Thursday, January 21, 2021

The face behind Rail Park Mall moves on

The man who delivered a multi-million Pula shopping complex for Botswana Railways has just moved to join Botswana Innovation Hub.

The former Managing Director of BR Properties, David Tsheboeng, will now be a key hand in developing government state of the art science and Technology Park, which is ruefully behind schedule as a result of legal disputes surrounding the project.

When SUNDAY STANDARD caught up with him, Tsheboeng could only say he moved as a result of what he calls “greener pastures”.

He is now an executive director at Botswana Innovation Hub and is looking forward to be part of the development of the state of the art building in block 8.

Tsheboeng talks fondly of his time at BR Properties. The Rail Mall Park was by far his single most outstanding achievement.

He says the mall is one of the few projects that were completed on time and within budget. He said everything was done to quality. “And that time will tell,” he says as a matter of fact.

He said the secret to this is that he has been working with a competent professional team and selecting a good contractor, with good reputation for delivering large scale projects.

At the initial stages, there was a lot of consultation with all stakeholders, amongst them, Botswana Railways, Town Planning, City Council, Environmental Affairs and relevant government departments.

“I suppose this was very useful because in the end we got support from these stakeholders when we needed it most. However, in some cases, we encountered delays, resistance, fear and doubt. There was a lot of resistance, we were all going through a learning curve and the risks were many,” he said.

Tsheboeng says the initial stages were quite hard and the road was fairly lonely. The land was zoned only for Railway uses and, as the client, they had to apply for change of use, which in itself commanded a waiting period. The professional team worked at risk for about 8 months and only got off risk when the planning permission was given.

“Getting planning permission was a milestone, which I personally celebrated; it was such a great relief. I must say we had the support of the Town and Country Planning Board at that stage. They did something they would not usually do; they called the professional team and myself to present the scheme.”

He said when the building permission came it was yet another milestone.

“As we developed the business case, the cashflows looked good, tenants were forthcoming, banks were interested and we got support from the Board and other stakeholders. But fear and doubt was still rife as people around me continued to think about the worst case scenarios ÔÇô what if we don’t get funding, what if the partners pull out, what if we don’t get government support, what about the recession and so on ÔÇô those were very frightening questions, but I guess my conviction was very strong and at some stage we had gone too far to even think of cancelling the project.”

While he was not a part of the celebrations and fanfare to open the mall last week, Tsheboeng remembers what he and his team has to go through and says it was not all smooth sailing.

“During construction a lot of interest came from all quarters, questions arose on the governance and moral fabric of the project ÔÇô some due diligence was carried out, mistakes were identified and corrected, delays were encountered, frustrations crept in, conflicts arose. I must say, at this stage some people got hurt, but with the benefit of hindsight, those could have been the labour pains, because we now have a good quality mall that was delivered on time and within budget.”

He says the biggest challenge with future malls in Botswana, is not so much the market. Rather it is the trading licences for foreign retailers and the nationals who usually provide secure tenancies for these malls.

He says Government needs to look closely at the regulations and consult with developers and other stakeholders on the matter.

“Overall, I must say this was a good experience for me and I am glad I made some tangible contribution to the development of the country.”

Mr Tsheboeng graduated from Oxford Brookes University with BSc (Hons) in Real Estate, MSc in Project Management from the University of Pretoria and MBA from the University of Botswana. He is also a member of internationally recognised professional bodies in Real Estate. He is now an eminent real estate practitioner with interests in project management and property developments.

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