The management of Phakalane Estates sees a sinister motive behind its latest dispute with two utilities providers, Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) and Water Utilities Corporation (WUC).
At issue seems to be interpretation of the law that governs private development of land, and whose responsibility it is to provide primary infrastructure. If unresolved, the disagreement might have a bearing on Phakalane’s latest development, a 220-plot enclosed residential area, Thobo Hamlet, as well as the 100 industrial plots that make up what will be known as Morula Park.
It is envisaged that the two developments will increase pressure on the existing infrastructure, and therefore there is need to increase capacity. However, both BPC and WUC have washed their hands clean from the responsibility to provide the infrastructure. WUC, for instance, has advised the developers that whilst it (WUC) has taken over responsibility for the township’s sewer system, the existing pump station is currently overloaded and cannot cope with additional inflows until it is upgraded for “future additional inflows”. WUC is understood to have informed Phakalane Estates that the township is a freehold area, whose infrastructure development has to be undertaken by the developer.
To increase capacity to provide power supply to Thobo Hamlet, BPC has presented Phakalane Estates with a quotation for P22million for a substation. It is estimated that to upgrade the sewer pump station would cost in the region of P30million.
Phakalane’s founder and chairman, David Magang, says he is seeing history repeating itself. He said when he initiated the idea of developing the township over 20 years back, the same kind of impediments were placed on his way to make him fail.
“Why are we still dealing with the same problems 20 years down the line? We have been developing since 1989. We did Phases 1, 2, 3, and 4 simultaneously with the Golf Estate. We have proved we can do it in accordance with the laws which state what you should do when you want to develop a township. We have done everything according to the book,” he said.
He said the law’s position is that primary infrastructure and services ÔÇô such as main sewer pipes, main water pipes, and main roads ÔÇô are the responsibility of utility corporations or government, while the developer is responsible for secondary or tertiary infrastructure, which are the connections from the individual plots into the main lines.
He maintains that the two corporations have to provide the said infrastructure in accordance with the law because nothing was done behind their backs, but they were taken on board since the beginning.
He states that in 1990, during the development of Phakalane’s first two phases, WUC refused to provide water to the township even though it had been incorporated into Gaborone. WUC’s position was that Phakalane Estates, as the developer, should pay for water to be brought to the township.
“At the time, Phase One had sold out. We had already sold half the plots in Phase Two. We were blackmailed into putting up a water tower and reservoir, which we hadn’t budgeted for,” Magang said in reference to the landmark, which is itself the subject of a court case between his company and WUC, after a long running dispute also revolves around whose responsibility it is to provide what type of infrastructure.
“Back then, I was na├»ve to think that I was fighting people who didn’t understand. I now realise that people are being dishonest deliberately. Alternatively, ke lehuha la Setswana,” he said.
Unlike 20 years back, this time it appears the company is not prepared to roll over and carry the cost of what it considers primary infrastructure.
Magang’s son, Lesang, who was just out of secondary school when his father fought WUC over the water tower, is now the company’s Managing Director, and he is forthright on their attitude about the latest dispute.
“We are not going to be suckered into building a substation and handing it over,” said the younger Magang.
He questions what he sees as inconsistency in applying the laws of the country, saying, “There is one policy for one side, another policy for the other side”.
This is because across the A1 highway, opposite Phakalane township, sits another private development, which is known as Gaborone North. Like Phakalane, Gaborone North was formerly a freehold farm. It was incorporated into Gaborone in 1992.
In 2004, Gaborone City Council financed a structure plan for Gaborone North to provide a framework for the area’s orderly spatial development. As per the report’s recommendations, primary infrastructure is currently being constructed ÔÇô and it is not borne by the developer, but the various agencies of government.
The Magangs say they have heard a view expressed that if they greased a few palms, they wouldn’t encounter these problems.
“I am not going to give anybody money or a plot to get them to do what they are supposed to do in the first place,” said Lesang, who finds it strange that the utilities corporations would refuse to pay for infrastructure, but be too happy to collect tariffs.