The Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Elias Magosi on Friday told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that tourism operator, Wilderness Holdings, has not been favoured over other aspirant operators in the domestic tourism market.
Over the years, the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) listed safari company has been linked to President Ian Khama and his family resulting in rife speculation that the company could be favoured over other operators when it came to issuance of tenders on tourism land.
On Friday, the company was put under spotlight at a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) session seeking clarity on the “special” relation that Wilderness Holdings has with the tourism ministry.
Although one member of the PAC, Ignatius Moswaane said that it has become evident that Wilderness Holdings controls swathes of land for tourism activities in the country, Magosi denied any sort of favouritism towards it.
“It must be noted Wilderness Safari tendered for tourism activities like any other and passed the requirements and resources as provided. It was never favoured over any other competing operator,” said Magosi adding that Wilderness Holdings acquired tenders for tourism activities through normal and transparent procedures.
Moswaane was however not satisfied with the answer asserted that the giant tourism operator could be winning all the tourism tenders because of its financial muscle.
Moswaane, who is Member of Parliament for Francistown West under the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) ticket is worried that tourism activities around the country are the result of the monopoly of the selected few particularly those leading the Ministry, citing the connection between the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama and Wilderness Safari.
“Is this not a conflict of interest,” Moswaane asked, referring to Tshekedi Khama at the helm of the Ministry while his elder brother alleged to have shares within Wilderness Safari is the President.
While he appeared ready to answer the question, Magosi was denied the chance to do so as the Chairman of PAC Abram Kesupile insisted the question was too inappropriate and personal.
The stoppage however did not deter Moswaane from highlighting another conflict of interest which he says is over land control in the tourism sector. “One wonders why the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism instead of Lands and Housing is controlling the land. The impression made is that you deliberately created the scheme for your own benefit,” Moswaane said.
Tshekedi Khama was however to rubbish any claims linking him to Wilderness on the sidelines of the meeting. On conflict of interest, younger Khama said, “In Botswana almost each one of us is conflicted.”
With tourism operators across Central Kalahari and the famous Okavango Delta, Wilderness Safari owned by the whites is a source of concern for aspirant Batswana tourism operators – a development shared by Moswaane.
Meanwhile the hospitality group announced early this week that is has sold atleast 8 percent of its ordinary shares to Botswana Opportunities Partnerships (BOP). BOP is a private equity fund established by Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund (BPOPF) and is used by CMB to invest in businesses in Botswana on its behalf. The fund makes direct investments in private businesses otherwise known as unlisted companies.
The shares acquired by Botswana Opportunities Partnership were acquired from Winslow Financial Investments Limited.
“Winslow Financial Investments Limited has now disposed of its entire holding in the Company,” Wilderness Holdings said Monday.