Mmegi Online :: The Trans-Kalahari Railway Line Project is not viable
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Friday 07 December 2018, 14:23 pm.
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The Trans-Kalahari Railway Line Project is not viable

With a coal deposit of about 212 billion tons at Mamabula coalfields estimated to generate a P136 billion project that seeks to link Botswana with Namibia by a Trans-Kgalagadi Railway Line, Botswana hopes to benefit economically from this corridor, together with Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
By Correspondent Wed 26 Oct 2016, 16:53 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: The Trans-Kalahari Railway Line Project is not viable








The project was conceived in 2010 with the commissioning of the feasibility study and bilateral agreement signed in 2014.  The project is however reported to be on hold, waiting for funding from private shareholders, while the two countres will be playing a facilitating role and meet all the development costs of the project. Out of three options identified by the pre-feasibility study, the two countries decided on a route aligned to the Trans-Kalahari Corridor, apparently to minimise costs.  According to this alignment, the Trans-Kalahari Railway Line will cover 1,500 kilometres from Mamabula coalfields to Walvis Bay.  It will connect to the railway line down to Rasesa, passing through Molepolole, Kang and Morwamosu to join the Trans-Kalahari Corridor through Mamuno border, Gobabis and Windhoek to Walvis Bay as the final destination.

Unfortunately, this mega project is tied to coal which is a pollutant product from the environmental point of view.  Coal has a bleak future as its current market price has tumbled to $65 per ton from $114 per ton in 2010.  When the two countries signed the bilateral agreement in 2014, coal price was $78 per ton.  Granted, the project has a positive long term outlook, but its relationship with coal will obscure its long term benefit for the landlocked Southern African countries.

As climate change has become a subject of discussion globally, coal always tops agenda items for emission cuts which consequently result in job losses as most countries are moving away from coal-fired electricity.  The Paris agreement signed on December 12, 2015 on the use of coal is binding on India and China which are the potential market for Botswana coal to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. 

 The two countries are considered to be among the main greenhouse gas emitters and are now under pressure to reduce their current carbon emissions from coal.  They both have their own coal, but because of the binding agreement that they signed to reduce their carbon emissions, it is very unlikely that they will import our coal as planned.

It was hoped that the Trans-Kalahari Railway line would unlock the Botswana economy, carrying coal to Walvis Bay and beyond for export. Since the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding and bilateral agreement between Botswana and Namibia, however, it is becoming evident that coal market trends are influenced by issues of climate change as it is considered to be harmful to human health.   According to scientific research, 10% of coal consists of ash, which contains radioactive and toxic elements, among other coal harmful products.

This raises questions about the viability of the project, especially as its’ funds are sourced from the private sector, who for one reason or another, could have mixed feelings about the environmental aspect of the project.  Botswana government is apparently aware of these concerns as the Minister who was responsible for the project is reported to have said the project should go ahead because there are possibilities of it becoming a multi-commodity

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transit option.

The funding of this project seems to be one of the outstanding issues to be resolved by the two countries to make way for other initiatives, including tender procedures.  It would appear Botswana and Namibia are playing their cards close to the chest as the signing of the agreement should have been done in April 2013, but was postponed after Namibia requested for more time to finalise the technical issues involved.  The delay of the project is also blamed on the fact that Namibia has no new SADC projects, which could be a reference to the Trans-Kalahari Railway Line.

Once the two countries have resolved their outstanding issues, it is hoped that funding initiatives and tender procedures will follow, but power crisis and the entire infrastructure seem to be a big challenge.  It would however appear that the Chinese are preferred to build the daunting infrastructure network while the local construction companies are on a wild goose chase because they don’t have the capacity to compete with Chinese construction companies.

However, the general feeling is that Chinese construction companies that win tenders for these mega projects should be obliged to sub-contract local construction companies to uplift them because contrary to this, the industry will continue to be controlled by the Chinese.

There is also concern about tender procedures, which, according to local media reports, are always contravened with impunity.  The general understanding of open tenders is that notices calling for tenders must be available to the general public and should be published in both the local and the foreign media as deemed appropriate by the procurement tender committees.

Unfortunately, many local companies decry failure by the government to follow these tendering procedures and blame the tendering entities for failing to be transparent especially on big tenders like the Morupule-B and many others.  It would appear tenders in Botswana, like in many other African countries, constitute a very high percentage in corruption index.

We understand that a lot of influential people and companies are positioning themselves for the Trans-Kalahari Railway line and only hope and trust that this will be done in the most transparent way deemed necessary.  This is a project which should provide employment to Batswana by engaging their local companies.

It is sometimes disturbing to hear that some companies win tenders because they have connections in the tendering system.  Although this cannot be proved, it raises eyebrows and should not be brushed aside because leaked information to a tendering company about the specifics of the tender, can give it advantage over others.

As we tender for this project we should learn lessons from the North-South Carrier Water project, which was the largest engineering project ever undertaken by Botswana at the time.  Although the project had problems like any other projects, the country was not relegated to a list of corrupt countries of Africa as a result of tender scandals.  

Moreri Gabakgore*

 

*Gabakgore is a social commentator, writing in his personal capacity

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