It has been just over a year now since the Companies and Intellectual Property Authority (CIPA) launched the Online Business Registration System also known as ORBS. The system has been nothing but a life saver. I hope I am speaking on behalf of many other Batswana and most importantly fellow journalists.
Unlike other government or State-Owned Entities/Agencies CIPA’s OBRS was not a victim of the usual government enclave tag-line “System e down”. For those who might not be aware, there is a popular, yet not so sweet response usually uttered by front desk officers at government departments and some state-owned agencies when giving feedback to customers, mostly members of the public called, “System e Down”. The “System e down” tagline is so common that one can mistake it for a norm at the government enclave. The sad reality though it’s that it has been one of our biggest impediments to progress as a nation. We have lost so much money as a nation thanks largely to “System e down”.
So, when CIPA, formerly known as Registrar of Companies and Intellectual Property (ROCIP) launched OBRS last our worry was that it could be victim to “System e Down”. The good news is that such has not been much of a worry for OBRS since its launch. The system has worked, not perfectly but sufficiently. It has been launched during an economic development path in which thousands of Batswana are trying to play a catch up in enterprise development. The system came alive just when we beginning to face the sad reality —that for most part of the time since independence Batswana were turned, either involuntarily or voluntarily into economic spectators. We watched as nationals of other countries came and set up businesses here thus rendering us nothing but mere consumers with no saying even on prices of consumables. As a result of the delay to develop citizen enterprises, Botswana then turned into a “Rich State, Poor People” nation.
So before 2019, while Botswana’s peers in the global village were being praised for the ease way of doing business in their respective countries, our country was piled with blame for the many obstacles around setting and conducting business for both the prospective local and foreign investors.
It was quite clear before 2019 that signs were emerging showing that foreign investors were relocating to other business-friendly countries like Rwanda and Kenya.
All these explains why in December 2012 and following the approval of the recommendations and guiding principles for the Doing Business Reform Roadmap implementation commenced resulting in the drafting of legislation that gave birth to OBRS.
The end results of OBRS as we know it now is that it has shortened company registration from three days to 24 hours.
To share some of the positives of OBRS, in its first three months (June -September 2019), a total of fifty two thousand, three hundred and seventy (52 370) companies were registered of which forty one thousand, three hundred and sixty three (41 363) were re-registrations and eleven thousand and seven (11 007) being new registrations.
The new system, if we can still call it that, has not just improved the overall efficiency in business registration but has also helped us save time. For example, most investigative journalists will agree with me that it used to be exceedingly difficult to obtain a list of directors or shareholders of any company that one might be interested in investigating. One had to drive all the way to the CIPA offices and pay a fee to have the CIPA officials furnish him/her with a file containing information that could be needed. This process was backward and wasted a lot time. Thanks to OBRS now one can, from the comfort of their office know that President Mokgweetsi Masisi co-owns a company with Choppies CEO – Ottaph Ram. It did not take us a whole back and forth between our office and CIPA to know that President Masisi holds a 10 percent stake in a company called ARCEE PTY Ltd while Ram holds the remaining 90 percent. This kind of information might be classified as less important to some within our societies but to those who care about the direction of our country’s economy it could mean a lot. It helps shed the light on who the “President’s Keepers” are. The example I just gave is applicable to all the leaders in this country. With the proposed Assets and Liabilities Declaration law OBRS will help journalists and members of the public in general to cross check whatever little information is available in the public domain relating to assets & liabilities of those aspiring or already in office. One should therefore pause here, and state that the hope and prayer is that the recent use of the OBRS to cross-check company ownership will not result in the system being suspended or sabotaged by the powers that be.
It would be unfortunate if such a decision could be taken. We remain hopeful that instead of trying to take down OBRS, the powers that be should ensure that it is rather perfected and kept away from “System e Down”. We look forward to the launch of the last phase of OBRS which been told entails enabling companies to file annual returns online. The #Bottomline is that in its current format, can still be classified as one of the greatest achievements we ever made when it comes to investment and wealth creation for the people of Botswana. Other things held constant of course.