Attention is drawn to a Commentary of the Sunday Standard newspaper of 12-18 April 2009, in which the Ministry of Works and Transport through its Deputy Permanent Secretary Mr. Lewis Malikongwa, has been accused of lying to the nation on the reasons pertaining to Botswana Railways (BR) passenger train services being indefinitely suspended.
While acknowledging Sunday Standard’s right to express its opinion on the issues of public domain as well as that of sympathizing with the public as part of its watchdog role, it is with regret and alarm that the paper did so by manipulating the truth and in the process embark on character assassination of Mr. Malikongwa who has up to know maintained the good name of the Ministry of Works and Transport and the office he holds.
For the record, Botswana Railways has continued to make operating losses due to among others; huge infrastructure and backlog of rolling stock overhaul maintenance expenditure not matched by an increase in revenue.
The unaudited accounts for 2007/2008 show an operating loss of P79 million compared to a loss of P10 million in 2006/2007.
Passenger services account for less than 10% of BR operating revenues and have been in the red continuously. For example, in 2005/2006, BR direct costs of passenger services were P38.8 million, while revenues were only P9.1 million resulting in a net loss of P29.7 million.
Presenting, the Ministry of Works and Transport Committee of Supply Speech at Parliament on the 25th February 2009, the Hon. Minister Johnnie Swartz has pointed out that Government Assistance is conditional upon BR undertaking to increase the freight tariffs immediately to cost recovery levels.
He further said that such assistance is also conditional upon BR ensuring that the turnaround strategy is implemented as well as entering into an agreement with Government which spells out specific milestones that would take BR out of the loss making situation.
Honourable Swartz indicated that a total investment of P586.5 million will be required to overcome shortages of locomotives and rolling stocks in order to meet current demand for traffic. He revealed that this will be financed by converting P104 million outstanding loans from Government into equity, disposing off locomotive and rolling stock assets that are no longer useful, use of BR reserves and guaranteed borrowing, on the basis of a debt-equity ratio of 0.6:1.
The above facts are what Mr. Malikongwa has been maintaining all along in his address of the Councils, and to an extension the public, around the country. And, to say that he has been telling the nation lies is nothing else but utter disrespect and a personal attack on Mr. Malikongwa’s character and his good public standing.
Further, Mr. Malikongwa has never said that Botswana Railways passenger trains were “death traps” but that, due to meager returns, it was not easy to service and overhaul the coaches. Indeed, the coaches are checked before they embark on any given journey as there is staff recruited for that particular purpose to ensure customer safety.
Just to emphasis an earlier point, the suspension of passenger train services is one of the strategies BR is employing to reposition itself for better service to the public. Coupled with the reasons given earlier on in this submission, painful as it is, government saw it fit to accept BR’s proposal to place a moratorium on passenger train services. We do acknowledge that a service gap has been created as a result of the termination of the passenger train and we apologize for all inconveniences caused by the termination of the service.
Principal Public Relations Officer II