Of Air Botswana privatisation, a petty and jealous nation

SHARE   |   Monday, 19 June 2017   |   By Simon Gabathuse
Of Air Botswana privatisation, a petty and jealous nation

The issue of Wilderness Safari says a lot about that which we should have long done as a nation. Before he ascended to Cabinet, Honourable Phillip Makgalemele, the MP for Shoshong who is also the Assistant Minister of Health & Wellness, presented a motion to the National Assembly to have the Citizen Economic Empowerment Policy turned into law. Such a very important debate, or rather, motion, died a silent death as if it was not what the country needed. One cannot say if that motion simply died only as a result of Honourable Phillip Makgalemele being made an Assistant Cabinet Minister, or it died because of the political will. I am not ignorant to the fact that sometimes motions die, or are killed by our legislators, not because they are against them, but simply because they are completely lost in the comprehension of the debate and the need for such a reform and or reforms. You will agree with me that many of them are only able to comment when a joke is passed because of their extreme limited capacity to robustly engage in debates of national interest that envisage a better Botswana. We have such a low capacity in Parliament that you can literally remember the voices you ever heard in Parliament.

At the moment, Botswana has some sort of a rarely distributed or shared Citizen Economic Empowerment Policy. This policy, like many other policies is not even binding. It is some mere administrative instrument designed to make life easier for the civil servant doing his and or her work. This is the scenario that keeps goal posts changing. The issue of Wilderness Safari intending or being invited to buy shares at Air Botswana is just one of the many cases where selective justice continues to take precedent over natural and in normal societies, expected justice. It is more about who is involved and not the subject matter. We are now playing the man instead of playing the ball. One wonders in another tone and format of thought, avoiding to flow with the public rhetoric and sensation that, is it fair, just and kind to deny and or publicly prosecute and pronounce a guilty verdict on Wilderness Safaris for simply doing what they do? They are in business, in the air transport, tourism and hospitality business. Like any other business, they aspire to grow and expand their business whenever such an opportunity arises. It becomes difficult when as a nation, we want to deny them that opportunity simply because a certain company, Linyanti Investments, which President Khama has some sort of a shares through some concession has some sort of commercial interest at Wilderness. This is one absurd thing from my end, that it is not only President Khama who has interest at both Linyanti Investments and Wilderness Safaris; it is the many other ordinary Batswana who wish their shares to grow. And for these shares to grow in economic, monetary value, the business must grow. We have chosen to ignore them because it suits the moment and because it is an opportunity to air our frustration at the uneven economic distribution of wealth through economic trickle down. They are victims of our anger.

In denying Wilderness Safaris the opportunity to grow, we are not punishing President Khama or continuing the existing political onslaught against him, we are denying the ordinary Motswana with commercial interests at the same company to economically benefit from the economy of Botswana. This debate will rage on in an idle and angry format because to begin with, it is not structured on some rationality but on the premised belief that there is theft going on. We need to pause and ask ourselves if we are dealing with the problem. And until and unless we have a clear Citizen Economic Empowerment law dictating terms and conditions of economic trickle down and commercial relations, we will continue to debate from an unfortunate petty position. The debates at the moment are not far from some sort of jealousy of why him and or her and not me. They are not founded on any meaningful statute that we can all take to court and seek redress. With a clear Citizen Economic Empowerment law, these debates will be more manageable, more meaningful, and accountability will be easier. The more we continue without a clear, bold and defined Citizen Economic Empowerment law, we shall continue to be suspicious of each other and accuse each other of all the evils under the earth. What makes matters worse is that some will continue to have huge sums of money, to be able to go on sprees, be it cattle spree, be it having a pillow case lucky enough to be made up of P300, 000.00 in cash. Whether there is DCEC or not, the courts shall continue to fail. They shall continue to fail because the point at the moment is not necessarily why these people have more money and we have nothing. The point is where and how are they getting the money from when I don’t have the same opportunity.

The Citizen Economic Empowerment law could as an example state what happens when a particular Government institution is privatised. Privatising any institution will naturally so agitate some and make some happy. Some will not even have case as they will completely not understand what is at stake. Some of those include some of our chair warmers at the National Assembly. They do not even understand what the fuss is about in privatising Air Botswana. The law could for example dictate as to the maximum number of shares that may be sold to a foreigner, be it an individual or a collective business. This law could also specify the maximum number of shares a naturalised Motswana, be it either an individual or company may purchase from any Government institution that is being privatised. The law could also dictate as to what happens in instances where a Motswana gets into a partnership with either a foreigner and or a naturalised Motswana in a bid to have a stake in such a commercial transaction. This law will protect a Motswana, empower citizens, and make it easier for them to retain whatever they want to retain from the institution being sold. This is the same law that could then specifically address issues of conflict of interest. And further define issues of conflict of interest in citizen transactions in as far as a natural Motswana, I hope it sounds well, is concerned. This will include pubic officers and politicians, including the State President who at this point in case is a major subject of discussion. We can’t lie that had it been any other company than the one which for one reason or the other, the State President is or is being seen to be having an interest in is involved, the debate will have so digressed. Either way, Botswana is just a small society with very few people involved in business, most of them having friends with some people in power. Besides we are almost all relatives and friends of some sort.

It is equally correct to posit that it becomes impossible not to have friends in positions of power and authority when you have money. It does not only happen in Botswana. It happens in every country. Besides, when you have done well for yourself, it simply means you interacted with the right audience. You cannot be interacting with the illiterates, the poor, the lazy, the alcoholics and those who sleep the whole day and expect to have some sort of success. It is a given, the world over that success has its bed rock as partnerships and networks. It is not a sin. It is correct that it is so. The Citizen Economic Empowerment law thus is a must to regulate all these so that we move from selective justice and further reduce pettiness and social jealousy in economic debates.

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