Wednesday, September 23, 2020

We still need a privatization law!

This newspaper will be five years old next month.

And ever since its inception, we have consistently argued for the enactment of a privatisation law.

From day one, to us the benefits of such a law have always seemed as obvious as not to warrant any kind of protracted debate.

We, therefore, are deeply dismayed that five years on there is still no law, and practically no privatization exercise to meaningfully talk about.

Except for occasional ramblings to the effect that Botswana Telecommunications Corporation could be up for privatization, the entire process is, at least for us the outsiders, gridlocked and held hostage by petty personal differences that could not have prevailed for a minute had there been a clear piece of legislation directing the agenda.

During those five years, the privatization agency, PEEPA, had taken up most of the criticism for the slow pace of privatization.

While we have not always agreed with the way PEEPA has been doing some of their business, we stand by the organization in realizing that no headway can be achieved unless parliament passes a law that will drive privatisation.

The agency was even blamed for not forcefully lobbying the politicians to expedite some of those assets which are of no sentimental value to a government treading with abnormal caution.
Yet, as we all know, politicians are some of the chief culprits when it comes to reasons behind failed privatisation.

As a newspaper, we have held that we supported privatisation for as long as the process was carefully crafted to not only take interests of citizens, but also allay fear arising out of national security concerns.
There is no better example of just how important some of these organisations could be than BTC.

Not only is BTC a strategic asset, it also is an important vehicle when it comes to national security matters.
Issues surrounding the privatisation of BTC should be clearly spelt out and be open to public debate.

But then how does a debate start when there are so many varying interests whose only abiding point of conversion seems to be to keep the whole exercise out of public view.

It’s high time the nation is taken into confidence on just how BTC will be privatized, if that will at all happen some day.

Privatisation is too important a business to be left to the mercy and, in some worse cases, the whims of unpredictable and capricious civil servants.

As much as we can make, not much has been achieved in the last ten years or so of our attempts to privatize some state assets exactly because there is no law that sets out a framework and parameters.

We acknowledge the existence of the Privatisation Policy as passed by Parliament.

But, as the name implies, it is just a policy beyond which the privatization agency PEEPA cannot do anything.
We acknowledge the existence of the Master Plan, but of what value will that plan be if individuals in the public service can easily spurn all attempts by PEEPA to get the ball rolling.

The Privatisation Policy and the Master Plan need to be backed by an overarching law which will provide a blue print of what to expect.

After many years of talking about this issue, we have come to the conclusion that Botswana Government was never really serious about privatisation, but only came up with a Policy to that effect as one way of staving off what was clearly increasing pressure from such lending organisations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

It’s up to Government to prove us wrong by showing the way.
There is aspect to this matrix.
Investors like predictability and certainty.

If they cannot get guarantees and assurances that what they are going into is, in the long-term, underpinned by legal instruments, investors naturally become very reluctant and skeptical to commit their money.
The risk here is that Botswana will, in the end, not be able to get blue chip companies of high value and quality as strategic partners.

Once again, and we do not know for how many times now, we call on government to consider coming up with a privatisation law to help drive the process forward to finality.

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.