Gaborone: The Minister of Agriculture Christiaan de Graaf has assured the nation that he will not sell the embattled Botswana Meat Commission (BMC), allaying fears that the recent BMC amendment Bill is intended to privatise the entity. Addressing journalists in Gaborone on Tuesday, he said the BMC has just been re-listed to export to the European Union (EU).
DeGraaf said, "I am happy to inform you that so far 16 feedlots and 164 farms have been registered to sell to the BMC. However, the process of registration of meraka is ongoing".
The minister and his entourage comprising his Assistant Minister Oreeditse Molebatsi, permanent secretary Dr Micus Chimbombi and more than 15 officers acknowledged that the amendment bill has caused confusion and fear among farmers that the ministry is trying to give the BMC to a private entity known only to them.
He said that the amendment bill is the brainchild of beef farmers and dates back to 2007. He said that there was proper consultation regarding its formulation.
The officers explained that the bill seeks to deal away with a clause in the old BMC Act that prohibits anybody, except BMC, to export cattle or edible cattle products without permission from the minister. "The amendment that is being proposed is that BMC will be equated to other establishments, meaning that everybody including BMC will have to get a permit from the minister," Chimbombi said.
The confusion, he further explained, emanated from another process driven by the Public Enterprises Evaluation and Privatisation Authority (PEEPA) whose desire is to improve efficiency, sustainability and profitability.
BMC is listed among public enterprises earmarked for privatisation. Chimbombi said there are misinformed beliefs that the export removal, that the ministry was seeking through the amendment bill is being done for a private entity.
"Often, people confuse these two processes and say the export removal is being done for some private entities or the privatisation is being done for the other. They are separate, none is dependent on the other," he said.
He stated that the issue of privatising BMC is far from implementation, as many processes have to be followed - central being national consultation.
"Privatisation can range from outsourcing some services to complete selling off, and a model has to be determined, assessed and proposed and pushed forward. That process has not started," he said. Chimbombi said the bill only seeks to remove the export monopoly of BMC to allow people to export their products.
"I just want to add that this amendment never came from the ministry of agriculture, it started in June 2007 and it was the farmers who came here to call for that," de Graaf interjected.
He said that he will be calling a national Pitso in September. He said that he is strongly opposed to the export of live animals and that Botswana should not be used as a grazing ground for feedlots in South Africa.
"While I am still Minister of Agriculture, Botswana will not become a grazing ground for feedlots in South Africa. If you export your raw material, you export jobs. We must build our own industry in our own country. I will not allow weaners to go out to external feedlots," he said.
De Graaf said the current act allows BMC to export live cattle without seeking the minister's permit, and that they were trying to address that through the amendment that Parliament has suspended.
He said that government will allow other players in the market but BMC will still be protected from other competitors who may end up monopolising the industry.
"I want to tell everyone that I have no plan to sell the BMC. The BMC will be there for Batswana because we must make sure it does not collapse," he said, "because 80 percent of the cattle that go to BMC is from our small scale farmers. We have a duty to protect the BMC and make sure it does not collapse".
De Graaf and company are looking for markets in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Angola and other African countries including Zimbabwe, which already owes the BMC P7 million from last year's exports. The minister drives to Zimbabwe constantly to demand payment, which is seven months overdue.