Former president of Botswana Confederation of Commerce Industry and Manpower (BOCCIM) Iqbal Ibrahim has embraced government's efforts to introduce Local Economic Development policy with mixed feelings.
In an exclusive interview with Northern Extra, Ibrahim said that Francistown, which will be one of the pilot areas, has the potential to gain a lot should the policy be implemented. The former mayor of Francistown observed that Botswana’s second city’s stronghold is its proximity to Zimbabwe and Zambia, which in turn provides a cheap market place for their consumers. “My worry is the bad treatment we are cementing to them especially the Zimbabweans, and the main culprits are the immigration officers.
If we treat them that way, they would rather spend their money in their country than be treated like dogs,” Ibrahim noted. Zimbabwe recently adopted the American dollar, Japanese yen, and Chinese yuan, which Ibrahim is confident bodes well for Francistown businesses. “We are relatively cheaper and a destination of choice for both traders and consumers from Zimbabwe and Zambia as their currency, kwacha is now stronger than the pula." The former BOCCIM president said that government must relax the flow of people into the country especially Zimbabweans. He accused Batswana of being xenophobic towards Zimbabweans. On attracting investors to the city, Ibrahim is skeptical if they would want to invest where the effect of the law is prevalent than its spirit.
“The Trade Act is being overused and it is too harsh to most of the investors, they must emphasise the spirit of the law rather than its effects’’ he observed. He said that relying on international ratings to lure investors to the country wouldn’t work. “After meeting government officials who promise them heaven on earth, investors normally consult local business people to check if the environment is really conducive. Currently the feedback won’t be positive.” There is a lot of red tape for one to get a residence permit and it's always difficult when investors want to renew their stay in the country, said the former mayor. Asked if he would attend the Francistown Investors Pitso scheduled for June this year, he replied: “I am going to be forthright at the Pitso in fact to me it's potso. Our words belie our actions.” According to him, money will gravitate to where it is mostly welcome, and Botswana is increasingly the opposite of it.
Ibrahim who is also a businessman said that currently there is instability in the mining sector in South Africa as well as the issue of poor service delivery which has turned violent. “Now look, instead of using that to our advantage to offer investors a stable environment we also chase them away by our stringent trade laws. The city mayor James Kgalajwe denied that they are too strict in implementing the trade act.
“The problem is that there are too many laws that contradict each other," he posited. He revealed that they are in consultation with relevant ministries to harmonise the different Acts and remove obstacles that hinder investors from coming to Francistown.