Saturday, October 16, 2021

Tenderpreneurship ‘last-minute-itis’, queues have created cottage industries

It is a business model that is certainly not creating value in the larger scheme of things but problem conduct has created bountiful but unsustainable business opportunities for some enterprising people.

On the basis of considering tenderpreneurship to be more profitable than holding down a steady job, more and more people are forming companies to “supply” this, that or the other to the government. Thriving in tenderpreneurship doesn’t require adding value but merely gaming the system and in extreme cases, it helps to have an insider as an accomplice. Tenderpreneurship’s absurdity is such that a government department 20 metres away from a bookshop will float a tender inviting people who live 10 kilometres away to supply it with stationery. Given who was president the past 10 years, it is not surprising that tenderpreneurship has assumed an outsize role in the formal economy. The family of former President Ian Khama amassed a massive fortune, largely on the back of tenderpreneurship. Through a company called Seleka Springs, the family supplied materiel for the Botswana Defence Force which Khama was commander of between 1988 and 1998 and commander-in-chief of between 2008 and 2018.

Some professionals, notably those in the civil service and including scarce-skill cadre, are quitting their jobs with the hope of winning tenders to supply the government with products and services. This tenderpreneurship has created a cottage industry that is mushrooming in Gaborone ÔÇô round-the-clock secretarial service shops.

Tendering for a government job requires having to submit mountains of photocopied documents. Typically, the photocopying takes hours on end. As a direct result of a problematic work ethic, one too many Batswana tend to do things at the very last minute and one of those things is preparing tender documents. Secretarial service shops typically close down at 8p.m. during week days and some tenderpreneurs only start photocopying documents in the late evening of the day before the deadline. The photocopying goes way past closing time, forcing staff to work over time, in some cases well into the early hours of the next day. Some secretarial-service shops in Gaborone have taken advantage of this tenderpreneurship last-minute-itis by operating round the clock but require customers to make a booking.

Botswana’s long, slow-moving queues have also spawned their cottage industries, some operating south of the law. On paper, forming a company and registering it with all relevant authorities is a really simple thing. The reality though is that one has to contend with long, slow-moving queues at the Companies and Intellectual Property Authority, Botswana Unified Revenue Services and Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board and ends up losing a lot of valuable time. While there are people who became company secretaries for legitimate reasons, the long queues have also inspired another batch who use their connections in government offices to jump to the head of the queue and give helpful officers “lunch money” in return for getting preferential treatment.

Long queues in private sector entities have also created a business opportunity for some. Years ago, an artefact dealer at the Gaborone main mall started a unique and quite lucrative place-holding business. For P10, he reserved a spot in queues for a select clientele at the post office and the three banks in the mall. He would go back to his own business and give periodic updates to clients over the phone. Today, at some banks in Gaborone and for anything between P50 and P100, you can jump to the head of the queue courtesy of a security guard not so discreetly conniving with a teller. This is naked corruption but for some, the opportunity cost of staying in a slow-moving queue is ten times higher.

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