Africa Agriculture 

Botswana’s president goes shopping for a farm

In south-west Botswana, near the border with South Africa, the federal government owns some prime farmland Banyana Farms. The land was initially purchased in order to promote industrial livestock farming in Botswana.In 2015, Banyana Farms a state-owned company, decided to rent out numerous large cattle ranches on the property, and created a competitive tender procedure to do so. This is important real estate, and the lease is for 14 years. The greatest ranch, the 49 square kilometre Portion 2, drew in substantial interest. The 39 bidders have now been whittled down to a shortlist of three.

In Botswana, it is not prohibited for presidents to engage in companies. However it is discredited specifically when there is any suspicion of conflict of interest. A lot of suspicion surrounds this deal.

The INK Centre for Investigative Journalism saw the tender files for the ranch, which set out the conditions which all possible bidders must satisfy 2 significant conditions are that bidders should visit the farm; and must submit to an interview with the Banyana Farms assessors at the offices of Botswana’s Attorney General.

President Masisi satisfied neither of these conditions. Instead, he sent representatives to see the farm; and scheduled the interview to take place in State Home in Gaborone.

Even more seriously, the tender documents specify that bidders should not already own a ranch in Botswana at the time of bidding. However Masisi is engaged in business livestock production and gardening at Matseta near Gaborone, where he grows vegetables and rears cattle and little stock. His household inherited a farm at Sekoma where there is industrial animals production. He is likewise stated to have a feedlot in Moshupa and farms at Tshele and Morupule.

The workplace of the president declined to react to concerns sent out by the INK Centre. The ministry of farming, under whose remit Banyana falls, reacted only to say that questions would be forwarded to the Office of the President.

He has so far declined to address INK’s questions, the president’s spokesperson Batlhalefi Leagajang told radio station Gabz FM that the president “does not have farms somewhere else”. Pressed by the anchor Kealeboga Dihutso to discuss even more, Leagajang stated the President did have “agricultural land”.

He did not clarify the distinction between a farm and agricultural land. “I know he [the president] has an interest in Banyana Farms,” Leagajang said.Asked if it is ethical for Masisi to do service with the government in his personal capacity, Leagajang told the Gabz FM anchor, Kealeboga Dihutso, that the president does not rest on the board of Banyana Farms and is not involved in procurement. Micus Chimbombi, a previous permanent secretary for the ministry of agriculture who is now an opposition political leader, stated that President Masisi must not have actually been provided favoritism. He added, nevertheless, that it is tough for public officers such as the board of Banyana Farms to resist pressure from politicians.”In principle they can resist however in practice that might make the outcome of their choice tilt in favour of those people, “stated Chimbombi.

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