> Mpho Tebele
Gaborone – In an effort to ensure that it maintains a competitive edge over other players in the diamond industry, especially those from Asia, Botswana has assembled a task team to strategize about how the southern African country can remain competitive in the long run.
Minerals, Energy and Water Resources Minister, Kitso Mokaila revealed that he put together a task team made up of stakeholders from his ministry, industry representatives and De Beers earlier this year to closely assess the industry and come up with ideas of how to assist the local industry to survive the downturn and remain sustainable in the long term.
“The taskforce handed over the report to me in June and we have already moved to implement some of the recommendations, which are within our means.
“Government has committed to assist the industry to, in the short to medium term, address issues of productivity through working more days and longer hours to move closer to our Asian competitors,” said Mokaila.
The minister said this will result in an increase in the number of average working days from 212 to close to 283 per annum.
He said government has granted the diamond manufacturing sector another waiver from paying the training levy, “and it is my expectation that the industry will develop their training and localisation plans and collectively work with government to establish programmes which will facilitate capacity development in the field of diamond beneficiation”.
Mokaila said in view of the fact that diamonds were the country’s sole world class resource and that they are an exhaustible resource like other minerals, as part of the country’s diversification strategy, the government decided to have diamond beneficiation as one of the key areas of diversification.
He said the key focus is to develop a vibrant cutting and polishing, jewellery manufacturing and polished and rough diamond trading to create employment and to generate value in the economy.
Meanwhile, Mokaila said the government has committed to make significant investments in water and power infrastructure as the two are important economic drivers.
“I am happy to share with you that the ministry is making good progress towards awarding of 300MW power project to an Independent Power Producer (IPP) and the refurbishment and rehabilitation of Morupule A and B power station has commenced to improve reliability to ensure security of power for the country,” said Mokaila.
Botswana like other countries in the region has been experiencing power cuts, something that observers say is likely to impact on investor confidence.
Regarding water, the minister said the implementation of the water master plan which has been revised to 2035 is continuing with major focus on developing and where possible fast tracking water transfer infrastructure to bring water from wherever it can be found to where it is needed.
“This is proving to be resource intensive. For instance plans to draw water from the Zambezi River require investments running into billions of dollars which requires government to make difficult choices given the many competing priorities for the limited and dwindling revenue,” said Mokaila.
Just like power, water shortages have also been bedevilling Southern African due to drought.
Mokaila said when it comes to connecting resources and society, Botswana has not just espoused policies but was acting.
“We have put our money where our mouths are. For instance, over the last six budgeting cycles, my ministry has been receiving more than 20 percent of the development budget representing the largest share of the budget during those years.
“That money went towards driving development of the much needed water and power infrastructure. That is how committed we are and continue to be in our quest to connect every corner of Botswana with water and energy,” said Mokaila.
Minister Mokaila was speaking at the two days resource conference “Connecting resources and Society” co-hosted by the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources and De Beers on November 23 and 4 in Gaborone.