Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Response to South African "Bench Marks Foundation": "The natural resources of Botswana are our common heritage"

source: Republic of Botswana (21/9/09) TAUTONA TIMES no 24 of 2009
The Electronic Press Circular of the Office of the President
"Democracy, Development, Dignity and Discipline"

C1) 19/9/09: Response to South African "Bench Marks Foundation": "The natural resources of Botswana are our common heritage"

The Government of Botswana has received a copy of a report entitled "DeBeers, Botswana and the Control of the Country", published by a South African NGO called "The Bench Marks Foundation".

The said publication purports to be a study of social responsibility in the diamond mining industry in Botswana, dealing with the nature of mining investment in our country. Its further claims to examine what it alleges is a conflict of interest between this Government and DeBeers corporation, as well as the impact of mining on indigenous peoples.

Given the extent the above claims, this Government notes with dismay that at no point during their alleged research did any of the report's authors, who are listed as Mr. David van Wyk, Prof. Freek Cronje and Ms. L. Grimbeek of North-West University (Potchefstroom) South Africa ever attempt to contact much less meaningfully engage with any branch of this Government.

This failure may help to explain the many factual inaccuracies contained within the body of the report, which in our view betrays a broader lack of understanding on their part about the nature of governance in our country. Examples of such ignorance include the claim that: "A serious weakness in Botswana is the complete absence of a Ministry of Environment and Conservation. Conservation falls under the Ministry of Local Government, Lands and Housing and under the Ministry of Agriculture."

The truth of the matter, which the authors could have confirmed by merely visiting the official Botswana website - - is that this country has a dedicated Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism responsible for environment policy and management, forestry and conservation of the wildlife, as well as meteorological services and sustainable tourism development.

Likewise the authors affirm that "the country also lacks a Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage".

As a Government, we are of the belief that our existing Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sport, along with the National Museum, Monuments and Art Gallery Department , which falls under a separate Ministry, should make up for any such deficit.

The authors further err in assuming that Botswana thus has no legal safeguards for "heritage issues" when in fact they have been catered for under the Monuments and Relics Act since 1970.

We also note their false assertion that the Factories Act regulates mine safety, when in fact safety on mines is regulated under the Mines, Quarries, Works and Machineries Act.

The authors' choice of ministry names is consistent with pattern on their part of seeking to interpret Botswana circumstance within what is a clearly a South African framework.

Thus while the Potchefstroom researchers do acknowledge that the "Government of Botswana also insists to have an effective participation in the mineral sector through equity participation and board representation" they are seemingly compelled to note that: "This is different from South Africa, which insists on 27% Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) participation, rather than government participation."

The author's emphasis on the role of private actors, rather than state, in ensuring social responsibility in resource management dovetails with the report's most glaring omission, which is its it virtual failure to acknowledge, must less fully analyze the implications of our country's fundamental decision at independence to uphold the principle that the natural resources of Botswana are our common heritage.

For this reason the ownership of all mineral wealth in Botswana has remained legally vested with the state irrespective of who owns the land upon which they are found.

This policy, dovetails with a common understanding, found among virtually all of our country's indigenous communities, that nature can never be owned, is now firmly embedded in legislation.

It is, moreover, rooted in a historic 1967 memorandum of understanding in which the then traditional leaders of various communities ceded the mineral rights in their respective territories to the state. Today, we can look back with appreciation that our traditional leaders then had the foresight to take such a selfless steps in the interest of national unity and development.

As was the case with traditional local authorities in the past, the modern state is thus understood to have an obligation to act as the steward over natural resources not only for the citizenry of today but also those of tomorrow.

This basic principle is equally true in the context of the diamonds and other minerals under the ground, wildlife, and for the sustained management of all communal and state lands, including parks and game reserves.

It is in this context that, while not wishing to appear entirely dismissive of outside suggestions, this Government is not overly attracted the report's unsolicited recommendation that we simply adopt policies and prescriptions that have been clearly formulated in response to contemporary challenges previously identified from elsewhere in the region; challenges that are often rooted in quite different legal frameworks and histories of resource control that what has prevailed in our country.

Finally, we are of the firm view that the so-called findings the report are compromised by flawed methodology, including the fact that, quite beyond their failure to interview any Government officials or, we are informed, members of either the DeBeers or Debswana management, the report's survey amounted to a seeming handful of reportedly anonymous interviews.

The researchers similarly fail to reference significant Government and mining company documents

We would further observe that Botswana's tradition of prudent resource management for sustained social development, along with the country's well established record of good and honest governance as Africa's oldest multi-party has been widely recognized by independent observers and institutions, including those espousing various political and ideological perspectives, over many years.

Such accolades have, moreover, been made with specific reference to this Government's stake in the local diamond mining industry through such instruments as our 50% shareholding in Debswana and the Diamond Trading Company of Botswana.

It is in this context, that Botswana has more recently gained further prominence as a an international benchmark for escaping what scholars have often labeled as the "resource curse", which has been commonly associated with endemic corruption and private greed in many African countries.

As the US Secretary for State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, observed at a 12 August 2008 press conference in Nigeria, in response to a question about the challenge of corruption on the continent:

"This is an area that I want to work on with the minister and with the government. I'll just give you a quick example. It's one that I've used across Africa, because it's an African example, and that is the country of Botswana. Botswana, as you may know, has a very vibrant democracy. It's a very stable country. And it has used the revenues from its natural resource, which, in its case, happens to be diamonds, and put it into a fund, protected that fund from exploitation by foreigners and exploitation by citizens. It said to the countries that were exploiting the diamonds, and to their companies, you have to have an agreement with us that leads to investments in the people of Botswana. So for example, when you buy a diamond from De Beers, part of that money still today goes to help build and maintain roads and clean water systems in Botswana. You can drive anywhere in that country and you can see services that have been paid for by a legal framework, strong regulations, and a national consensus that the money from the earth and its riches should be spent on the people of Botswana. Now, companies still make a profit doing business there. Individuals still do well. But they have protected their national patrimony, and I think it's an example for the rest of the continent, and I think we will explore some of these ideas, and of course, it is up to the people of Nigeria to determine what is best for you. But I want to be sure that I do what I can to put forth ideas that will protect the natural resources of Africa for the African people."

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