Scores of Chinese nationals continue to operate retail businesses reserved exclusively for Botswana citizens under the Trade Act.
The Ministry of Trade says there are currently one hundred and twenty-one (121) companies owned by Chinese nationals that are operating under reserved business activities.
According to the Ministry these businesses were allowed to continue to operate as they legally acquired the licenses before the reservation took effect.
“The Ministry continues to revise laws to reserve businesses that can be easily operated by citizens as a way of encouraging Citizen Economic Empowerment. However, non-citizens who are already in that line of businesses when the law is reviewed are allowed to continue trading as the law cannot be implemented in retrospect,” Acting Permanent Secretary Ontlametse Ward told Sunday Standard.
She further said, the law allowed joint ventures between non-citizen and citizens to operate a reserved business where a citizen has a minimum beneficial ownership of 51 percent.
Section 27 of the Trade Act empowers the Minister to exempt any person from any provision of this Act if in the opinion of the Minister it is desirable in the interest of the public that such exemption be granted. “There are no Chinese nationals who have been exempted to operate under the reserved activities in accordance with Section 27, Trade Act, 2003. Those operating under the reserved activities acquired the licenses before the coming into effect of the reservation clause. The Minister has never issued any exemption to the Chinese owned company,” Ward said. She said however that there are other non-citizens (foreign nationals) who have been exempted in accordance with Section 27.
Batswana have been fingered as culprits, enabling foreign nationals to operate reserved businesses by renting out or selling their licenses.
As trade between China and Africa has been on the rise over the past few decades, so has the number of Chinese entrepreneurs running small business across the continent including here in Botswana. The Chinese traders, spread across the length and breadth of Botswana, offer everything from clothing items, to home accessories, and even food usually at rock bottom prices. Their success means the collapse of citizen owned businesses offering similar services.