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Selibe Phikwe could give SEZ meaning

Publishing Date : 06 November, 2017

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The Special Economic Zones (SEZ) policy adopted by the Government of Botswana has been designed to attract world class domestic and foreign investors by offering them developed infrastructure, state of the art technology, beneficial inter-sectoral linkages, improvements in economies of scale, specially trained skilled labour force and targeted economic incentives.

This is the time to put this dispensation into use. Special Economic Zones have been the buzz word this week at the Global Expo. The Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi buttressed on them and even made special mention of Selibe Phikwe. Indeed we should use Selibe Phikwe as a launch pad for the SEZ. Since 2011, this has sounded just like the usual rhetoric; there has been little action to actualise the SEZ. We are of the view that Selibe Phikwe offers us an opportunity to test this policy.

The closure of the BCL mine will see many investors abandoning the once thriving copper/nickel mining town, therefore it is important that we act fast to retain and invite investors to Selibe Phikwe.  At a broader level SEZs are intended to achieve diversification the economic and export base of Botswana beyond the mining sector. It is time we make this a reality. The recent appointment of former Bank of Botswana Governor, Ms Linah Mohohlo as the Coordinator of Selibe Phikwe revitalisation initiative should not be in vain.

We need results on the ground; the people need bread on the table in Selibe Phikwe. If Selibe Phikwe is to provide a hassle free business environment offering investors a competitive edge in world markets; establish a one stop, full service business environment catering to the needs businesses located within the SEZ; create business development opportunities for small, medium and micro-enterprise suppliers who meet the logistical and ancillary needs of SEZ enterprises – then the likes of Almaz, a computer and phone assembly plant opened by Monametsi Kalayamotho and Thabiso Pearl Malgaz could be setting up in that town soon and creating a hundred jobs. We need something to encourage these companies to set up in other areas other than Gaborone. 

Yes, we must develop a portfolio of public sector, private sector, and public-private partnerships (PPPs) with the SEZ as the market indicates. But if we stick to the talk shop, it shall be business as usual and the people of Selibe Phikwe and Francistown will continue to suffer.  Monametsi and Malgaz’s amazing Almaz could benefit immensely from well-developed SEZs, they could easily integrate with domestic, regional and international markets. Why not house them at lower rates some of the factory shells in Selibe Phikwe, maybe exempt them from tax for a specific period of time provided they create a minimum of 100 jobs? It is important that we actualise our policies. We hear of an Aircraft assembly plant also being planned for Selibe Phikwe. This could be the time to action these items.

Our policies should not just be documents that decorate the minister’s cabinet or his or her rhetoric in a speech at some worthless function. We must provide SEZ incentive packages consistent with Botswana’s domestic and international trade obligations; develop SEZ labour laws consistent with the ILO standards, among other things. Five years is a long time, we could be witnessing the results of this policy by now, Selibe Phikwe is calling, let us put SEZ to use. Job creation is a big challenge in Botswana, we could create employment through the countrywide development of SEZs.

In February 2011, our cabinet approved the draft policy on Special Economic Zones (SEZs) which was later delegated to the then Botswana Export Development and Investment Authority (BEDIA), now Botswana Investment and Trade Centre. BEDIA was declared the interim authoritative body to oversee implementation of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in the country. All that has happened has been the change of names of parastatal that hosts this initiative but zero results.

On paper it is an excellent policy, amongst other things, the policy aims at diversifying the economic and export base of Botswana into sectors that will continue to grow even after diamonds have run out. As we all might be aware, the policy emanated from the recommendations of the Botswana Business and Economic Advisory Council of 2005. Amongst key tasks given to the Special Economic Zones authority body (now BITC) is the administration of SEZs, specifically in terms of staffing, budget, spending and policymaking.



Do you think the closure of BCL will compel SPEDU to double their efforts in creating job opportunities in the Selibe Phikwe?