Monday, August 3, 2009

Remarks by H.H the Vice President Lt. Gen. Mompati S. Merafhe, MP, at the 2nd Botswana-South Africa Business Roundtable Dinner

source: Republic of Botswana (1/8/09): TAUTONA TIMES no 19 of 2009
The Electronic Press Circular of the Office of the President
"Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline"


Your Excellency the Premier of the North West Province, Mrs Maureen Modiselle,....Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Good evening to you all. I am happy at this opportunity to once again interact with this forum after one year of its inception. I thank High Commissioner Moopeloa for putting at our disposal the chancery of the South African High Commission for our event this year. I was happy to learn that First National Bank (FNB), Botswana is once again co-sponsoring this Round Table Dinner. We all have to thank FNB for their unflinching commitment to collaborate with our governments as we explore practical ways of exploiting business opportunities between South Africa and Botswana.

2. It is also proper that I should personally congratulate the new CEO of FNB Botswana, Ms Boakgomo-Ntakhwana and wish her success in the new challenge. Let me also welcome the business community from South Africa who I am informed include (this time around) representatives from more than one province.

3. Ladies and Gentlemen, when we launched this Round Table Dinner in June 2008, I emphasized that it was crucial for our own business people to take the lead in exploring the business space and opportunities created in the region rather than waiting for outsiders to show the way. I believe that this message is still relevant today and will remain so in many follow up meetings that will occur as we build on the opportunities created by this forum.

4. I am pleased to learn that following the inaugural event on 25th June 2008, our business people saw it fit to formalize working relations between some business oriented organizations in both countries. The Memoranda of Understanding signed between Botswana Confederation of Commerce Industry and Manpower (BOCCIM) and North West African Chamber of Commerce (NWACC) as well as the one between the Local Enterprise Authority (LEA) and Limpopo Business Support Agency (LIBSA) in April this year; indicate the seriousness to embark on some concrete work in a more systematic manner. These strategic partnerships should extend to industry specific associations in both Botswana and South Africa because it is only through such synergies that we can attract more Foreign Direct Investment into our region.

5. I would like to challenge those in attendance tonight to demonstrate that this annual meeting can achieve results we can all be proud of by actualizing these agreements and other commitments that will be made today. Indeed, I will be more than eager to learn about the business-to-business transactions that are being forged as a result of the experience gained at these get-togethers.

6. Having said that, I want to acknowledge that Batswana and South Africans are one people united by race, ethnicity and many aspects of our rich culture. One such aspect is the ability to dine wine and truly enjoy ourselves. Given this reputation, we have a challenge therefore to demonstrate that this Round Table Dinner is not just a normal annual party but one at which we celebrate real accomplishments. This challenge is amplified by the fact that the economies of our countries were not spared by the impact of the high prices of food and oil which was closely followed by the global financial crisis and economic recession we are all desperate to recover from.

7. Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, we cannot just pray and wish this crisis away without hard work. Those of us in political office who are limited by tenure are racing against time to get things right. Our desperation is founded on the apprehension that voters may harshly judge us on the basis of problems that are not a result of our policies but creations of the global financial and economic crisis. We therefore have to learn fast from this experience in order to prepare for a better tomorrow.

8. There may very well be a silver lining at the end of it all. As Governments we look to the private sector for assistance in coming up with creative and practical solutions that can help us emerge from this crisis and take advantage of the opportunities that it will no doubt present.

9. The Government of Botswana responded to the current economic crisis by setting up a Task Force with representation from the public service and a broad range of private sector interests in January 2009 to develop and recommend appropriate response strategies. Some of the core recommendations of this Task Force which are being implemented include;

* Strategies for the mining sector to implement in order to continue to stay in business, safe jobs during the crisis and emerge stronger when the crisis subsides.
* tax reform and significant reduction of interest rates to maintain business confidence in the country. For example, the Bank of Botswana rates have been reduced from the highs of more than 16% to the current 11%.
* Giving prominence to maintenance of local authority infrastructure through labour intensive public works in order to address poverty and facilitate business development.

10. These interventions have had a positive impact in the sense that the protection we wanted to extend to the non-mineral sector has been relatively achieved. I am convinced, perhaps like some, that one other important solution lies in the revival of agriculture as a key economic sector. Given that the world has just emerged from a food crisis which affected our countries it is clear that agriculture becomes a sector that requires the active participation of the indigenous business people.

11. We cannot just leave it to the subsistence farmers and migrate to the cities. Our business people, for instance, need to venture into effective and sustainable ways of tapping into the huge regional market for food which will be even more appealing during the 2010 World Cup. I am saying this because South Africa which accounts for the bulk of the food consumed in this region may not be able to sustain the usual food exports during World Cup 2010.

12. In my view, the chances of achieving success in commercialized agriculture should be boosted by the fact that we are traditionally agricultural societies. The Government of Botswana remains committed to supporting viable joint ventures between South Africans and Batswana in this sector and others through facilities such as the Citizen Economic Development Agency's (CEDA's) Venture Capital Fund and Botswana Development Corporation. Please collaborate with genuine intentions of creating win-win partnerships.

13. I would like to highlight here that those partnerships between Botswana's small entrepreneurs and South African owned businesses based in Botswana are critical. We expect the established South African stores, for instance, to support our initiatives to empower the small local producers and suppliers by giving them shelf space in their chain stores and franchises. The option of asking these small producers and suppliers to go and list with buying offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban should, in my view, be reviewed in favour of a more developmental approach to assist the growth and competitiveness of these enterprises.

14. Ladies and Gentlemen, The pro-private sector policies of the Governments of South Africa and Botswana were designed to help you and I am confident that we can find practical ways of working with you to overcome most challenges. My Government has continued to work with the private sector to smoothen the environment in which business is done.

15. Our infrastructural development programme where over P2 billion pula has been spent since April 1, 2008, is one way of making our contribution to the creation of a better business environment in which the private sector can create more wealth and employment opportunities for our people.

16. The Government of Botswana's dedication to creating this enabling environment is demonstrated by our commitment to maintain development expenditure levels for this year 2009/2010 in spite of the economic recession. That is why a P13 billion pula budget deficit has been forecasted in this financial year 2009/2010. We are also pursuing two complementary financing options, namely domestic financing which includes private sector participation, and foreign borrowing in raising capital for some of our major projects. We continue to be open to ideas regarding the areas where more work is needed in order to make our economic policies and regulatory environment more business friendly. That is the only way we can be competitive.

17. Ladies and Gentlemen, Let me once again express my full support to this initiative of the Botswana-South Africa Annual Round Table Dinner. I would like to urge more serious minded business groups and individuals in South Africa and Botswana to consider participating in these interactions. Through these, they can share experiences, enrich their expertise and foster effective cooperation that truly exploits the business opportunities in our two countries. I thank you.

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