There is optimism that development on Plot 54349 at Gaborone’s new CBD will resume by end of this year, a senior government official has said. The 9.4 hectare plot belongs to a group of companies owned by well-heeled citizens who have come together into a consortium named Smart Partnership that plans to build a hotel, an office block, residential units and a shopping complex in a conglomerate whose tallest building will have eight floors.
A list of the investors in Smart Partnership who total more than 100, reads like a directory of the crème de la crème of Botswana’s VIPs many of whom rose to prominence in the country’s public sector. They include Festus Mogae, Lawrence Lekalake, Samuel Mpuchane, Bertha Mochekwane, Martin Mannathoko, Sheila Tlou, Maclean Letshwiti, Judy Tsonope, Satar Dada, Tebelelo Seretse, Tshipa Mothibatsela, the Legwaila brothers Elijah and Joseph, Emang Maphanyane and Dzene Makhwade-Seboni. Currently a total of 15 plots at the CBD belonging to private companies, parastatals, ministries and Gaborone City Council remain undeveloped, prompting the Ministry of Lands and Housing (MLH) to issue notices of intention to forfeit from owners of five of the plots, among them 54349. All development covenants for the five plots had expired as they had been given two years from the date of issue to develop the plots.
In a welcome respite, MLH has since withdrawn the decision after Cabinet directed Minister Prince Maele to engage with the companies affected and to extend their development covenants with the hope that some development will start by December this year. Two years ago, the owners of Plot 54349 cordoned the area off, moved in heavy-duty construction machinery and began to de-bush the plot. However, they were stopped by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) allegedly for failure to carry out an environmental impact assessment (EIA) or to furnish the department with an EIA report.
Speaking to the Botswana Guardian this week, MLH’s Permanent Secretary Thato Raphaka confirmed that his ministry had issued a notice of intention to forfeit five plots at the CBD and that affected stakeholders had since entered into new negotiations with relevant authorities. He also confirmed that Plot 54349 was one of the five plots affected. “However, subsequent to issuing the notices, we realised that the notices were not properly served,” Raphaka explained. “Having realised that we had wrongly administered the notices, we decided to withdraw them. That is the decision that we now see in the Government Gazette of July 17, 2015 which was first signed on the June 5, 2015.”
Explaining the regime, development cannot start before acquisition of a title deed which itself cannot be obtained before full payment for a plot is made. “As a rule of natural justice, our intention as government is to engage these companies,” he said. “We ask the concerned companies to do all they can to demonstrate their willingness and capacity to develop the plots. Government will take a decision on the way forward after listening to their respective presentations. Our intention is to finish the negotiation process within the next couple of weeks.”
The EIA hurdle
Like the others, the consortium that owns Plot 54349 will be required to defend its position in order to have the land returned to it to start construction. The Botswana Guardian has reliably learnt the consortium had originally started to develop without first furnishing DEA with an EIA report as required by law. When it finally did two years after it was stopped in its tracks, another hurdle stood in its way: the original development plan of the proposed building - which has a life of two years after acquisition of the title deed - had expired.This move meant the consortium had to submit a new development plan to the CBD Committee at MLH. However, according Raphaka, their submission of a new plan does not automatically mean that the owners of Plot 54349 will get approval to go ahead with development.
But on a positive note for them, the consortium has reportedly secured funds to undertake development and on Wednesday submitted its new plan and met with the CBD Committee that approved the proposed buildings. What the consortium now awaits is Minister Maele’s approval.Raphaka said his ministry was currently harmonising the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act and the Environmental Act. Efforts to contact the consortium’s lawyer were not successful at the time of going to press. The consortium is made up of 10 companies, namely, Ibis Holdings, 21st Century Holdings, Vision Investors, Rubio Engineering, Baba 20 Investments, Northern Investments, Hemamo Investments, Inter Public, Leno Holdings and Home-based Holdings.