Saturday, September 26, 2020

We need a law on Citizen Economic Empowerment

Since he took over at the government developmental agency, CEDA, Dr Thapelo Matsheka has proved that relationship with the media is important.

This is contrary to what many agencies of government do; they tend to view the media as adversaries or, in some worse cases, enemies that should be kept at bay.

In the month of March alone, the relationship between the media and CEDA was taken to another level when CEDA took the media on tour of some of the projects the Agency has funded in the southern and central parts of Botswana. The expectation is that the tour will extend to other parts of the country.

This was over and above the media briefings that the organisation undertakes from time to time. The media tours that started in Gaborone, ending up in Bobirwa, were an eye opener to the media and the business at large.

For the beneficiaries of CEDA and for the media the interactions provided a platform for the parties to exchange their viewers.
Promoters had an opportunity to air their views, especially with how the agency is assisting them.

The trips also exposed the journalists to challenges that CEDA assisted projects face in their day to day operations. CEDA currently operates in an environment where there is no Citizen Economic Empowerment legislation.

Because there is no such law whatever empowerment there is, is implemented haphazardly, capriciously and without purpose.

In short, it is at the mercy of such people like civil servants who are capricious and hell bent on protecting their turfs than serving national interests.

A lack of a law on empowerment makes the development of citizen entrepreneurs difficult and calls into question government’s resolve to develop the latter.

For example, no stake is by law reserved for citizens in the public procurement budget.
That is risky, to put it mildly.

SMMEs, unlike multinational companies, need a great deal of government support. They need support to secure markets, capacity building and environment that is cost effective.

For example, CEDA has funded a project in Molapowabojang that is engaged in the production of milk and milk bye-products. Dairy House has the potential to make the country self sufficient.

But, like the rest of other projects that the media toured, it has challenges to function at its optimum capacity.

Currently, Botswana imports UHT milk and other milk products from South Africa when such can be produced locally looking, at the potential the project has.

The promoter of the project revealed to the entourage that he would love to expand, but there are challenges, including the markets as it happened to the tender he lost unconvincingly.

To make matters worse, to connect amenities to his farm, it came as a huge cost to him.

He paid P180, 000 to connect electricity from the power grid to the farm while he graded the road linking the farm to the main road for P15, 000.

The other project–GR8 Minds Industries based in Thamaga, produces vegetables that are of the same quality as the ones imported from South Africa.

While she said the farm has great potential, the owner of the project said the farm also raised such pertinent issues like concerns of the market.

Although she gets some support from chain stores, this support is small because the same stores still get their major stock from the neighbouring countries.

We are focusing on agricultural projects because we see a lot of potential in this particular sector, especially because it remains to a large extent untapped.

Given the fast changing geopolitics it is not an exaggeration to suspect that countries like South Africa will in future use their food supplies to influence regional decisions.

It therefore is wise that Botswana starts as early as now to work on food sufficiency.

Thus CEDA, and other agencies promoting SMMEs, especially agro projects are very important in shaping the future of this country.

The starting point is a law on Citizen Empowerment.

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