As whispers grew that Molebatsi Molebatsi was on the verge of defecting to the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF), the ruling party moved swiftly to quash the rumours.
At the end of August, the longtime Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) member and Mmadinare MP was handed the plum post of Assistant Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry. The surprise appointment brought an emphatic end to any talk of Molebatsi leaving the BDP.
The Voice’s DANIEL CHIDA caught up with the larger-than-life figure to find out what he hopes to bring to his new Ministerial role.
Congratulations on your appointment from the backbench. What is your role at the Ministry?
You’re most welcome! As the Ministry, our mandate is to create a conducive environment for the attraction of investment and development of sustainable industries and trade with a view of diversifying the economy, creating wealth and employment so that there is prosperity for all.
My main focus as the newly appointed Assistant Minister is on the following high-level deliverables: creation of sustainable Industries and Trade and lastly Economic Diversification (Export development, Expansion and Domestic Investment, Foreign Direct Investment).
Most businesses need start-up capital but you find that the business owners are bankrupt, how are you intending to help?
We have a keen interest in developing small and medium scale start-up business in Botswana.
Already Government has a number of Funding Programs geared to assisting start–up businesses.
We have CEDA, which is geared towards assisting SMME start-ups and BDC which also funds start-ups and existing businesses to the tune of P30 million and upwards.
We want to establish Centres of Excellence countrywide, as well as set up Southern Africa’s start-up Capital.
Talking about CEDA, despite the newly introduced guidelines, many still fail to get the required funds for their businesses. What is it that they typically lack?
Well we have some applications not meeting the funding requirements. There are multiple reasons why some applicants are rejected.
Some do not bring all the required documents, while others do come with proposals that are not viable.
We do encourage people to also visit our LEA offices to seek assistance in project proposal preparation and check if the proposals make business sense before submitting to CEDA.
However, Batswana are responding well and making applications for CEDA funding.
Since the new guidelines, we have approved over P80 million funding – and this is from mid July to date! Manufacturing accounts for P25 million of the P80 million.
Moving on, you take over from Karabo Gare who was widely thought to be doing an excellent job! Big boots to fill?
Gare did a wonderful job at MITI. His strong virtue is humility and good listening abilities.
As Ministers our main job is to promote Government Policy and make sure we push our Ministries’ Mandate in assisting people.
What differentiates one individual Minister or any Civil Servant from the other is working or assisting people with being accessible, respect for people, good listening skills and above all humility.
These are the attributes I believe I have and assisted me to win Mmadinare constituency in the last general elections.
How is your working relationship with your senior, Peggy Serame?
My relationship with Peggzozo is excellent! She is a fantastic lady! She is willing to carry me along and teach me Government processes.
When I came in I didn’t even understand what Cab-Memo is. She has and continues to patiently teach me all the processes.
She has many years of experience as a senior Civil Servant at PS level and I come raw from the Private Sector.
In my view, we make an excellent team with diverse experiences.
Covid-19 has collapsed so many businesses; where do you see the country post the pandemic?
Government has in the past months introduced numerous interventions to cushion citizen businesses from the negative impact of Covid-19.
We continue to create new economic recovery interventions during Covid-19.
Our Ministry is overseeing the Industry Support Facility, which has been created to support the working capital needs of business affected by Covid-19.
The facility will commence with funding of P1.5billion. Guidelines are being developed for the utilization of the proceeds of the Industry Support Facility and, once approved by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, we will implement them.
In addition to that, in response to the economic fallout arising from the pandemic, Government developed a comprehensive Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP).
The plan proposes P14.5 billion to be allocated as an economic recovery package, spread over the remaining years of NDP 11.
How long do you think this will take?
Like I said we have planned this for the remaining part of NDP 11, which is up to 2023.
P500million is expected to be spent in 2020/21 as part of ERTP while the balance will be used in the remaining two years.
What is your take on the State of Public Emergency being increased by six months?
It’s quite evident that extension of the SOPE might have appeared undesirable to some quarters of the public.
But depending on the Medical and Legal presentations made before us by the professionals, we made a conscious decision that to balance the lives and livelihoods of our nation during Covid-19 this was the best Constitutional instrument to use.
What impact does SOPE have on the economy?
I agree that SOPE has far reaching negative consequences on the economy. However, in the balance of priorities we cannot put livelihoods before lives!
During your days as a backbencher, you were noticeably vocal. Should we expect that to continue?
Not only vocal, but independent minded! I do air my views on issues, but after doing my proper research.
I do believe in collective responsibility and in some cases have suppressed my independent views due to collective responsibility!!
Lastly, there were allegations that prior to your promotion, you were on the verge of joining the BPF. Kindly clear the mist for us.
I am a loyal BDP member and I have never harboured any ambitions of defecting to another party.