Wednesday, June 12, 2024

RESPONSE TO ARTICLE ON BIUST

Reference is here made to an article that appeared on the Sunday Standard newspaper of June 29, 2014 entitled ‘BIUST Vice Chancellor Rents Tebelelo Seretse’s Mansion for P31, 000′. The article in its sensationalism of the accommodation arrangement of the Vice Chancellor of the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) unfortunately misses the opportunity to put the subject into perspective. BIUST is a highly specialised research-intensive university that focuses on Science, Engineering and Technology. The institution is of huge national strategic significance as it is central to the country’s transformation from a resource-based to a knowledge-based economy through skills capacity building in engineering, science and technology.

The university will host a Science, Engineering and Technology Research Park that would attract local, regional and international industries to its campus. This is intended to stimulate socio-economic development and, at the same time, facilitate applied research and technology transfer to help solve problems in Botswana, the region and the continent. The University’s academic programming reflects the importance it attaches to the immediate skills needs of the country encapsulated through economic sectoral clusters such as mining, energy, water, telecommunications and the environment.

BIUST’s standing as an international centre of repute in science, technology, engineering and innovation hinges heavily on its ability to compete globally for academics renowned for excellence in their core disciplines that will create new knowledge and transfer knowledge in a diverse community of scholars, professors and researchers. Furthermore, a strong academic leadership with an enviable international scholarly and research track record at the helm of this University is a factor that will attract global attention to BIUST and Botswana. As an international university that is scaled to others in Africa, BIUST should therefore strive to attract world-class senior leaders who come from positions with similar or even greater benefits. To do so, it has to offer remuneration packages and incentives that are globally competitive and capable of distinguishing it as an employer of choice when compared with its contemporaries. This is further necessitated by the location of BIUST in rural Palapye. If you yourself, born and bred in Botswana, find it most challenging to relocate and work in Palapye permanently, just think of how someone from a first world country would feel about it.

The BIUST Vice Chancellor, Distinguished Professor Hilary Inyang, for one, is a leading global academic whose profile we shared with you recently. So his accomplishments are very well known to you. He has made more than two decades of technical and policy contributions to regional and global sustainable development as an educator/administrator, researcher, and government official and corporate leader. And just to remind you, prior to joining BIUST, Professor Inyang has served as the Duke Energy Distinguished Professor of Environmental Engineering and Science, University of North Carolina, USA, President of the International Society for Environmental Geotechnology (ISEG) and leads the Global Alliance for Disaster Reduction (GADR). In 2008, he was selected as a Technical Judge of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. From 1997 to 2001, he was the Chair of the Environmental Engineering Committee of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board, and also served on the Effluent Guidelines Committee of the National Council for Environmental Policy and Technology.

Prior to his position at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, he was DuPont Professor/University Distinguished Professor at the University of Massachusetts, where he helped establish the Graduate School of Marine Science and Technology of the University System, while serving as the Founding Director of the Lowell-based Center for Environmental Engineering, Science and Technology (1995 – 2000).

He has helped establish research institutes and operate educational programs in Brazil, Japan, Korea, India, Canada, Nigeria, Ghana, United Arab Emirates and China. This is to note just a few of his credentials. It goes without saying that attracting leaders of Prof Inyang’s pedigree takes a globally competitive posturing on the part of BIUST.

If BIUST is to stimulate economic development for Botswana and make the country globally competitive, it surely must make globally competitive investments to attract leaders such as Prof Inyang. It is a high stakes game that requires the right temperament. The sponsors of BIUST have had this vision and insight before Prof Inyang was even recruited for the position he holds today. The Vice Chancellor’s employment contract prescribes the level of the housing that he is entitled to as determined by his employers, Botswana Government and the BIUST Council in accordance with international best practice.

The founding development campus in Palapye did not include the construction of executive houses for the senior leadership of the university. This has compelled the search for suitable properties in the private market in both Palapye and Serowe to accommodate the senior leadership. As mentioned during the telephone interview with you, there are very few suitable houses in the two villages. We recognise the risk associated with the Vice Chancellor commuting between Palapye and Serowe every day. The sentiment that your article is intended to spread is that the Vice Chancellor and the University are wasteful. As mentioned during the interview, there was a more expensive (at about P50,000 a month) property in Palapye, which the University could have rented for the Vice Chancellor, a decision which would have equally subjected us to the gauntlet of further public scrutiny and media chastisement. To avoid this, the University opted for the property in Serowe which you have mischaracterized as lavish. The article seriously exposes the author’s ignorance and rudimentary understanding and analysis of the realities of the current situation in the locality of the University. The article further exposes the author’s narrow understanding of the fact that, in the bigger scheme of things, lavishness defines the environment more than it defines a singular facility.

How many internationally renowned scientists would like to leave plush residential environment to live in a rural setting in Africa with a decrease in compensation and benefits?

Can you google the benefits of presidents (Vice Chancellors from American, Asian, European or even South African universities)?
A more rational enquiry before using the term “lavish” would have been to seek answers to the following questions:

What is the level of housing secured for other Vice Chancellors of Prof. Inyang’s status by high level universities in Southern Africa?

Is Prof. Inyang’s residence in Serowe comparable to those of other chief executives who live in rented estates in Phakalane?
Is the residential ambiance of a minimally developed housing plot without a proper connecting street where Prof. Inyang’s residence is located in Serowe comparable to affluent surroundings where the chief executives of your Sunday Standard live in Gaborone?

The other sentiment that your article is intended to spread is that since, as you allege, that Her Excellency Tebelelo Seretse facilitated Professor Inyang’s move to Botswana, the University has decided to rent the former’s property as an act of gratitude.

You are wrong and totally misinformed. In fact, the article simply reveals your desperation in trying to attract the market.
As BIUST we have always enjoyed an excellent working relationship with the Sunday Standard based on respect for transparency, honesty, professionalism and ethical conduct when dealing with each other. We wish to continue to relish this positive relationship going forward. We view your article as detrimental to this mutually beneficial relationship and therefore deserving of the utmost contempt possible. We further wish to remind you that a lot of positive initiatives continue to be implemented at BIUST, which you ought to be reporting on. We wish to advise you that it is only through being objective that you will be able to take cognizance of this context whenever reporting on developments at the University so as to help your audiences understand issues in their true perspective. We, however, appreciate that the country has not had an investment so significantly catalytic to the economic fortunes of this nation such as BIUST. However such a historic lack of reference nationally for a project of BIUST’s magnitude, should not simply give rise to sensationalism. It is an opportunity the media should harness to help the public understand the unique vision of BIUST and its place in winning the future for Botswana.

Shakie P. Kebaswele
Director Communications and Public Affairs
Botswana International University of Science and Technology

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