SPEDU was back in the news recently with its full-page advert in the Sunday Standard (Feb 8-14) inviting applications for thirteen posts from the top dog down to a driver/messenger.
Was this a genuine advert or a means of re-engaging the old staff? But yes, SPEDU, you know the Selibe Phikwe Regional Development Agency which claims to embrace ideas and shape the future. Brave claims indeed. But don’t feel bad if you can’t quite pin it down or remember what it is and what it is supposed to do because this is a chameleon kind of outfit that keeps on changing. Yesterday it was a facilitator and a sort of local BEDIA. Today it is an implementer. Yesterday, it may have been a Trust like BIDPA. Today it is a Government owned company falling under the Ministry of Trade and Industry. A hub by any other name, perhaps? Several points occur to me about this new development. The first is that I have very little idea what is meant by a Government owned company. Perhaps there are already dozens of them tucked away somewhere with budgets which are discreetly included under some unlikely head. But here it is, a Government owned company which is, in theory, part and parcel of the Ministry of Trade and Industry much like any other its departments; but isn’t. How might this work and how will it relate to the Phikwe Council? Who appoints and employs these thirteen individuals and to whom will they be accountable? As a commercial company of sorts, there ought to be a Board of Directors which might include the Minister and the Permanent Secretary, even if both would normally be too busy to attend any of its meetings. It would have to include representatives of the Phikwe Council and the Mine – and who else?
But then if the Board had not appointed those thirteen, it would be a Board in name only – effectively controlled by those who, in theory, were its employees. And a Board which could always be pushed aside when its wishes and those of the parent Ministry were in conflict. But now the Ministry is suggesting optimistically that this new structure, this latest quick fix, could prove to be the sort of model it could deploy in other parts of the country. For once it may be right – not necessarily about the structure nor about its applicability for other parts of the country where problems would be so much greater – but in terms of its timing. I first wrote about the Phikwe situation in 1993 when noting the failure of the Irish consultants to achieve anything of any significance. Since then there has been a long line of further failures and the loss of a great deal of cash which might have been better used elsewhere. Now, twenty-two years later, the situation is very different because the Government itself has transformed the nature of the area with, not least, the construction of those new, very large dams, with its plans to build a bridge at Platjan and to upgrade the Martin’s Drift road.
With the mine re-inventing itself, with recent good rains and excellent prospects for horticulture, an existing railway line and easy access to the main north-south road, wildlife and stunning scenery it would seem that this time around sustainable development in this one area cannot and certainly should not, fail. Unfortunately the elements which now almost ensure success in the greater Phikwe are – which is now much enlarged - are not replicated in areas such as Ngwaketse West and Ngami where the Phikwe model would seem to offer nothing which could be adopted and utilised. But what would certainly guarantee the success of this re-invented initiative would be the transfer of the capital to Phikwe from Gaborone, possibly permanently but otherwise for a fixed period of say, five to ten years. Crazy. Not really. Phikwe has water. Gaborone has none. Gaborone’s future growth, if encouraged, can only be sustained at a hugely subsidised cost.
The great heat and the lack of rain in the Gaborone greater region is probably indicative of permanent change. Moving the capital to Phikwe would give an immediate boost to Francistown and help to open up the Nata – Kazangula- Livingstone corridor. If it were done, the first gain would be the dumping of that loony idea of transferring water from Lesotho. But if the feeling is that a move on this scale is not possible, the stench in August of dead cattle may prompt other thoughts. Without surface water and without grazing, the area is likely to experience a repeat of the situation during the 60s drought when so many thousands of cattle died. But whether or not the notion of shifting the capital proves unwelcome and is deemed unrealistic, it must be obvious that the government does quickly need to devise a strategy for dealing with climate change and a new and very challenging scenario.