THE OBSERVER: Who mandated BR to get into construction?

SHARE   |   Monday, 11 January 2016   |   By Simon Gabathuse
Rail Park Mall Rail Park Mall

The things that happen in this country never cease to amaze me. We now have a fully-fledged railway company that has failed in its core, primary and given mandate and opting to rather squatter in other institutions’ mandates. The Botswana Railways has not only miserably failed but it is sadly not doing anything to revamp its core business of both goods and passenger trains. It has rather opted to find new ways of making profit far away from its original mandate. On paper and as per the law, the original mandate of Botswana Railways has not changed. It remains that of transporting bulk freight parcels and passengers as prescribed by the Act of Parliament enacted in 1987 which is the same year that Botswana Railways was established.

This establishment was a result of the Government of Botswana buying out the National Railways of Zimbabwe to have a parastatal which will sorely run the ‘blue train’. The blue train was not only a train but a sign of independence, pride and nationalism connecting the south of the country to the north of Botswana. But in practice, Botswana Railways has moved swiftly and silently to completely change its mandate without rectifying the Act that enacted it or seeking Parliament approval as the law requires. It is operating outside the law!

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The vision of Botswana Railways which it has to date is; ‘to provide quality safe and competitive transport and logistics solutions to customers and ensure stakeholders satisfaction’ and the vision of this parastatal established sorely and only for transport remains; ‘to be the regional leader in customer driven transport and logistics solutions’. The Botswana Railways mandate through its enactment, vision, mission and intended objectives of establishment has never been to build shopping malls, residential properties and offices. This new route is simply deviating from the statutory establishment purposes. BR Properties was supposed to be just a small unit of Botswana Railways but it has somehow now become the main focus as it is the only thing effectively functional under the Botswana Railways as a parastatal.

Not only should the board of Botswana Railways which is led by Modise Davies Modise be dissolved but should show cause why it should not be held accountable for the failure that is Botswana Railways. Their role is to ensure that they advise Government of Botswana through the Minister responsible for Botswana Railways and the Chief Executive Officer on the direction of the parastatal. To also ensure that the parastatal remains within its core and primary mandate that it was established to fulfill. No one can say the Botswana Railways Board has managed any of this. They are supposed to be a board of an institution that operates a railways line; trains to be specific but alas! They are now operating malls and housing! I cannot trust that they will not be soon applying for a banking license.

By pointing out the faults of the board I am not turning a blind eye from the minister responsible and the cabinet thereof. They are equally wrong. It is worse that they have even made a cabinet decision that Botswana Railways – on behalf of BR Properties – should buy private investors out of the Rail Park Mall investment. It is clear that the mall is making more money than any other unit of Botswana Railways to an extent that all of a sudden this has made Rail Park Mall a primary and core duty of the parastatal instead of providing transport services, in particular rail transport. Botswana Railways has now resorted to running after profit that belongs to another parastatal in Botswana Housing Corporation (BHC). No wonder BHC has become this expensive; its space is being intruded by another public establishment which was enacted for a totally different purpose; to provide rail transport services!

That Botswana Railways is making profit is not justification that proper decisions were made to deviate from primary and core mandate. It is safe to conclude that Botswana Railways is making fraudulent profits since it is operating way beyond the Act that enacted it.  The Minister responsible for Botswana Railways Tshenolo Mabeo should ensure that heads roll. Allowing Botswana Railways to completely deviate from its original, core and statutory mandate as per the Act of Parliament of 1987 is grossly criminal. What is more disturbing is the comfort that Botswana Railways is being allowed to pursue this criminality. It is being praised and allowed loans to deviate from mandate of establishment.

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BHC was established as a parastatal under the Ministry of Lands & Housing through an Act of Parliament (CAP 74.03) of 1971 to specifically and primarily be actively involved in trading on the provision of housing services be it domestic, offices and\or to private agencies as its mandate has been re-defined and refined over the years. Despite its challenges of high costs of servicing the land and expensive building materials coupled with sky rocketing labour costs and competition from both local and international estate companies, BHC has never deviated to railway services. BHC has remained within its mandate as it understands that in a developing country such as ours, every individual and every establishment has to do their part and only relate with others through synchronisation. Unlike Botswana Railways, BHC has never deviated but remained within construction.

BHC is actually the one which was given the mandate to not deviate but to include other sources of income as was the case in 1990 when the government resolved that in executing its implicit mandate. It has to raise money through the market to sustain itself including but not limited to raise money from financial markets and diversification of income stream both which were intended to reduce its dependence on government coffers. We are all aware that from 1st April 2012, the BHC mandate was expanded in accordance with Presidential Directive Cab 20 (B)/2010. This expansion of mandate was to the effect that all Government housing implementation programmes should be transferred to BHC to operate as Government’s Single Housing Authority (SiHA).

In compliance with the directive, BHC was as from 1st April 2012 responsible for the construction of turnkey Self Help Housing Agency (SHHA) projects as well as District Housing and other housing programmes pronounced by government from time to time such as the Public Housing Initiative and Youth Housing Initiative. Now if Botswana Railways is to be allowed to deviate from transport to concentrate on building its profits through housing then we might just as well close the BHC all together or even merge it with BR properties.

The minister responsible for Botswana Railways must ensure that not only is the board held accountable but should also with immediate effect dissolve the board. This should not only happen at Botswana Railways, but at all other public institutions that deviate from their core mandate. Allowing public institutions to deviate from their core mandate is equally nullifying their initial establishment purposes and if we intend on doing that then the nation must be consulted and be told boldly that such intentions have been back tracked on. Changing mandates silently is criminal!

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