SELEBI-PHIKWE: The business community here has told the Assistant Minister of Trade and Industry that government needs to expedite the creation of an enabling environment and to deliberately promote small- and medium-scale enterprises.
Keith Kgathi, a local businessman, appealed to the Minister Duke Lefhoko to regulate the market to ensure that small businesses benefited from government tenders.
"When you approach parastatals or government departments, they believe that some projects cannot be carried out by a Motswana," Kgathi said. "The government should intervene to ensure that local businesses are given a fair chance."
Representatives of the Selebi-Phikwe business community were meeting with Minister Kgathi at a local hotel in this mining town early this week.
Financial institutions were singled out for their reluctance to finance small- to medium-scale enterprises.
"In some cases, the financial institutions are reluctant to finance specialised equipment," Khathi said, "forcing us to source the equipment elsewhere, inadvertently creating jobs in those countries in the process."
Lefhoko largely concurred, saying the problem flowed from what he described as "cargo mentality".
"This is the thinking that it cannot be done here if it is to be a quality product," he said. "It has to be done somewhere else to be of good quality."
The minister put the blame party on 'incompetent' employees of the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) who lack the required competencies.
"We should have buyers who understand the dynamics of business," he said.
However, Lefhoko said the government had instructed its departments and parastatals to be at the forefront of buying from citizen-owned companies, though this did not mean quality would be sacrificed in the name of citizen empowerment.
"We look at performance and not because you are a Motswana," he cautioned. "We are not asking for lesser standards."
He agreed that commercial banks had not been very supportive to indigenous businesses, saying that was the main reason the government had set up financial institutions like the National Development Bank (NDB)
Calling for preferential treatment, Segale Makgama of the Selebi-Phikwe Consumers' Co-operative said it was unfortunate that cooperatives had to compete with established wholesalers for government tenders even though it was common knowledge that co-ops were financially strapped.
The Mayor of Selebi-Phikwe, Amogelang Mojuta, expressed concern that the factory shells built by the Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) remained unoccupied, saying there was need to induce tenants with incentives.
But a BEDIA representative, Sylvia Monageng, countered that rentals on the BDC shells were low; "it is only that there are no businesses to occupy them".
Monageng said the solution was in devising a strategy of attracting investors to Selebi-Phikwe, adding that the mining town had industrial property but insufficient commercial property.
Another businessman, James Hughes, said entrepreneurs were unwilling to become tenants of the BDC inspite of insufficient commercial land in the central business district.
But Hughes also called on the Ministry of Lands to consider rezoning some residential areas as commercial land as high rentals were eroding profits.
He said the requirement that small businesses should carry out a full audit was unfair because it "eats their profits as auditing is an expensive exercise".
On diversification, Hughes said local businesses had to re-invest in the town if it was to take off. "We should invest in our town to diversify," he said.
"But financial institutions must come to the party as well. They (seem to) consider Phikwe as the highest risk investment (destination) in the country."
Maria Smith said scrap dealerships should be regulated as the business was contributing to soaring crime rates, affecting other businesses.
"I have cut my work force from 350 to 282 due to theft of essential equipment," she said, "which meant having replace parts (repeatedly)."