aviv and the ministry is already considering making Botswana beef either kosher or halal.
Ralotsia has confirmed that he has presented a proposal to Cabinet for the privatisation of BMC saying: “We know that some of these partnerships will require us to make some modifications as far as the meat processing and the sale of our beef is concerned because of some of the religions our potential partners are involved with.”
Botswana National Beef Producers Union (BNPU) Secretary General Abel Modimo, who is also a lawyer, reacted with shock at the news that the government was negotiating with Kuwait and Israel investors.
“They cannot be engaged in talks with potential investors over something that belongs to us as farmers without our knowledge. If there is a potential investor, that person should partner with farmers and not government because farmers are the ones who have a stake in BMC.
“The government can just facilitate and not be a partner. If you look at the BMC Act you will realise that it created a monopoly for the export of beef. BMC was formed as a marketing arm to the outside market. For instance when BMC makes profits they must be paid to the farmers. The BMC is a farmers’ cooperative. Modimo cited the deduction of four percent from famers’ proceeds saying that is how they pay tax.
“What the minister is doing is wrong and he is not supposed to do that. He knows that there is a union that is responsible for the interests of farmers. His first port of call should have been us and not Cabinet. What is it that they are not willing to share with us because as a union we are accountable to famers,” he said.
Modimo added that: “We wonder what it is that he is presenting to Cabinet. He should have consulted us first and sought our input; what if we reject what he has presented to Cabinet. He has put the cart before the horse.”
BNPU chairperson Madongo Direng was equally shocked saying: “I can’t believe what you are saying. In fact I don’t think what you are telling me is possible because BMC is a farmers’ cooperative and as primary beef producers we should be consulted first before any decision can be taken about the cooperative.
Direng told Sunday Standard that in 2013 farmers proposed that a study on liberalisation of the beef market be conducted but government has been stalling the process.
“What we know as farmers is that the BMC CEO has been going around the country telling farmers that the reason there is delay in processing famers’ payments was because the only profitable entity is the Lobatse abattoir and it is subsiding the Maun and Francistown abattoirs”.
He said Cabinet should not rubber stamp the proposal submitted by the Minister but instead ask Ralotsia if he has consulted farmers. “He cannot say he will consult farmers after submitting a proposal to Cabinet; that is not consultation,” said Direng.
President Ian Khama recently toured the BMC to “get firsthand information on the status of the abattoir.”This was followed by another tour by Permanent Secretary to the President Carter Morupisi in less than a month.
In an interview with Sunday Standard, Ralotsia explained that the plan to partner with Israelis and Kuwaitis is aimed at “seeking new ideas on how productive the institution can be run; gaining confidence from other countries and exploring new markets to improve BMC fortunes.
He said they were weighing various options to save the sinking BMC pointing out that the abattoirs in Lobatse, Francistown and Maun were making losses. He said the options include privatisation, exploring new markets and “partnering with those who are willing to do that”.
Ralotsia insists that “if advertised well BMC could easily attract potential partners worldwide. As I was coming to Parliament today (Thursday) I was talking to some potential partners from Kuwait and we are also talking with some from Israel.
Though the Ralotsia did not go into details on how the partnership in question is expected to work, he said it was important to have partners if BMC really wants to make profits. Ralotsia confirmed that he has already made submissions to government and he will be going around the country consulting farmers on the options that he wants the government to consider.
“I am still to go back to the farmers to consult them and to share with them what we were thinking. We have three abattoirs that are run by Botswana Meat Commission; their performance in terms of making profits differs,” he said, adding that Francistown abattoir was the worst.