In the very same week that another wildly speculative project, Phikwe Steel closes down, we are told by the Telegraph that the Lobatse Milk Project has now started to unravel, as some of us, myself included, have long assumed would happen.
The Telegraph suggested of the much-touted milk project that, ‘it is likely to go down even before it starts’ (June 29). It reported that the students who were sent to Florida by Milk Africa were returning prematurely as they had not been paid their allowances. The Embassy in Washington had apparently been obliged to intervene. It further reported that, ‘whilst initially Milk Africa, had decided to source cattle from Florida but that did not materialise due to insufficient stock feed in Botswana’.
The Lobatse Town Clerk, Boikhutso Matenge, however, is in total denial. She insisted that the project is ongoing, that the board of directors has been selected, that she is happy with the progress achieved and that the Town Council will gain over P100,000 from the leased land. Wow.
This is all so spectacularly awful that there is a need to pause and draw breath. But let us use the scrappy information that has been made available about the project in the past, to try and recap.
The government, we were made to understand, has invested P100million in the project. Before handing over the cash, it must have satisfied itself about the company, been assured that it was not a suitcase job, that it had a physical office in this country and that it knew the identity of its directors.
Reasonably, it could have insisted that it had one or more representatives on its Board. Now the Lobatse Town Clerk seems to be suggesting that it is only now, two or three years after its supposed inception, that board members have finally been selected - by which she may mean that the original members have been replaced.
Which in itself would be an interesting turn of events. All along we have been informed by Milk Africa spokesmen, that dairy cattle would be sourced from the USA, that feed for them would be produced in Lobatse and that selected individuals would be sent for training to Florida where Milk Africa is supposed to have a milk production project. We know that the Lobatse Town Council went en masse on a trip to Florida but we were never informed as to who paid for that trip or what, of any significance, emerged from it.
Because of haphazard, almost disinterested reporting, we may have the impression that three, possibly four batches of students have been sent to Florida, at least one being seen off by the US Ambassador. But we have no idea what happened to the trainees who have returned or why others had to be sent to Florida.
Now, if the Telegraph has reported correctly, the whole project has been turned upside down.
Cattle, presumably those owned by Milk Africa Florida, which were to be purchased with government cash by Milk Africa Lobatse, are no longer central to the project. Why else was it intended that they be purchased there and not in South Africa? But why this sudden, dramatic change? Incredibly because there is insufficient stock feed in Botswana.
Of course, both the government and the Town Council would have known very well that stock feed is in short supply here and would have needed little convincing by Milk Africa that it needed a farm, water and electricity in order to produce all the feed that it would require. Seemingly that notion, the very corner stone of this very weird project, has simply been shelved.
Not much is now left is there? Because the cash has dried up, the trainees can no longer be paid and are returning mid-term, the cattle are no longer to come from Florida and probably anywhere else, the claim that feed would be locally produced has been shelved and with it all that mumbo jumbo about farms, fencing, boreholes and electricity. But not all is lost because according to the Town Clerk, directors have been selected! I wonder who does the selecting? And then there is that lovely P100,000 which ‘will’ (in future) be of such benefit to the Council.
Who would be prepared to take bets on the likelihood that the Town Council will never receive a single pula of that P100,000 and that the only people who will ever benefit from the project are those newly selected Directors? As a generalisation, it does seem that we are either an easy con or simply not very bright.
We try to start a steel-making project in a country when there is a world wide steel glut. We are persuaded to produce expensive milk when there is an over production of milk in South Africa. And soon, I suppose, we will learn the worst about Lobatse’s leather project. The moral seems to be, think big and lose a great deal of money.