MPs divided over Chinese loan
BAME PIET, Staff Writer
Mmegi Online. 7/14/2006
Members of Parliament were yesterday divided over a Bill seeking to ratify an agreement between the government of Botswana and the Export-Import Bank of China for the purpose of assisting in the financing of the construction of 293 housing units in Gaborone.
MP for Gaborone Central, Dumelang Saleshando said that he has no problem with the provision of houses but argued that the loan is unfair to local contractors because it does not allow them to tender for the project. He said that this would reverse government's attempts to empower citizens and that it is not fair because Chinese Contractors always compete with local contractors for government tenders.
"We are exporting jobs to the Chinese while our people are unemployed. None of you know the pain of being unemployed," he told the house. He said it is even more painful when you are a businessman watching your opportunities being given to outsiders. He lamented the harsh working conditions Chinese Contractors subject Batswana labourers to. Saleshando further noted that the loan undermines Botswana's sovereignty because it is not in harmony with local laws. The legislator took a swipe at Minister of Trade and Industry Neo Moroka for encouraging Finance Minister Baledzi Gaolathe to take as many loans as possible as long as their interest rates are low. He wondered how much the country's debts would be if Moroka was an MP or Minister in the 70 and 80s. He said that the reason why many African countries could not prosper is because of internal and external debt. He labelled the loan as poisoned bread that will kill a person after consuming. Gaolathe expressed disappointment at Saleshando saying he is a banker and knows how financial markets operate.
The MP for Palapye Boyce Sebetela was itching for an opportunity to take on Saleshando during the debate and also expressed disappointment at the MP saying he should desist from misleading the public. He said that the interest rate that the Chinese Bank has offered is reasonable and that no other Bank would offer that especially since Botswana has graduated from a Middle Income to Upper Middle Income country as per a recent World Bank grading. He said this means that it would be very difficult for Botswana to get loans from International Financial Institutions. Sebetela further cited Saleshando's recent remarks that Bank of Botswana is obsessed with inflation. He said that ever since the remarks he had spent sleepless nights wondering about the kind of government Saleshando would form if he were given the power. "Inflation is a monster that cannot be ignored by any government." He said that if left uncontrolled inflation could destroy even highly paid people. Sebetela emphasised that Botswana had no option but to take the loan to give housing to Batswana especially since part of the loan is a grant. Before the house adjourned Sebetela revealed what he called the three characteristics of a politician - "cowardice, hypocrisy, and opportunism." He concluded that Saleshando is a true reflection of a politician.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe described Saleshando as ungrateful, and rude to other MPs. Merafhe did not hide his displeasure with the legislator's remarks and said he is worried that if opposition parties were to be given a chance to rule they would destroy the country's economy in a short time. Merafhe said the proposed project would create jobs for Batswana and that it is not easy these days to get grants and loans from developed countries or donor organisations. "There are no Good Samaritans these days," Merafhe told the house. He said that the Chinese attached conditions to the loan because they also have to account to their people how they spent their money.
MP for Gaborone West South Robert Molefhabangwe complained about shoddy jobs that Chinese Contractors carry out in the country. He cited some projects, which he said had not lasted for a year before they developed defects. He further complained about unwelcoming behaviour by some Chinese nationals and warned that those who come here are outcasts and an embarrassment in their own country. He wandered why government could not speak loudly about its citizen empowerment endeavour during negotiations for the loan. He said the conditions are not friendly for citizen empowerment schemes.