The private sector in Botswana has criticised delays in releasing the 500 million pula ($70m) credit line facility pledged to Harare in 2009 amid indications the Gaborone government is insisting on reaching acceptable terms.
Members of Botswana Confederation of Commerce Industry and Manpower (Boccim) that attended the recent 39th annual general meeting challenged the government to accelerate the release of the funds to Zimbabwe.
The comments were sparked by deputy secretary of macroeconomic policy in the Ministry of Finance Kelapile Ndobano’s briefing to Boccim on the developments of credit line during the meeting highlighting preconditions attached to the facility were causing the hold-up.
An agreement on the criteria to disburse the fund is yet to be reached while the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (Bippa), which is another precondition, has not been ratified by both countries though signed in March 2011.
The signing of the Bippa between the two countries was expected to facilitate the release of the funds.
“Rollout of the fund is long overdue. We are talking one thing and doing the opposite. On our trip to Zimbabwe, we found opportunities then and we signed a memorandum of understanding with prospective partners and now they think we are clowns. Can this fund be released?” said an emotional Olebeng Ngwakwena of Belshane Property Group.
“Given the stance by Zimbabwe to nationalise a lot of industry, is this facility still a priority to us? Should we not internalise the fund taking into consideration that Zimbabwe is doing better now?” Lisani Ndaba of Foamex Industries said.
Adding his sentiments to the issue Martin Dube of Collect a Can highlighted the political divide over nationalisation in Zimbabwe: “How sure are we that Zimbabwe cannot renege on these agreements. One faction says one thing and another says something else.”
Responding to the questions Ndobano said: “It’s very important that we are very careful and we put in place measures to ensure that they are checks and balance that is why, we are careful on these legal instruments being put in place. We are consulting the Attorney-General to make sure that the agreements are water tight for mutual benefits.
“I do not think that we are deliberately delaying the fund. It’s important that we put our house in order first, unfortunately negotiations between governments are difficult,” he added.
Ndobano said the government would do its best to protect investors that will go into Zimbabwe.
Adding to the issue, managing director of Phakalane Golf Estate, Lesang Magang said: “The long and short is the time. The tourism industry opportunities are slowly going away. I think the fear on nationalisation was generally an issue on the mining sector. And going into Zimbabwe is all about risk taking. The stronger Zimbabwe gets, the less, they are willing to negotiate a best deal for us. Zimbabwe is ready to do business.”
Ndobano further said both governments have agreed on some mutual benefits to be drawn from exploiting the credit line such as dedicating 70% of the fund to manufacturing, emphasis on viability of projects, protection of investments from expropriation and nationalisation.
“The facility will be the start for Botswana to encourage outward investment. The success of the programme will encourage the government to look for other opportunities outside our borders. We have noted the concerns of the business community,” Ndobano said.
Speaking at the launch of the World Investment Report a fortnight ago Economic Planning and Investment Promotion minister recently said his ministry was seized with the matter of ensuring the country started benefiting from the line of credit.
“It’s not easy for the money to come. We will take the Bippa for ratification in Parliament and do a follow-up for the investment to come,” said Mashakada.